The U-2 spy plane is the most difficult aircraft to fly in the US Air Force. In 57 years of operation, just 920 pilots have been certified to fly what is nicknamed the Dragon Lady.
Because the spy plane’s pilots are so taxed, the Air Force long ago mandated that chase cars driven by U-2 pilots follow the craft for landings, talking the pilots through touchdown. The chase cars typically have powerful, torquey engines – in addition to the GTOs, the fleet includes Pontiac G8 GTs and Camaro Super Sports, largely because these can launch from a standstill to landing speed in roughly 400 metres.
The drivers, known as mobile pilots, race behind the planes as they land, radioing reports on altitude and attitude. The preferred position: three car lengths behind the tail and slightly to the side to avoid the wash of the U-2’s 75 600-newton turbofan.
Accompany Top Gear’s James May as he chases the dragon lady in a Pontiac GTO…
Read more about U-2 spy planes in PM’s October 2012 issue – on sale on 24 September.