Chasing the Dragon Lady

A couple weeks ago, we were waiting to get into our house and had absolutely nothing to do.  So we went to base and watched the Dragon Lady.  Now, we are in our house and I have about a million things to do.  So, I am writing about the Dragon Lady.  Life is funny, isn’t it?

Anyway, the U2 Dragon Lady, more commonly referred to as the U2, is an interesting aircraft that has been used by the Air Force to monitor anything the Air Force wants since the 1950s.  Apparently it still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.  (Get it? A u2 reference!  Ah ha ha!)

Actually I know little about their mission, other than that they take pictures of stuff and they can go into space.  Seriously, the pilots wear special flight suits with bubbles over their heads.

Being selected to pilot this aircraft is somewhat like trying to join the CIA.  With most planes, you go through pilot training, you write down planes you want a piece of paper, and they find one for you. U2 pilot wannabes apply and interview for the position after they’ve done a tour or two or more in other planes. I guess it’s a pretty lengthy and competitive process, perhaps partially because they have to make sure you’re not going to sell all the secret stuff you’d be seeing and partially because this plane is the “Most Difficult to Land Plane in the World,” which is what this post is really about. 
Funny-looking, isn’t it?  Apparently, this is the required shape for what it’s supposed to do.  
The only problem is the view of the runway that a pilot would have in any other plane is somehow obstructed by the plane.  I can just imagine a couple engineers and a pilot sitting around the newly designed and constructed U2s, the engineers saying:
 “Yes siree Bob that is a fine-looking aircraft.  Just had 150 of ‘em come off the ramp.  Cost billions of dollars.” 
The pilot climbs in and says: “Hey fellas, I’m not going to be able to land this plane.  I can’t see whatever it is I need to see to land.  Your billion-dollar aircrafts are unlandable.”  
“Well, shoot, Chuck, what are we gonna do about that?  It’d cost way too much to redesign and reconstruct now.  Say, I know: when the flyboys are coming in for a landing, we’ll have one of their buddies chase them down the runway in a fast car, and they’ll both have walkie-talkies, and the one in the car will tell the one in the plane how close he’s getting to the ground!”
“Brilliant, Bill!  You’ve saved Uncle Sam billions of dollars!”
Okay, I don’t know if that’s what happened or if this crazy landing method was planned all along, but that is exactly what they do!  I have seen it with my own eyes: several times in the space of thirty minutes.  For some reason it tickled my brain and made me laugh: there’s a big black aircraft approaching the runway and some little white cars sitting at the end of the runway.  Suddenly the cars take off, flying down the runway at 90 mph, driving really close to the plane, the pilot in the car radioing the distances to the pilot in the plane.  They touch down, another one comes in, and they do it all over again.  The sight is one of the strangest, wildest, weirdest things I’ve seen; a car chasing a plane down the runway. 
This video does a pretty good job of demonstrating most of what I’ve said, only with less flair.  
I love the part when he says “a remote base.”  Clearly he’s never been to a UPT base. 
Also, one of Caleb’s former instructors now flies the U2 so we’re basically friends with a celebrity. 

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Categories: Air Force Life, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Chasing the Dragon Lady

  1. Wow, very interesting. Seems kind of primitive. It must work, though, or they would have changed things by now. Aunt Barb

  2. Yes, primitive was exactly what I thought the first time it was explained to me! Well, the DOD has been making huge strides to trim the budget and we’ve seen that and felt that so I don’t think they’ll be coming up with anything more high tech any time soon! I bet the pilots in the chase car find it pretty fun.

  3. Yeah, I think the whole thing must be an excuse to drive fast cars down a runway… 😉

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