Cars Are Needed to Help USAF U-2 “Dragon Lady” Spy Plane Land

U-2 Drago Lady landing 1 photo
Photo: Screenshot from YouTube
We’ve all seen that Nissan Frontier publicity stunt that had the more gullible think the pickup actually served as a landing gear for a commercial airplane. But what you’re about to see now is completely different.
Well, maybe not “completely,” as the car does help the plane land, but it’s in a more indirect manner. First of all, unlike the Nissan thing, this is 100 percent real. This method has been used by the USAF (and the CIA, as they previously operated the U-2 too - pun intended) ever since the famous spy plane came to be in the late `50s.

The U-2 is one of the few military aircraft to remain in service for longer than 50 years, which is a testament of its great initial design and all-around versatility. It’s also very hard to take down, since it’s meant to fly at very high altitudes (70,000 feet/ 21,000 m) in all weather conditions, where it can carry on with its reconnaissance missions unabated.

But if enemy weapons are not necessarily a problem, friendly landings are. One particular trait of the U-2 spy plane is its very large wingspan (103 feet or 31.4 meters) compared to the total length of the airplane body (63 feet or 19.2 meters). This gave the U-2 some glider-like characteristics, but it also made it a very tricky plane to fly, and particularly to land.

It also prohibited the U-2 from using a classic landing gear layout with two wheels over the wings and one in the front. Instead, the famous reconnaissance aircraft came with just two wheels in tandem, which meant that every landing turned the U-2 into the largest and most expensive bicycle for a few seconds.

It also meant that pilots were able to benefit from a little help when performing this tricky maneuver and this help could not have come from anywhere else but the landing strip itself. That meant a radio-equipped car capable of keeping up with the plane.

Over the last 50 years, the USAF has used a nice range of American-built cars to stay in touch with the pilots returning from a mission. The radioman’s job seems to be a pretty simple one, but it could make the difference between a plane that just needs refueling before it’s ready to go again and one that requires hours of repairs. It may seem like he’s saying random numbers, but in fact he’s just relaying live to the pilot the distance separating his plane from the ground.

Nowadays, the USAF uses Pontiac G8 GTs, but the likes of Chevrolet El Camino, Police-spec Ford Mustangs or Chevrolet Camaro B4Cs have all seen their share of action in the past. Have a look at the video below for a quick demonstration of how a U-2 landing unfolds.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Vlad Mitrache
Vlad Mitrache profile photo

"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories