Merryl (David) Tengesdal
|Born||The Bronx, New York|
|Service/|| United States Navy|
United States Air Force
|Years of service||1994-2017|
|Commands held||Det 2/WR-ALC Plant 42|
|Battles/wars||Operation Enduring Freedom|
Merryl Tengesdal (born 1971) is an American retired career military officer who is the first and only Black woman to fly the United States Air Force's U-2 spy plane used for specialized high-altitude reconnaissance missions. She is one of five women and only the fourth Black person (in 2004) to be in the U-2 program. She shares the plane's nickname, The Dragon Lady.
Tengesdal is a military veteran, aviator, and commander who served in both the US Navy and the US Air Force. She served as Director of Inspections for The Air Force Inspector General from October 2015 through August 2017, retiring at the rank of United States Air Force Colonel.
Tengesdal had also served in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.
She graduated from the University of New Haven with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, one of three women to complete the program. She played on the basketball team and was in the ROTC.
She entered the Navy and was admitted to Officer Candidate School, where she was commissioned in 1994 after graduation. David began a career as a Naval Aviator by flying the SH-60B Seahawk Helicopter at Naval Station Mayport, Florida. During that time, she deployed on two long cruises and multiple short cruises to the Middle East, South America, and the Caribbean.
After a three-year sea tour in helicopters, David became a T-34C and T-6A Instructor Pilot. After completing T-6A Instructor Training, she became one of four Navy T-6A Instructors to train Navy and Air Force students at Joint Student Undergraduate Pilot Training (JSUPT) at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Her Navy flight instructor, Commander Ron Robinson, said that she "was one of my best flight students, and it doesn't surprise me that she's doing so well."
Air Force service
After David completed her Navy obligation, she continued her military career by transferring to the Air Force to fly the Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California. She was promoted to Major and began flying the U-2 in 2004, the first African-American woman to do so. Continuing to fly it, she was deployed to multiple locations in support of Operations OLIVE HARVEST, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and HORN OF AFRICA. While stationed at Beale AFB the first time, she held the positions of 9th Reconnaissance Wing (9th RW) Chief of Flight Safety and 9th Physiological Support Squadron Director of Operations.
She married and took the surname Tengesdal. After her tour at Beale AFB, Tengesdal became the Detachment Commander of Detachment 2 WR/ALC Palmdale, California, where she was in charge of flight test and Program Depot Maintenance for the U-2S aircraft. Thereafter, Tengesdal worked at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) J8 staff. As Chief of Studies and Assessments Branch, she was responsible for developing the Command's position on capability gap assessment(s), development, and integration for senior-level documents submitted to the Joint Staff. Tengesdal returned to Beale and held the positions of Deputy Operations Group Commander and Inspector General, 9th RW, Beale AFB, CA.
During these years, Tengesdal received advanced training and graduate education through Air Force and private university sources. In 2005, she took classes at the Air Command and Staff College, Non-Resident Program, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Later she completed a Masters of Aeronautical Science in 2008 at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida. In 2011, she did additional studies at the Air War College, Non-Resident Program, again at Maxwell AFB.
Tengesdal's final duty, beginning in October 2015 with a promotion to Colonel, was as Director of Inspections for The Inspector General (TIG) of the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Pentagon, Washington DC. The Inspections Directorate develops, revises, coordinates, and implements Air Force inspection policy, and provides oversight and reporting of inspection programs to TIG, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Secretary of the Air Force on the readiness, economy, efficiency, compliance and state of discipline of the Air Force. Tengesdal was also served as Executive Secretary of the Air Force Inspection System Council.
- Rating: Command Pilot
- Flight Hours: more than 3,400 with over 330 combat hours
- Aircraft Flown: T-34C, TH-57 B/C, SH-60B, T-6A, T-38A/B/C, U-2S
- Officer Candidate School, NAS Pensacola, Florida, June 1994 – September 1994
- Aviation Pre-Flight Indoctrination, NAS Pensacola, Florida, September 1994 – March 1995
- Primary Flight Training, NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, Squadron VT-27, March 1995 – September 1995
- Helicopter Flight Training, NAS Pensacola, Florida, September 1995 – August 1996
- SH-60B Fleet Replacement Squadron, NS Mayport, Florida, September 1996 – September 1997
- SH-60B Pilot, NAS Mayport, Florida, September 1997 – June 2000
- T-34C Pilot Instructor Training, NS Corpus Christi, Texas, June 2000 – December 2000
- T-6A Pilot Instructor Training, Randolph AFB, Texas, December 2000 – October 2001
- T-6A Instructor, Moody AFB, Georgia, October 2001 – March 2004
- U-2 Student Pilot, Beale AFB, California, March 2004 – April 2005
- U-2 Instructor Pilot/Sq Chief of Safety, Beale AFB, California, April 2005 – June 2006
- U-2 Instructor Pilot/ Wing Chief of Flt Safety, Beale AFB, California, June 2006 – July 2007
- U-2 /T38-A Instructor Pilot/9 PSPTS Director of Operations, Beale AFB, California, July 2007 – November 2008
- Commander Det 2/WR-ALC Plant 42, Palmdale, California, November 2008 – December 2010
- NORAD/NORTHCOM J8 Staff, Peterson AFB, Colorado, December 2010 – August 2013
- Deputy Operations Group Commander, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB, California, September 2013 – 2014
- Inspector General, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB, California, September 2014 - October 2015
- Director of Inspections, Office of the Air Force Inspector General, Washington, October 2015 – August 2017
Awards and decorations
|Command Air Force Pilot Badge|
|United States Naval Aviator Badge|
|Air Force Inspector General Badge|
|Air Force Commander's Insignia|
|Legion of Merit Medal|
|Defense Meritorious Service Medal|
|Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Commendation Medal|
|Navy Achievement Medal|
|Joint Meritorious Unit Award with oak leaf cluster|
|Air Force Meritorious Unit Award|
|Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Recognition Ribbon|
|National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star|
|Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal|
|Global War on Terrorism Service Medal|
|Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal|
|Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with bronze service star|
|Air Force Longevity Service Award with two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Force Training Ribbon|
- ACC Aerospace Physiologist of the Year 2008
- 1994 – Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering, University of New Haven, Connecticut
- 2005 – Air Command and Staff College, Non-Resident Program, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
- 2008 – Masters of Aeronautical Science, Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida
- 2011 – Air War College, Non-Resident Program, Maxwell AFB, AL
- 2021 – Doctor of Engineering (honorary), University of New Haven, Connecticut
Effective dates of promotion
- Ensign – 9 September 1994
- Lieutenant Junior Grade – 9 September 1996
- Lieutenant – 9 October 1998
- Major – 5 April 2004
- Lieutenant Colonel – 1 February 2010
- Colonel – 1 October 2015
In 2013, her alma mater, the University of New Haven, Connecticut, gave her the Distinguished Alumni award.
- Sutherland, Andrea (22 February 2011). "U-2 pilot says fascination with space, flying started early". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Cummings, Air Force Senior Airman Bobby. "Face of Defense: U-2 Pilot Blazes Trail". U. S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Steele, Ty (5 November 2021). "Merryl Tengesdal, world's first and only Black woman U-2 pilot, writes book about her life". KCRA. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Blansett, Sarah (7 July 2022). "Black Female U-2 Pilot Broke Barriers on the Ground and in the Air". Military.com. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- "Life Lessons in the Stratosphere and Defying Expectations with U-2 Pilot Merryl Tengesdal". When Women Fly Podcast. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- "'Tough As Nails' Alumna Recognized for Determination, Grit, and Exemplary Career". University of New Haven. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Ward, J. T. (2019). "Talking to: Merryl Tengesdal: Serene under pressure". issuu. University of New Haven Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
- Merryl Tengesdal - Tough As Nails Cast Member, retrieved 1 August 2022
- Bloom, Mike (7 January 2021). "We're Ready to Punch the Clock! Meet the Full Cast of Tough as Nails Season 2". Parade. Retrieved 7 January 2021.