A few years ago, members of our car club got an invitation to come to Beale AFB and learn about their U2 program. One of our club members is a retired Air Force officer, and knew (I think) the squadron commander.
What a memorable day that was.
The U2 – actually called a TR-1 now – about 40% bigger, is considered one of the toughest planes in the Air Force inventory to fly. It’s certainly not the fastest but difficult to land.
Pilots are carefully selected, and only after a distinguished career flying other planes, such as the F15.
We first sat in for a seminar to learn the history – a quick tour of the suit up facilities – where they are fitted with – I’d call it a space suit – (the same area where the SR-71 “Black Bird” pilots were fitted) – then off to the runway.
Because the U2 (everyone still calls it the U2) – has only 2 main gears on the fuselage – it is basically a jet-powered glider – they use a chase car driven by another pilot to call out the distance of a landing plane of its rear wheels to the ground.
For this day they really rolled out the red carpet for us – there was an actual chase car but they used a second following behind the first, just to show us how the procedure works.
The cars have changed over the years, they used Chevy El Caminos years ago, Ford Mustangs, Camaros, the later Pontiac GTOs – and I believe they have just ordered some new replacement.
While the cars don’t have many miles on them they get a good work out – from 0-120 thousands of times before they are retired.
So how does this system work?
The chase car stays off the runway, on the tarmac, until the U2 crosses the numbers. Then the fun begins – full acceleration doing a long sweeping left turn until we are going 100-120 about 150-200 feet behind the plane.
The driver is on the radio calling out the final altitude of the rear wheel – 10 feet – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 -1 to help the pilot.
With a bit of flying that impressed me, the pilot slows down and keeps the wings level until the plane has stopped.
Then an Air Force crew in a truck comes out, puts temporary wheels on about midway up the wing – and the pilot then can taxi normally to the hanger.
Incidentally the wing tips have titanium “runners” to protect them should the tip hit the ground .
We sat in the pilot’s “inner sanctum” – their bar – and I got to talk to one or 2. I mentioned to one, “You guys have to be pretty good to fly one of these”, to which he replied “If you have to tell people how good you are – you aren’t very good”.
A sentiment with which Lex would no doubt concur.
I asked a few technical questions that he could answer (not classified) – the rate of climb? – 10,000 fpm. Once the plane leaves the runway it seems to leap into the air.
Obviously crosswinds are a factor to consider – and he said that if they are over 15 kts, they find another runway.
It was a memorable day.
I’ll see how WordPress lets me insert multiple pictures, and you too can have a vicarious tour.
…an early suit
It looks like WordPress gives me the choice of inserting pictures or a video…but not both. If you’d like me to post a short video of chasing the U2 let me know…
06-21-18 Video is here.