Photo By Airman 1st Class Bailee Darbasie | A Lockheed U-2 pilot, assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., salutes his maintainer before getting into his aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The U-2 pilot must wear a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
Gliding over the skies of Southern Nevada at an altitude of approximately 70,000 feet, an all-black, single jet engine aircraft dubbed the Dragon Lady travels to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
The Lockheed U-2, assigned to Beale Air Force Base, California, is an ultra high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that provides day and night, all-weather intelligence gathering.
The U-2 traveled to Nellis to take part in the Weapons School Integration (WSINT); a series of complex, large-force employment missions that served as the capstone portion of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School courses.
“We’re participating in this large force exercise to help give the Weapons School students the opportunity to integrate with the U-2,” said Maj. John, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron.
Airmen across the flightline watched in awe as the Dragon Lady circled around the base before coming in for its final approach. Just as the aircraft prepared to land, a chase car raced down the flightline at speeds reaching nearly 150 miles per hour to assist in one of the most difficult landings at Nellis. With a radio in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, the pilot driving the chase car began counting down from 10 to inform the U-2 pilot of the distance in feet between the aircraft and the ground.
The aircraft pilot’s view was limited due to the restricting helmet and suit worn while in flight. The purpose of the chase car is to ensure a safe landing for the aircraft and pilot, said Capt. Joseph, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron. The wheels of the U-2 have to touch the ground at the same time due to the bicycle-style landing gear or it could bounce and possibly damage the aircraft.
“The modernized U-2 that we currently fly is a great jet,” said John. “What’s really unique about it is that it helps our ability to look as far as we can. It carries a large number of sensors to an unmatched altitude quicker than any other aircraft, while having a person on board to problem solve, maneuver and defend it.”
The Dragon Lady is a great addition to WSINT because it is versatile, continually evolving and an asset that is ready to integrate with other assets.
“Being here for WSINT allows us to tactfully integrate with the rest of the combat air forces by giving them the timely intelligence they need for their missions,” said Maj. Jonathan, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron. “It was an amazing learning experience for us, and we’re so grateful to everyone on Nellis for their support. We look forward to participating in more exercises in the future.”