Video: Chasing a U-2 Spy Plane With a Camaro Is One of the Coolest Jobs Ever

Working for a car magazine is cool, but do you know what is cooler? Getting in a Camaro and chasing down a U-2 Spy Plane when it’s taking off and landing.

You might be asking why the Air Force employs this tactic, and the answer is fairly simple: An experienced U-2 pilot in a chase car is the best way to guide the pilot in the U-2 through the surprisingly delicate process of taking off and landing.

jstein77 UberDork
1/28/20 1:00 p.m.

I didn't even know they still flew U-2's.  Those first flew in 1955.

_ Dork
1/28/20 1:05 p.m.

I thought the U2 was a drone. Archaic technology I guess.

yupididit UberDork
1/28/20 1:12 p.m.

We still fly (operationally) a number of aircraft built in the 50's 

Mr_Asa Reader
1/28/20 1:16 p.m.

In reply to yupididit :

I'm almost positive there is a trainer from the late 40s still in use.

But the B-52 is also a '55

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
1/28/20 1:40 p.m.

There's a history of various hot cars they used over the years for chasing the U2s on the runway, I think at one time they had souped up El Caminos since they could carry the drop-off landing gear wheels in the back. 

There's a guy from my home town who flew the U2 as well as the SR71; he had some interesting stories to tell.

ChasH Reader
1/28/20 11:14 p.m.

Way cool!

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) UltimaDork
1/29/20 7:33 a.m.
yupididit said:

We still fly (operationally) a number of aircraft built in the 50's

One is from 1949 surprise

Duke MegaDork
1/29/20 9:28 a.m.
Mr_Asa said:

In reply to yupididit :

But the B-52 is also a '55

The NEWEST B-52 airframe was built 58 years ago.


DirtyBird222 UberDork
1/29/20 11:05 a.m.

They've used everything from 4th Gen Camaros, to Pontiac G8s, to El Caminos, and so on. It's a very cool but crucial job. With the way the landing gear is positioned on the U-2 along with the enormous wing span a spotter is required to walk the pilot through landing to ensure the wings aren't destroyed in the process. 

There's a very cool James May special on the U-2 and the last I saw it was on Amazon Prime. 

DirtyBird222 UberDork
1/29/20 11:07 a.m.
_ said:

I thought the U2 was a drone. Archaic technology I guess.

Public education is failing us. 

Appleseed MegaDork
1/29/20 5:12 p.m.

In reply to DirtyBird222 :

At lest he thinks it's an airplane,  which it is. U-2 is an Irish rock band to most people.

BrianC72gt New Reader
1/30/20 1:17 p.m.

They fly out of Beale AFB in Nor Cal near Yuba City.  As a small high voltage contractor, we did a job out there 3 years ago.  My partner and I were marking out our laydown yard waiting for a temporary fence and office trailer delivery.  So, as a goof, we unloaded a big patio table and a couple of chairs, and our company sign propped up on the chairs next to us.  We're both sitting there in the middle of nowhere with our laptops working away in our temporary "office" when a U2 Dragon Lady flies directly overhead, then circled around a few times.  It was an amusing site.  Table in the middle of a field with two guys working on their computers.  I suppose it would make a funny recon photo.

They used to fly SR71's from the same base, and now drones.

Stefan MegaDork
1/30/20 2:39 p.m.

When James May flew in the U2, they were using Pontiac G8's, so they obviously change vehicles relatively often.

DirtyBird222 UberDork
1/30/20 3:47 p.m.
Stefan said:

When James May flew in the U2, they were using Pontiac G8's, so they obviously change vehicles relatively often.

That James May special is 11 years old now and was probably filmed in 2008. 

1/30/20 4:08 p.m.

What exactly is the purpose of chasing the plane? I thought it had to do with the landing gear or keeping the wings off the pavement, but it seems they just follow the plane till it tilts over on one wing?


never mind..just went back and watched with sound.

Appleseed MegaDork
1/30/20 10:37 p.m.

The U-2 was designed for the CIA by Kelly Johnson and the Skunk Works in a hurry in 1955. They designed the tandem landing gear in order to get around the Q-bay (cameras) and fuel tanks. How to land it was an afterthought. Kelly left that part up to Tony LeVier and the test pilots.

The pilot is relatively blind on final. The high aspect wing produces tremendous lift and must be fully stalled to land. The airframes are light weight and low strength. The mains cannot withstand a drop onto the tarmac of more than a meter. The plane is a handful at low altitudes and the chase car calls out all pertinent info so the pilot can concentrate on flying. 

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