The American U2 aircraft was operating well above 70,000 feet.
At this altitude its pilot felt completely secure. Absolutely confident that no missile or aircraft could possibly intercept him here, in what was almost the edge of space. Well below him the fevered British military preparations that were the subject of his spying mission continued unabated. In what was pointing increasingly to an intervention in Egypt. More specifically the Suez Canal.
The American pilot smiled thinking The Limeys have no idea I'm up here and even if they did there's not a thing they can do about it. Then the smile came well and truly off his face as two English Electric Lightning fighter/interceptors, screamers of cold war warriors, sailed serenely into view.
The pilot had been briefed on this aircraft but had thought it was still at test flight stage. Even if the Lightnings were operational nobody had bothered to mention that they could achieve such high altitude. Perhaps nobody knew.
One of the Lightning pilots indicated the U2 should leave the area but the U2 pilot was reluctant to do so. They can't stay long at this altitude he thought to himself hoping to outlast them. He then decided to take his U2 to even higher altitudes where he was sure the Lightnings could not follow. Before he got very far the U2 pilot was disabused of this course of action when a short range air to air missiles streaked uncomfortably close to the nose of his aircraft. The Lightnings were following him upwards.
"For chrissakes," yelled the unfortunate pilot – a remark he repeated a few moments later when a second air to air missile came even closer and exploded at what was only just safe range. All hesitancy was gone as the high flying spy plane high tailed it out of the immediate air space as fast as a plane built for altitude rather than speed could go.
The two Mach 2 capable English Electric Lightning fighters followed the U2 for a while, like lions following a Vildebeast, before eventually descending to a lower altitude. Leaving the U2 pilot wondering in the end just how high these formidable aircraft could actually go.
* * *
The Oval Office
The White House
Eisenhower was utterly furious about the U2 incident as indeed was much of America when it became public knowledge. Unfortunately, at the particular moment he most desired it, "Ike" didn't have anything British that he could immediately vent his spleen on. Except for some English china ware in the Oval Office. The British Prime Minister, Cecile Tittington, in charge since Churchill's death in late 1944, wasn't taking calls from anyone with an American accent. Neither was Deputy Prime Minister Harris. Moreover the British Ambassador to the US had been temporarily recalled to London. Calling in the acting Ambassador and giving him a thorough dressing down somehow didn't seem enough.
Not that Ike and Tittington talked much at all these days with the heavily strained relationship between their two countries.