Today in #askextremeross, @andre_garcez_ asked “How does the U-2 handle at low altitudes?”

So imagine you’re carrying a 105 ft long wooden beam in the center and trying to maneuver it down the street. You’re trying to keep the ends from hitting anything and keep them from hitting the ground. If one end starts dipping one way, it takes a lot of effort to stop it and move it back level, and then you have to stop it from swinging the other way. The faster you see an issue, the quicker you can react and the less correction you need.

That’s what learning to fly the U-2 down low was all about: Speeding up that feedback loop. It has so much inertia and adverse yaw created by the flight controls, that you have to constantly provide input. All of the flight controls are cable controlled (as opposed to hydraulic or electric controlled) and you literally are fighting the jet through the winds and weather. I would tell my students that you are either flying the jet, or it’s flying you. The slower the aircraft got, the less effective the flight controls got and your corrections have to be that much more exaggerated to have an effect.

This no flap landing shows why it’s so hard to land this jet; it just wants to fly. This was one of the most difficult maneuvers flown in the U-2. The goal was to arrive over the runway threshold at 5 feet and on your threshold speed (calculated from your weight, here it was 82 knots). Then bring the jet down to 2 feet and let the plane stall (happens at about threshold minus 8 knots). The 20 seconds it takes this jet to land in the video once it reaches 2 feet is very normal for a no flap. Every knot you cross faster adds 1000 feet to your landing distance. At 10 knots fast, the jet would literally hang out at 2 feet for the length of the runway. If you try to force it down, the jet will just bounce back into the air, probably up to 5 or more feet. If you stall it from more than 3-4 feet, you might break the jet. To arrive at the threshold at that altitude and speed, you have to fly about a 1.5 degree glidepath (for perspective on that, at a mile from the runway, you’ll only be about 150 feet off the ground). Oh and the onset of stall buffet is at about 1 knot less than threshold speed.

As an instructor for my last 4 years in the U-2, I had the…um…pleasure of teaching pilots how to fly a no flap pattern for the first time. It was a great test of airmanship but I’m not sorry I don’t have to teach that anymore.

Click on the title to watch in Youtube and take advantage of moving the camera around. Make sure to select 4K for best resolution. The video starts just after starting the final turn to the runway. This was flown in the 2-seat U-2 (TU-2) with me flying and instructing on the intercom (sorry I realize I clear my throat a ton here). A Dodge Charger is the chase car (look for a chase car post soon. It’s shot with Samsung Gear 360. Contact me if interested in creating this kind of training content.

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