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Burning rubber helps land U-2 safely

by Airman 1st Class Michael Battles
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

1/18/2012 - OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- Going 100 mph down the flightline might be normal for an F-16 Fighting Falcon, but for the drivers of the U-2 chase car it's also a daily event on the ground.

As an instrument of safety, pilots use the U-2 chase car to monitor take offs and landings of the aircraft in an attempt to warn the pilot of any possible complications or dangers.

"The car is really important as a margin of safety," said Maj. Alex Scott, a 5th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilot. "Actually, in the past they tried using other aircraft as chasers, but they couldn't fly slowly enough, so as a result they started using high-performance muscle cars."

Due to its large wing span, the U-2 is notorious for being one of the most difficult aircraft to land, he said.

During a routine flight, U-2 pilots fly eight hour missions on average.

"While it may seem frivolous to be tearing up and down the runway in a sports car, the (vehicle) is the U-2 pilot's primary source of mutual support and ensures the safe operation of a national asset," said Maj. Carl Maymi, a 5th RS U-2 pilot.

As the aircraft lifts off or lands, pilots in the chase car radio the pilot about wing angles and ground distance.

"We can land the aircraft without it, but if you can take every precaution possible you're going to do it," Scott said.

Along with flight training, U-2 pilots are also required to take a secondary course that teaches them how to properly maintain high-performance cars at top speeds.

"Flooring it and pushing the car to its max speed as fast as you can to catch up to the U-2 is something not many people can say they've done," Scott said.

The chase car can reach speeds of more than 100 mph, but the speed ranges depending on the needs of the outgoing or incoming aircraft.

"The best thing about being a U-2 pilot and chase car driver here in Korea is the relevant information that we get to gather on a day-to-day basis for (United States Forces Korea) and for joint coalition partners," Scott said.

If the thrill of flying at heights of 70,000 feet isn't enough for these pilots, they may also have a career as a race car driver someday.



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