View Full Version : Flying The Dragon Lady

06-20-2007, 07:49 AM
This wonderful account of flying the U2 was sent to me by a retired USAF colonel.

Flying The Dragon Lady
> There are significant differences between flying a
> U2 and more conventional aircraft.
> For those who enjoy airplanes and flying this is a
> fascinating read.
> 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
> stratospheric 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
> transponder, 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 pressurization-system failure would
> cause our suits to instantly inflate to maintain a
> pressure 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 surprisingly 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 inflated pressure suit for 54,000 feet or more.
> I was told that "the parachute opens automatically
> at 16,500 feet, or you get a refund."
> I later donned a harness and virtual-reality goggles
> to practice steering a parachute to landing. After
> lunch, a crew assisted me into a pressure suit in
> preparation for my visit to the altitude 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 inflated 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 lead 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 departing 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 ******ing the throttle to idle and
> lowering the landing 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
> normal 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 wrestling 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 Kosovo, 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 decided
> whether attack aircraft should be sent to the
> target. In one case, U-2 sensors detected enemy
> 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.

06-20-2007, 08:55 AM
Great morning read, thanks!

06-20-2007, 12:05 PM
Good reading. thanks...and I have trouble landing a slightly damaged beau.

06-20-2007, 12:35 PM
why just read about it when you can fly one.. http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

WOV add-on plane. Flown it and it's a whole lot of fun.. http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_cool.gif


wait your waiting for Oleg to make one right? You will be waiting for a good long while..

suckers.... http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_razz.gif http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif

06-21-2007, 12:42 AM
Excellent reading! Makes you appriciate the skill of the pilots who had to fly this plane at the end of the 50s