If you’re a pilot, chances are you have a nickname. And when you’re a pilot with the last name Furr, it’s perhaps inevitable that you’re going to be tagged “Fuzzy.” Though Frank “Fuzzy” Furr is known around town for his southern drawl and his Carolina barbecue dinners, before he landed in Park City 25 years ago, his notable aviation career took him from Vietnam treetops to the edge of space.
It was while he was a student in North Carolina State University’s Air Force ROTC program that Furr first became airborne. Soon after, he was flying classmates and their dates around for gas money. The Air Force trained him to fly fighters but sent him to Vietnam as a forward air controller—flying low and slow over the jungle marking targets for airstrikes. “I got shot at a lot,” Furr recalls. “I certainly remember the time a shell went right through the canopy behind me. It does get your attention.”
An Air Force buddy referred him to America’s legendary U-2 spy-plane program. There he learned to fly the planes used by the US to take pictures of Russian missile sites in Cuba, which ignited the Cuban Missile Crisis. Furr spent 1,300 mostly combat hours in the U-2 cockpit, flying post-crisis spy missions over Cuba, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and places he still can’t reveal. Up there at 70,000 feet above sea level, pilots wore what Furr calls the “bag”: a pressurized flight suit similar to those worn by astronauts.
Furr climbed into his first U-2 in 1972 and climbed out for good in 1984. After Air Force retirement, he went to work for the Salt Lake City–based L3 Communications, builder of systems that transmit U-2 data to earth, often in real time, so bombers and fighters can use the data against ground threats. Early on, a colleague invited him to his Park City house. “Before the weekend was over, we [with wife Lani] bought a house,” he says. “[Park City] was love at first sight.” Now fully retired, Fuzzy’s interest in the spy game has grown. He’s a frequent lecturer on Princess Cruise Lines and the University of Utah’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute where he gets to remember his best flying assignment. “Up at 70,000 feet what are really spectacular are the sunrises and sunsets,” he says. “It’s a beautiful office."