The US’s U2 spy plane, designed during the 1950s, has provided intelligence for more than a half-century by flying at high altitudes over sensitive and remote locations.
But the same features that make the “Dragon Lady” so effective when it’s 70,000 feet in the air create problems on the ground.
It’s 103-foot wingspan and broad turning radius make it cumbersome to manoeuvre. The wings, weighed down by fuel, are supported by small landing gear that break away during takeoff.
Those features make getting the U2 off the ground a potentially dangerous process.
The US Air Force elected to use cars to accompany the U2s during take off, driven by other U2 pilots acting as spotters and giving the plane taking off information about speed and other hazards. A high-performance car was needed to keep up with the U2, which hits about 115 mph during take off.
The Air Force settled on muscle cars, like the Pontiac GTO. Now, according to video taken by an aviation enthusiast in the UK and spotted by Kyle Mizokami at Popular Mechanics, at least one Air Force base is using a Tesla Model S for that job.
The Model S in question was seen at the Royal Air Force base in Fairford, about 90 miles west of London. As the U2 and Tesla taxi to the runway, they pass a C-17 Globemaster transport plane as well as jets belonging to the Air Force’s flight-demonstration team, the Thunderbirds.
The Model S, with a zero-to-60 speed of just over two seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, is one of the few cars capable of hanging with the U2 during takeoff, according to Mizokami.
The Lockheed Martin-made plane, upgraded over the years, has trawled the lower atmosphere for nearly 70 years, and Lockheed says the planes are able to operate through 2045. But other venerable aircraft with shorter lives are facing the end of their careers.
The A-10 Thunderbolt, heralded by pilots and ground personnel alike, has flirted with mothball status in recent years, as the Air Force and lawmakers debate its fate.
The Air Force’s C-5 Galaxy transports, the service’s largest planes, started to go out of service because of sequestration and other budget cuts. But the Air Force has pushed to get them back on the flight line, planning to bring eight of them back over the next four years.
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