The Air Force utilizes chase cars to help U-2s land, as well as take off, at bases in the United States and abroad. The Dragon Lady is notoriously challenging to land given that it only has a pair of fixed landing gear in the center fuselage, offers limited overall visibility to the pilot, and a glider-like design that can stay aloft even at relatively low speeds. The plane's long slender wings are so efficient that the design's very first flight occurred accidentally during a ground test.
While on the ground, the U-2 utilizes a "pogo" gear under each wing, which both fall away after takeoff, to keep stable. When landing, the pilot has to keep the aircraft relatively stable and centered until they're just a few feet off the ground, before effectively stalling the aircraft and falling the rest of the way.
Initially, the Air Force used T-33 jet trainers to help act as spotters to talk pilots in. The service quickly shifted to chase cars that would speed down the runway right behind the Dragon Ladies and assist with the landing process. The drivers are all U-2 pilots themselves, so they know exactly what factors are at play.
Monday, August 26, 2019
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