U-2 enhances Weapons School capstone experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie
  • 57th Wing Public Affairs

Gliding over the skies of Southern Nevada at an altitude of approximately 70,000 feet, an all-black, single jet engine aircraft dubbed the Dragon Lady made her way to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The U-2, assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, traveled to Nellis to enhance the learning environment for U.S. Air Force Weapons School (USAFWS) pilots entering their Weapons School Integration (WSINT), which is a series of complex, large-force employment missions that served as the capstone portion of their USAFWS course.

“The modernized U-2 that we currently fly is a great jet,” said Maj. John, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron.“What’s really unique about it is that it helps our ability to look as far as we can. It carries a large number of sensors to an unmatched altitude quicker than any other aircraft, while having a person on board to problem solve, maneuver and defend it.”

During her time at Nellis, the Dragon Lady held eyes to the sky as her team of operators ensured a safe landing.

Airmen across the flightline watched in awe as the Dragon Lady circled around the base before coming in for her final approach. Just as the aircraft prepared to land, a chase car raced down the flightline at speeds reaching nearly 150 miles per hour to assist in one of the most difficult landings at Nellis. With a radio in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, the pilot driving the chase car began counting down from 10 to inform the U-2 pilot of the distance in feet between the aircraft and the ground.

The aircraft pilot’s view was limited due to the restricting helmet and suit worn while in flight. The purpose of the chase car was to ensure a safe landing for the aircraft and pilot. The wheels of the U-2 have to touch the ground at the same time due to the bicycle-style landing gear or it could bounce and possibly damage the aircraft, explained Capt. Joseph, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron.

The Dragon Lady was a great addition to WSINT because the aircraft is versatile, continually evolving and an asset that is ready to integrate with other assets.

“Being here for WSINT allowed us to tactfully integrate with the rest of the combat air forces and give them the timely intelligence they needed for their missions,” said Maj. Jonathan, WSINT participant and U-2 pilot assigned to the 19th Weapons Squadron. “It was an amazing learning experience for us, and we’re so grateful to everyone on Nellis for their support. We look forward to participating in more exercises in the future.”

The Lockheed U-2 is an ultra high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that provides day-and-night, all-weather intelligence gathering.