U-2 Plane 50+ years old

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Bruce FLinch, Nov 13, 2007.

  1. Bruce FLinch

    Bruce FLinch New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2005
    Messages:
    5,015
    Location:
    Bay Point, Kali..aka Gun Point
    Again, sorry the pics didn't copy.

    The Venerable U-2: 50+ years old and still going strong


    Another day in the office



    FLIGHT OF THE DRAGON LADY



    Maj. Dean Neeley is in the forward, lower cockpit of the Lockheed U-2ST, a two-place

    version of the U-2S, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that the Air Force calls

    "Dragon Lady."



    His voice on the intercom breaks the silence, "Do you know that you're the highest

    person in the world?" He explains that I am in the higher of the two cockpits and

    that there are no other U-2s airborne right now. "Astronauts don't count," he says,

    "They're out of this world."



    We are above 70,000 feet and still climbing slowly as the aircraft becomes lighter. The

    throttle has been at its mechanical limit since takeoff, and the single General Electric

    F118-GE-101 turbofan engine sips fuel so slowly at this altitude that consumption is

    less than when idling on the ground. Although true airspeed is that of a typical jetliner,

    indicated airspeed registers only in double digits..



    I cannot detect the curvature of the Earth, although some U-2 pilots claim that they can.



    The sky at the horizon is hazy white but transitions to midnight blue at our zenith.

    It seems that if we were much higher, the sky would become black enough to see

    stars at noon. The Sierra Nevada, the mountainous spine of California, has lost

    its glory, a mere corrugation on the Earth. Lake Tahoe looks like a fishing hole,

    and rivers have become rivulets. Far below, "high flying" jetliners etch contrails

    over Reno, Nevada, but we are so high above these aircraft that they cannot be seen.



    I cannot detect air noise through the helmet of my pressure suit.



    I hear only my own breathing, the hum of avionics through my headset and,

    inexplicably, an occasional, shallow moan from the engine, as if it were gasping

    for air. Atmospheric pressure is only an inch of mercury, less than 4 percent of

    sea-level pressure. Air density and engine power are similarly low. The strato-

    spheric wind is predictably light, from the southwest at 5 kt, and the outside air

    temperature is minus 61 degrees Celsius.



    Although not required, we remain in contact with Oakland Center while in the

    Class E airspace that begins at Flight Level 600. The U-2's Mode C transpond-

    er, however, can indicate no higher than FL600. When other U-2s are in the

    area, pilots report their altitudes, and ATC keeps them separated by 5,000

    feet and 10 miles.



    Our high-flying living quarters are pressurized to 29,500 feet, but 100-percent oxygen

    supplied only to our faces lowers our physiological altitude to about 8,000 feet. A pres-

    surization-system failure would cause our suits to instantly inflate to maintain a pres-

    sure altitude of 35,000 feet, and the flow of pure oxygen would provide a physiological

    altitude of 10,000 feet.



    The forward and aft cockpits are configured almost identically. A significant difference is

    the down-looking periscope/drift-meter in the center of the forward instrument panel. It is

    used to precisely track over specific ground points during reconnaissance, something that otherwise would be impossible from high altitude. The forward cockpit also is equipped with

    a small side-view mirror extending into the air stream. It is used to determine if the U-2 is generating a telltale contrail when over hostile territory.



    Considering its 103-foot wingspan and resultant roll dampening, the U-2 maneuvers surpris-

    ingly well at altitude; the controls are light and nicely harmonized. Control wheels (not sticks) are used, however, perhaps because aileron forces are heavy at low altitude. A yaw string (like those used on sailplanes) above each canopy silently admonishes those who allow the aircraft to slip or skid when maneuvering. The U-2 is very much a stick-and-rudder airplane, and I discover that slipping can be avoided by leading turn entry and recovery with slight rudder pressure.



    When approaching its service ceiling, the U-2's maximum speed is little more than its minimum. This marginal difference between the onset of stall buffet and Mach buffet is known as coffin corner, an area warranting caution. A stall/spin sequence can cause control loss from which recovery might not be possible when so high, and an excessive Mach number can compromise structural integrity. Thankfully, an autopilot with Mach hold is provided.



    The U-2 has a fuel capacity of 2,915 gallons of thermally stable jet fuel distributed among four wing tanks. It is unusual to discuss turbine fuel in gallons instead of pounds, but the 1950s-style fuel gauges in the U-2 indicate in gallons. Most of the other flight instruments seem equally antiquated.



    I train at 'The Ranch'. Preparation for my high flight began the day before at Beale Air Force Base (a.k.a. The Ranch), which is north of Sacramento, CA, and was where German prisoners of war were interned during World War II. It is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which is responsible for worldwide U-2 operations, including those aircraft based in Cyprus;Italy; Saudi Arabia; and South Korea.



    After passing a physical exam (whew!), I took a short, intensive course in high-altitude physiology and use of the pressure suit. The 27-pound Model S1034 "pilot's protective

    assembly" is the same as the one used by astronauts during shuttle launch and reentry.

    After being measured for my $150,000 spacesuit, I spent an hour in the egress trainer. It provided no comfort to learn that pulling up mightily on the handle between my legs would activate the ejection seat at any altitude or airspeed. When the handle is pulled, the control wheels go fully forward, explosives dispose of the canopy, cables attached to spurs on your

    boots pull your feet aft, and you are rocketed into space. You could then free fall in your in-

    flated pressure suit for 54,000 feet or more. I was told that "the parachute opens automatic-

    ally at 16,500 feet, or you get a refund."



    I later donned a harness and virtual-reality goggles to practice steering a parachute to land-

    ing. After lunch, a crew assisted me into a pressure suit in preparation for my visit to the al-

    titude chamber. There I became reacquainted with the effects of hypoxia and was subjected

    to a sudden decompression that elevated the chamber to 73,000 feet. The pressure suit inflat-

    ed as advertised and just as suddenly I became the Michelin man. I was told that it is possible

    to fly the U-2 while puffed up but that it is difficult. A beaker of water in the chamber boiled furiously to demonstrate what would happen to my blood if I were exposed without protection

    to ambient pressure above 63,000 feet.



    After a thorough preflight briefing the next morning, Neeley and I put on long johns and UCDs (urinary collection devices), were assisted into our pressure suits, performed a leak check (both kinds), and settled into a pair of reclining lounge chairs for an hour of breathing pure oxygen. This displaces nitrogen in the blood to prevent decompression sickness (the bends) that could occur during ascent. During this "pre-breathing," I felt as though I were in a Ziploc bag-style cocoon and anticipated the possibility of claustrophobia. There was none, and I soon became comfortably acclimatized to my confinement.



    We were in the aircraft an hour later. Preflight checks completed and engine started, we taxied to Beale's 12,000-foot-long runway. The single main landing gear is not steerable, differential braking is unavailable, and the dual tail wheels move only 6 degrees in each direction, so it takes a lot of concrete to maneuver on the ground.. Turn radius is 189 feet, and I had to lea d with full rudder in anticipation of all turns.



    We taxied into position and came to a halt so that personnel could remove the safety pins from the outrigger wheels (called pogos) that prevent one wing tip or the other from scraping the ground. Lt. Col. Greg "Spanky" Barber, another U-2 pilot, circled the aircraft in a mobile command vehicle to give the aircraft a final exterior check.



    I knew that the U-2 is overpowered at sea level. It has to be for its engine, normally aspirated

    like every other turbine engine, to have enough power remaining to climb above 70,000 feet. Also, we weighed only 24,000 pounds (maximum allowable is 41,000 pound s) and were depart-

    ing into a brisk headwind. Such knowledge did not prepare me for what followed. The throttle was fully advanced and would remain that way until the beginning of descent. The 17,000 pounds of thrust made it feel as though I had been shot from a cannon. Within two to three seconds and 400 feet of takeoff roll, the wings flexed, the pogos fell away, and we entered a nose-up attitude

    of almost 45 degrees at a best-angle-of-climb airspeed of 100 kts. Initial climb rate was 9,000 fpm.



    We were still over the runway and through 10,000 feet less than 90 seconds from brake release. One need not worry about a flame out after takeoff in a U-2. There either is enough runway to land straight ahead or enough altitude (only 1,000 feet is needed) to circle the airport for a dead-stick approach and landing. The bicycle landing gear creates little drag and has no limiting air-speed, so there was no rush to tuck away the wheels. (The landing gear is not retracted at all when in the traffic pattern shooting touch and goes).



    We passed through 30,000 feet five minutes after liftoff and climb rate steadily decreased

    until above 70,000 feet, when further climb occurred only as the result of fuel burn. On

    final approach Dragon Lady is still drifting toward the upper limits of the atmosphere at

    100 to 200 fpm and will continue to do so until it is time to descend. It spends little of its life

    at a given altitude. Descent begins by retarding the throttle to idle and lowering the land-

    ing gear. We raise the spoilers, deploy the speed brakes (one on each side of the aft fuselage),

    and engage the gust alleviation system. This raises both ailerons 7.5 degrees above their nor-

    mal neutral point and deflects the wing flaps 6.5 degrees upward. This helps to unload the

    wings and protect the airframe during possible turbulence in the lower atmosphere.



    Gust protection is needed because the Dragon Lady is like a China doll ; she cannot withstand heavy gust and maneuvering loads. Strength would have required a heavier structure, and the

    U-2's designer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, shaved as much weight as possible-which is why

    there are only two landing gear legs instead of three. Every pound saved resulted in a 10-foot increase in ceiling.



    With everything possible hanging and extended, the U-2 shows little desire to go down.

    It will take 40 minutes to descend to traffic pattern altitude but we needed only half that

    time climbing to altitude. During this normal descent, the U-2 covers 37 nm for each 10,000

    of altitude lost. When clean and at the best glide speed of 109 kts, it has a glide ratio of 28:1.

    It is difficult to imagine ever being beyond glide range of a suitable airport except when over large bodies of water or hostile territory.. Because there is only one fuel quantity gauge, and it shows only the total remaining, it is difficult to know whether fuel is distributed evenly, which

    is important when landing a U-2. A low-altitude stall is performed to determine which is the heavier wing, and some fuel is then transferred from it to the other. We are on final approach with flaps at 35 degrees (maximum is 50 degrees) in a slightly nose-down attitude. The U-2 is flown with a heavy 1.1 VSO (75 kts), very close to stall. More speed would result in excessive floating. I peripherally see Barber accelerating the 140-mph, chase car along the runway as he joins in tight formation with our landing aircraft. I hear him on the radio calling out our height (standard practice for all U-2 landings). The U-2 must be close to normal touchdown attitude at

    a height of one foot before the control wheel is brought firmly aft to stall the wings and plant the tail wheels on the concrete. The feet remain active on the pedals, during which time it is neces-sary to work diligently to keep the wings level. A roll spoiler on each wing lends a helping hand when its respective aileron is raised more than 13 degrees.



    The aircraft comes to rest, a wing tip falls to the ground, and crewmen appear to reattach

    the pogos for taxiing. Landing a U-2 is notoriously challenging, especially for those who

    have never flown tail draggers or sailplanes. It can be like dancing with a lady or wrest-

    ling a dragon, depending on wind and runway conditions. Maximum allowable crosswind

    is 15 kts.



    The U-2 was first flown by Tony Levier in August 1955, at Groom Lake (Area 51), Nevada.

    The aircraft was then known as Article 341, an attempt by the Central Intelligence Agency

    to disguise the secret nature of its project. Current U-2s are 40 percent larger and much

    more powerful than the one in which Francis Gary Powers was downed by a missile over

    the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The Soviets referred to the U-2 as the "Black Lady of Espionage" because of its spy missions and mystique. The age of its design, however, belies

    the sophistication of the sensing technology carried within. During U.S. involvement in Ko-

    sovo, for example, U-2s gathered and forwarded data via satellite to Intelligence at Beale

    AFB for instant analysis. The results were sent via satellite to battle commanders, who decid-

    ed whether attack aircraft should be sent to the target. In one case, U-2 sensors detected ene-

    my aircraft parked on a dirt road and camouflaged by thick, overhanging trees. Only a few minutes elapsed between detection and destruction. No other nation has this capability.
  2. williamd

    williamd New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2007
    Messages:
    772
    Location:
    SoCal
    Live near march AFB Museum. U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird on dsiplay ... along with many others. Impressive airplanes. bet it sure got lonely. Recently March Museum had a program with pilots of those 'spy' planes as speakers. Fantastic!
  3. I wonder what Francis Gary Powers would say about the U-2, Bruce? Maybe something like, "Oh s***, that missile has a lock!" :D;):p

    No, seriously, the U-2 was an aircraft far ahead of its time, and has served us very well indeed. The "Skunk Works" certainly scored a big one with that design.
  4. Marlin T

    Marlin T Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2005
    Messages:
    7,877
    Location:
    New Mexico
    Thanks again Bruce, fantastic as usual!!
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