SEP 28, 2017 11:09 AM PDT
Landing a U-2 Spy Plane Isn't Easy
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Landing a typical airplane means carefully introducing the landing gear with the runway to make a soft landing. Unlike most airplanes, however, the U-2 spy plane is a bit more challenging to land because it has just two sets of landing wheels configured like a bicycle instead of three like a tricycle.

At launch, the U-2 gets temporary wheels mounted to its wings called "pogos," which help control the takeoff. These pogos fall off just before the plane takes off to reduce the aircraft's weight, enabling it to fly up to 70,000 feet above the ground. That's so high that the pilot is required to wear a space suit.

With a configuration like this, proper balance is the key to a successful landing. The U-2 needs to sustain its balance until it reaches the runway and slows down. When the plane's momentum finally slows down, the experience is a lot like a controlled crash landing because one of the wings inevitably strikes the ground as the aircraft begins to tip.

Fortunately, both wings have titanium skid plates mounted at their strike zones, which mitigates landing damage. Moreover, a high-speed chase car follows the U-2 along the landing pad as it slows down, enabling the driver to communicate with the pilot and give pointers about his next steps to ensure a safe landing.

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