Updated: May 11
By Sheryl Dolley
“Shatter the Sky:
What going to the stratosphere taught me about
self-worth, sacrifice, and discipline”
“In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, author Merryl Tengesdal, has become one of the most interesting and compelling maverick women in aviation. In this inspirational memoir, retired Colonel Merryl Tengesdal shares her Life Lessons on everything from her career in the military, being the first and only black woman to pilot the U2 aircraft, to marriage and motherhood – and everything in between. This book is a deep reflection on life in the military, with mesmerizing storytelling. Merryl invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood in the Bronx, to her years deployed in the Middle East, South America, and Asia, to her experience on the hit reality show Tough As Nails. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her life as she lived it - in her own words and on her own terms. With wisdom and warmth, Shatter the Sky is the deeply personal story of a woman of substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.”
The Power Of A Woman With Aspirations
Merryl Tengesdal is a retired career military officer. She 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 three African Americans to be in the U-2 Program. She is called “The Dragon Lady”, like the powerful plane she flew. A military veteran, aviator, commander who served in the US Navy and the US Air Force, Tengesdal is a role model and an American Hero. She served in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. 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. 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. 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. She served as Director of Inspections for The Air Force Inspector General, then retired at the rank of United States Air Force Colonel. In 2017, Tengesdal retired from the Air Force as a colonel, with more than 3,400 flight hours and 330 combat hours. Over 1,000 of those flight hours are in the U-2.
It is inspiring to look closely at this child of a single mother from the Bronx. At seven, she was asked what she wanted to be. Instead of the ballerina or movie star normal “girl” answer, she firmly stated that she wanted to be an astronaut. She was enchanted with Star Trek, the “strange new world” and the dream of somewhere “off the planet”. She was competitive and driven to achieve something extraordinary. Authentic and humble, Tengesdal never looked for shortcuts. She assessed the requirements and systematically accomplished each level. With confidence and unrelenting drive, she put the good work in to rise above, to accomplish and reach exceptional.
Confidence and unrelenting drive built her success and became a mantra for the people she mentors. “Don’t be afraid to be unapologetically you”. She encourages others to “use your gifts”. She is more than a war hero, an author, a mentor, and an example. She is a powerhouse, inspiring others to aim high and achieve remarkable goals.
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