Page # 2 of 3 pages

Flying a U-2 Mission

It took a trained team to put the pilot into the pressure suit the same team will put the pilot into the aircraft connecting the many belts, cables & communication lines to the pilot. Once secured the pilot will run the check list, start the aircraft & now is ready to taxi the U2 which is very challenging. The turn radius of the U2 is 189 feet turning into the wind, downwind the radius could exceed 300 feet. Should the pilot get stuck it is not very easy to reposition the aircraft. A typical fighter jet has a turn radius of 25 to 50 feet. As the aircraft is moving the mobile officer is in a high performance chase car in constant radio contact with the pilot moving with the aircraft.

Once on the runway the saftey pins are removed from the pogos. Pogos are located on the end of the wings & prevent the wings from dragging on the ground allowing the U2 to taxi down the runway. The mobile officer at this point gives the U2 a last check making sure that all is normal. Cleared for take off the throttle is moved to maximum thrust. At lift off the pogos should fall off. They don't always so if not the pilot must come around over the airstrip & try to shake them off. If they don't come off the pilot must land & retry the flight. A lift off of a U2 is a very impressive sight. A normal climb rate is 15,000 feet per minute. The climb rate varies on a number of factors such as weight, temperature & altitude pressure. About 25,000 feet the pilot will level off.

The U2 then climbs to 70,000 feet & completes the reconnaissance mission. At 70,000 feet you can see the curvature of the earth, the sky gets black as you reach the outer limits of the atmosphere. It is a very lonely feeling but you are busy with the operation equipment.

With the mission accomplished you head for home. Approximately 45 to 60 minutes before landing you run the appropriate check list. With landing gear down, speed brakes on & extended it takes close to 60 minutes for descending. Like I said in the beginning the U2 really likes to fly. The mobile officer is at the beginning of the runway waiting for the return of the U2. They are in radio contact at all times. I find the runway with my navigation instruments. When I visually see the runway I cross it at about 10 feet high. Besides being exposed to threats, hazardous physiological environment I am about to engage the most dangerous part of flying the U2 & that is landing it. Other U2 pilots I have flown with agree that the word dangerous is understated. The bicycle type landing gear, long wing span the U2 wants to keep flying. Even at idle power it is very difficult. At this point the mobile officer is very important. The pilot has for the past 9 hours or better been in a hazardous physiological environment, very little to eat, no chance for a rest or stretch your legs. You are dehydrated, fatigued & your depth of perception from a high altitude is skewed. You still return to base, cross the runway center strip at 10 feet high & land the U2. The mobile officer in the chase car follows the U2 down the runway callling out your altitude every two feet & any deviations if any. You must achieve a full stall about two feet above the runway to land but not shut the engine down. Stopping lift to the wings is done by exact airspeed control. Not as simple as it may sound considering the bulkie pressure suit & the past 9 hours or so. The tail wheel touches down first & when the stall happens the main wheel touches down. Inside the cockpit it is violent as you feel the stall & touchdown & struggle to keep the wings level. You still have to keep the U2 wings as level as possible until a complete stop. Remember the pogos that fell off at lift off. There are two skid plates on the end of each wing for landing.

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