High temperatures in the Middle East are taxing the U.S. U-2 spy planes operating against the Islamic State, an Air Force major told Air Force Magazine.
The major described the high demand for intelligence missions flown against ISIS as the Iraqi Security Forces finish up major operations in the city of Mosul, and U.S. backed fighters begin their assault on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa.
“It’s hot, super hot. And the U-2 does great flying at altitude, it handles great, it cools down the cockpit great, but once you start getting down to the ground, it’s not happy,” the major told AFM. “We know there’s going to be thermals when we get close to the runway because it’s super hot out, we know we have to be careful when we taxi because the tail wheel likes to melt all the time.”
The major described a robust maintenance effort to keep the planes in day-to-day service and the taxing effect of the work in the heat. He also noted the need to ensure that pilots do not suffer from repeated hours in pressurized suits and operating at high altitude.
U-2 pilots flight suits need to be constantly cooled to avoid heat exhaustion and fly missions up to nearly 10 hours at a time. Landing the U-2 pilot is also apparently difficult for pilots. A CNN team accompanying a U-2 mission against ISIS in November 2016 noted this:
The U2 is a very difficult aircraft to bring to the ground. Its landing gear is aligned like the wheel of a bicycle. Keeping one from running off the runway requires great skill and the help of a second pilot trailing the jet down the runway in a chase car and keeping radio contact.
U-2 missions are primarily used to gather intelligence on ISIS fighters movement on the ground. This intelligence is then either relayed to U.S. bombers or to U.S. backed fighters to attack the enemy.
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