All student pilots will tell you that landing an airplane can be difficult - in fact, even experienced pilots can tell you that landing an aircraft can be exciting and even dangerous. During my time in the US Air Force I became aware of an interesting aircraft in the Air Force inventory known as the "Dragon Lady". Developed in the 1950s this aircraft was the brainchild of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a talented aircraft designer who worked for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Johnson was not only a brilliant designer, but was known to complete projects ahead of schedule and to over deliver on performance. Lockheed heard about a special project the Air Force was working on called "Bald Eagle" to develop an aircraft that could fly at 70,000 feet placing it out of reach of soviet fighters, missiles and even Russian radar. Such an aircraft would then allow the USAF to overfly the Soviet Union taking aerial photographs of Soviet military installations. Johnson worked in a separate division of Lockheed known as the "Skunk Works". In 1943 the U.S. Army needed to quickly get their own jet fighter to counter the growing fleet of German ME 262 aircraft. Johnson and his team proposed the P-80 "Shooting Star" fighter aircraft and by the time the Army delivered the contract to them they had already been working on the aircraft for 4 months! The aircraft was built in 143 days. As an interesting side note the "Skunk Works" got its name because there was no space available in the factory for Johnson's work so the team operated out of a rented circus tent next to the factory. The factory let off a strong odor which filled the tent. Due to secrecy issues employees of Johnson had to be very careful how they did everything, including answering the telephones. One of Johnson's engineers was a "Li'l Abner" newspaper comic strip fan and there was a running joke in the cartoon strip about a mysterious smelly place deep in the forest called the "Skonk Works". One day the engineers phone rang and he answered it by saying "Skonk Works", and his fellow workers quickly adopted the name "Skunk Works" for their operation. Fast forward to the mid-1950s and the "Skunk Works" were busy designing a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft by using long wings like those found on a glider to the fuselage of the F-104 "Starfighter". In an effort to save weight Johnson proposed that the aircraft take off from a dolly and land using skids. The U.S. Air Force was not impressed, but a civilian on the Air Force review panel named Edwin Land told Allen Dulles of the CIA about the aircraft and suggested that the CIA should fund and operate this aircraft. President Eisenhower agreed and awarded a contract for 20 of the new aircraft designated as the U-2 - th "U" being a deliberately vauge designation of the aircraft as "utility". On August 1st 1955 the first flight occurred during a high-speed taxi test when the airplane leaped into the air at 70 knots! The aircraft's unique design made it a difficult airplane to fly and to land. The airplane has little margin for error with the early models flying near their maximum speed at altitude within 10 knots of stall speed - affectionately known as the "coffin corner". Due to it's high lift to drag ration in the high 20's the aircraft tends to float on landing and is very sensitive to crosswinds, making the aircraft notorious for landing. In fact, during landing the aircraft is followed by a chase car with another U-2 pilot who talks the pilot down by calling out hight above the ground as the airplane decreases it's airspeed. These characteristics were further complicate by the flight controls which were feather light at altitude, but when landing the aircraft controls required extreme inputs to achieve the desired response and a great deal of physical strength to move them. During the initial operations of the aircraft there were several accidents some of which were fatal to the pilot. The first accident occurred 15 May 1956 when the pilot stalled the aircraft upon takeoff. This accident was followed by two more, also occurring shortly after takeoff. The U-2s were also operated by the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 1960 through 1974 by the Black Cat Squadron of the Republic of China Air Force. These aircraft were used in the Far East for aerial reconnaissance. The U.S. Air Force based their aircraft out of Beale Air Force Base in California, and the aircraft were operated by the 9th Reconnaissance Wing by 2 squadrons - the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron and the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (don't ask me what happened to the other 98 squadrons! LOL). The aircraft data is as follows:
Aircraft Length is 63 feet;
Aircraft Height is 16 feet;
Aircraft Empty Weight is 14,300 pounds;
Masimum Takeoff Weight is 40,000 pounds;
Aircraft is powered by a GE F118-101 turbofan rated at 19,000 lbf.
The performance of the aircraft is very interesting:
Aircraft maximum speed is 434 knots;
Aircraft cruise speed is 373 knots;
Aircraft range is 5,566 nautical miles;
Aircraft flight endurance is 12 hours.
Due to the altitudes the aircraft operates at the pilots were space suits. The first time I became aware of the aircraft was while I was serving as a Russian language specialist in the early 1960's and the aircraft was being flown from Peshawar, Pakistan across the Soviet Union. What follows is a typical day in the life of a pilot learning to fly the U-2: But some pilots (with a great touch I imagine) can do quite well with the aircraft as is demonstrated in this second video:
The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed Dragon Lady, is a single-engine, high-altitude aircraft flown by the United States Air Force and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency. It provides day and night, high-altitude (70,000 ft, 21,000 m plus), all-weather surveillance. The aircraft is also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.
In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
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Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
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