Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

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Since the mid-1950s, the US Air Force’s U-2 Dragon Lady has been navigating the upper layers of the atmosphere, searching almost completely unnoticed.

Although the mission is roughly the same, the planes that perform it are very different.

“The ‘U’ in U-2 means’ utility ‘so a lot of people are like’ OK, 1955, what do we do in 2019, when we fly F-35s and F-22s… why are we flying us the U-2 which was built in 1955? ‘ U-2 pilot Major Travis “Lefty” Patterson said at an Air Force event in May at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City. .

“Just like the Corvette, which has been around for a long time, there have been many different versions of [the U-2]”Patterson said.” The U-2s that we fly now, they were all built around the mid-1980s. “

“The jets are actually quite new,” U-2 pilot Major Matt “Top” Nauman said at the event. “They are much newer than people realize, even though they have been flying for over 60 years.”


The last of the original batch of U-2A planes at the US Air Force Museum.

(US Air Force)

‘It’s just that the name is old’

The U-2A was the first to fly, when its massive wings accidentally turned a high-speed taxi test into a flight test in August 1955. It was followed by the U-2C, which had a new motor.

To overcome the range limitations, the Air Force and the CIA equipped U-2As and U-2Cs for aerial refueling; they became U-2Es and U-2Fs, according to The Drive.

In the early 1960s, the desire for greater range led to the development of variants capable of carrying. Landing on an aircraft carrier proved difficult, however, and several U-2As were modified with stronger landing gear, stop hook, and wing spoilers to reduce lift. These became the U-2G and U-2H.

The U-2R, which first flew in 1967, was 40% larger than the original and had wing pods to carry more sensors and fuel, allowing high altitude surveillance. (The U-2R was tested for aircraft carrier operations, but a naval variant of the U-2 never entered service.)

Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

A U-2 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS America.

(US Navy)

The last U-2R arrived in 1989, and since 1994 the United States has spent id = ”listicle-2638876726 ″, 7 billion to modernize the airframe and sensors. After the addition of the GE F118-101 engine in the late 1990s, all U-2s were renamed U-2S, the current variant.

Between 2002 and 2007, Lockheed improved the cockpit avionics of the 1960s U-2 with the Reconnaissance Avionics Maintenance Program, or RAMP, replacing dials and gauges with multifunction displays, a control unit and front display and a secondary flight display system, according to Military Aerospace Electronics.

The new screens were more user-friendly and provided a better view of the ground for the pilot, who previously had to look through a large tube in the center of the cockpit. RAMP has also made the radio controls easier to reach.

The most recent cockpit upgrades were completed in 2013, Lockheed said last year. Further modifications were proposed over the following years, aimed at keeping the U-2’s sensors robust and resilient.

The Air Force currently has around 30 single-seat U-2s for missions and four two-seat TU-2s, used for training, based at Beale Air Base.

Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

Lt. Col. Lars Hoffman in a new Block 20 U-2S, with a redesigned cockpit, at Osan Air Base in South Korea, June 20, 2006.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt Andrea Knudson)

Every U-2 undergoes a complete overhaul every 4,800 flight hours, or approximately every six to eight years. Because the cell doesn’t spend a lot of time under high stress, the current lifespan of a U-2 is in the 2040s and 2050s.

The Air Force still has a few U-2s built in the late 1960s, but these have been converted, Patterson said.

“Everything is modern, just the airframe itself came out in 69. The engine, the cockpit is brand new,” he added. “But most of the planes we have, they’re all built in the mid-1980s, around the same time as the B-2 stealth bomber.”

The new models, said Patterson, “are about 40% larger [and] significantly more powerful than the original batch of U-2s you saw when Gary Powers was flying over the Soviet Union, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was happening, so it’s a whole different plane – a modern glass cockpit, we have therefore screens. We have extremely advanced sensors.

“So it’s not an old plane. It’s just that the name is old.

Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

A U-2, with a satellite communications system on its back and antennas on its stomach, over California, March 23, 2016.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo)

‘Sir. Potato head ‘

By the mid-1960s, American officials were already talking about withdrawing the U-2, but it outlasted other reconnaissance planes, like the SR-71, which were more expensive to operate.

Unlike satellites, a U-2 can be dispatched to homologate an area of ​​interest in a relatively short time. It also has advantages over unmanned aerial vehicles, like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Patterson said.

“When you think of some of the abilities that our adversaries are able to bring to the field quite quickly and inexpensively – GPS jamming and things like that – it certainly pays dividends to have a human being able to respond in real-time development situations. “

A human pilot is also better in an unfamiliar environment, he said. “I can deploy anywhere in the world because I don’t need to schedule a new airfield. I can just take my plane and land it… and I can take off in a matter of hours.

Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

U-2 pilot Major Ryan before a tour of Southwest Asia, February 2, 2017.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

Both Nauman and Patterson praised the versatility of the U-2s.

“The ability of this platform to adapt to the latest imaging technology is a key part of” its continued relevance, Nauman said. “With size, weight and horsepower … we’re talking about 5,000 pounds of payload.”

That’s 2,000 pounds more than the payload of the RQ-4. The ceiling of U-2 is also above 70,000 feet, or more than 10,000 feet above the ceiling of RQ-4.

The U-2 can also test the technology at high altitude before making the jump into space. “The ability to get the most modern technology before it hits space is kind of what makes us relevant,” Nauman said.

Other technologies and payloads can be traded on the U-2, which helps “keep costs down, speed up development times, put these things in the air and make sure we fix all the problems.” , Patterson said. “So we can proliferate these [things] throughout the air force.

Having your own personal APC makes sense when the going gets tough

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loads test film into a camera for a U-2 mission in Southwest Asia, April 17, 2008.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)

“The U-2 almost looks like Mr. Potato Head,” said Patterson, describing its adaptability.

“So you can take out a nacelle here and a nose here and put in a new thing pretty quickly, just because it has big wings, it has a big engine, so we have a lot of size and weight and power advantage. on many other planes at high altitude.

Perhaps the most famous U-2 sensor is its optical bar camera.

“It’s actually a giant wet film camera. … It lodges in the belly of the plane. There are about 10,500 feet of film, “which was once made by Kodak,” Patterson said. “In about eight hours we can take off and we can map the entire state of California.”

The U-2 no longer performs overflights of hostile territory, Nauman said. But his suite of cameras and sensors allow him to pick up details, whether he’s looking straight down or hundreds of miles away.

“Let’s say we don’t want to fly this camera in the stomach. We can take the nose off and we can put a giant radar on the nose, ”Patterson said.

“With a big radar up front,” you can collect images on the horizon, he added. “If you think about how far you can see if you’re parked off the coast of someone with a 300 mile mirror, that’s pretty phenomenal.”

The U-2 can also be equipped with what Patterson described as “like a big digital camera” with a lens “the size of a pizza plate”. With multiple spectral capabilities, “it’s imaging across different parts of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually extract specific data that these Intel analysts need to actually identify” the composition of particular materials. .

The signal payloads also allow the U-2 to pick up various radars and other communications.

“We have a number of antennas all over the plane that allow us to just pick up on what others are doing,” Patterson said. “We bring all of that on board the plane, and we direct it through a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world.”

“While we are sitting alone in a strange part of the world doing this [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] mission, all the information we collect is transmitted to several teams around the world.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.


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