The City of Cortez is a small town in an isolated and mountainous area of Colorado. It has long been rumored that, 50 years ago, an unidentified flying object (UFO) piloted by an alien landed there. It was only when US military files were declassified that the town’s residents discovered, to their surprise, that the so-called alien and his flying saucer were in fact Taiwanese pilot Major Hsichun Mike Hua and his U-2 spy plane, which had to make a forced landing.
Although the files have been declassified, proving that what landed all those years ago were not an alien and a UFO, the town’s inhabitants still get excited when they talk about the incident. The town’s cultural center has even held activities to commemorate the forced landing, inviting Mike Hua to visit and talk about how it happened. For this reason, the Republic of China (ROC) flag has made a few appearances in the town.
Hua remembers with gratitude how runway lights of the Cortez Municipal Airport saved his life, and it is because of that incident that the airport has kept its runway lights switched on every night for the past five decades. The story continues to circulate in both Taiwan and America to this day.
During the Cold War, the US hurriedly developed the U-2 high-altitude spy plane to gather intelligence on Soviet nuclear weapons, and assigned some of its best pilots to conduct surveillance over the Soviet Union and China. Taiwan collaborated with the US, sending pilots from the ROC Air Force’s 35th “Black Cat” Squadron for training in America. Hua, who now lives in the US, was one of them.
The US’s purpose in developing the U-2 was to accomplish its mission, and pilot safety was not the foremost concern. In the early days there were numerous incidents of U-2s crashing and crewmembers being injured.
Hua recalls that the Americans categorized the U-2 as top secret. Its special fuselage design made it appear very different from general aircraft of the time, and training flights were always done at night.
On the night of Aug. 3, 1959, the U-2 Hua was flying flamed out at high altitude, having lost all its fuel. He took the plane down to 35,000 feet and tried three times to restart the engines, but without success. Hua knew that he was flying over the Rocky Mountains and could crash into a mountain any time.
Just as the situation seemed hopeless, Hua saw a strip of light in the midst of the unfamiliar territory and judged it to be a runway. Finally, he succeeded in making a precarious forced landing, his plane hitting the runway on its belly and the left wing dragging along the ground.
As Hua says, the U-2 was a top-secret plane and the general public had never seen one. People working at Cortez Airport only saw a strangely shaped plane landing, whereupon a pilot wearing strange clothes and speaking a strange kind of English appeared. Hua remembers the bewildered look on their faces. The US Air Force immediately sent a C-124 Globemaster transport plane and a team of investigators to the town. They dismantled the U-2 right there on the runway and transported it back to base. The public explanation given by the US authorities was that the incident was a simple forced landing by a military aircraft, and no mention was made of the U-2.
Consequently, rumors of aliens having landed in the town quickly started to circulate. 19 years after the forced landing took place, Lieutenant General Ray B. Sitton wrote a report in the American magazine Aerospace Historian entitled The Invasion of Cortez: An Extra-Terrestrial Incident, and the Feb. 1989 edition of Air Force Magazine published a cartoon about the incident with the title There I Was.