Taming the Dragon Lady

One of the most difficult things about flying the mystic U-2 Dragon Lady is LANDING the U-2 Dragon Lady (aka the Deuce).  Imagine trying to land a bicycle at 100 MPH with wings sticking off of each side by over 52 feet that rest only three feet off the ground, all while wearing a large motorcycle helmet with horse blinders on each side.  That’s about what it’s like to land the U-2.  One way we make this controlled crash happen safely is by using an extra set of eyes that sit in an American muscle car just 20-30 feet behind the aircraft during the landing phase.

Currently, the Air Force is using Camaros, GTOs, and G-8s armed with two radios to get the job done.  The race car is driven by a fully qualified U-2 Pilot, so that expert altitude and attitude calls can be made to the one attempting to tame the Dragon Lady in the cockpit.  It goes something like this: When the pilot is ready to descend out of 70,000+ feet, he will put the gear down (step 1).  The pilot will then deploy the speed brakes, spoilers and pull the power back to idle.  Even with all of this drag and limited thrust output, it still takes a considerable amount of time to get the U-2 out of the sky and across the runway threshold.

The goal is to cross the threshold at 10 feet above the ground.  This is where the chase car pilot (aka the mobile) makes his money.  The mobile will begin to make altitude calls at 10 feet and continue a steady cadence of altitude calls until the aircraft reaches two feet.  At two feet, the pilot must hold the aircraft steady and wait for it to slow below stall speed.  If the aircraft is allowed to touch the ground before it reaches stall speed, it will hit “main gear first” as opposed to the desired “tail wheel first” attitude, which will cause a considerable bounce or porpoise back up into the air.  If this is allowed to happen, one wing will likely stall before the other after the bounce, which will cause a large yawing moment and will likely force the aircraft into a hard landing on an undesirable aircraft surface while sending it into a spin and/or off the prepared surface of the runway.  With all of that said, landing the U-2 is pretty simple…just don’t mess up.  Even experienced U-2 pilots are occasionally bitten by the Dragon Lady.  Crosswinds add a whole new element as you try to remove all crab and drift while keeping the wings level with a wingspan of over 104 feet and just three feet of wingtip clearance.  There is never a dull moment when flying the Deuce!

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