News: Dragon Lady fires up for another combat mission in Southwest Asia
Story by Senior Airman Jenifer Calhoun
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A pilot guides a U-2 Dragon Lady across the air field April 24, 2010, en route to a mission in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility from a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia.
The pilot and the U-2 are with the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, a unit of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, and are deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
According to its Air Force fact sheet, the U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near space reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft providing signals, imagery and electronic measurements and signature intelligence, or MASINT. Long and narrow wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics and allow it to quickly lift heavy sensor payloads to unmatched altitudes, keeping them there for extended periods of time.
The U-2 is capable of gathering a variety of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products which can be stored or sent to ground exploitation centers. In addition, it also supports high-resolution, broad-area synoptic coverage provided by the optical bar camera producing traditional film products which are developed and analyzed after landing.
The U-2 also carries a signals intelligence payload, the fact sheet states. All intelligence products except for wet film can be transmitted in near real-time anywhere in the world via air-to-ground or air-to-satellite data links, rapidly providing critical information to combatant commanders. MASINT provides indications of recent activity in areas of interest and reveals efforts to conceal the placement or true nature of man-made objects.
Routinely flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet, the U-2 pilot must wear a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts. The low-altitude handling characteristics of the aircraft and bicycle-type landing gear require precise control inputs during landing; forward visibility is also limited due to the extended aircraft nose and "taildragger" configuration, the fact sheet shows. A second U-2 pilot normally "chases" each landing in a high-performance vehicle, assisting the pilot by providing radio inputs for altitude and runway alignment. These characteristics combine to earn the U-2 a widely accepted title as the most difficult aircraft in the world to fly.
Through the first three months of 2010, U-2s from the 99th ERS flew nearly 200 missions in support of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements for deployed forces supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.