Designated as a utility type to disguise its primary mission, the Lockheed U-2 was born as high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
Flying for about 8 hours, at 500 mph, at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet, U-2 spyplanes launched from airbases in Turkey and Pakistan in the mid to late 1950s and early 1960s landed on the other side of the Soviet Union, at Bodo airfield in Norway, at the end of their reconnaissance missions, with fuel tanks virtually empty.
To extend the range of the aircraft and reach more remote targets, the CIA approached the Navy proposing to develop the ability to launch and land U-2s from carriers.
Project Whale Tale began on an August morning in 1963, when test pilot Bob Schumacher took off with his U-2 from the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier that sailed out of San Diego Harbor. After his successful launch, Schumacher performed several landing approaches, proving that the U-2’s performance made arrested landing and wave off (if needed) possible.
But while he was attempting his first landing, one wingtip struck the deck. Schumacher barely managed to take to the air again preventing the plane from crashing overboard.
In spite of the close call, the program continued and three U-2As were modified and got a stronger landing gear, an arresting hook, and wing spoilers that decreased lift during landing. While these modifications were taking place, Schumacher and several CIA pilots developed their carrier landing skills flying T-2 Buckeye trainers from USS Lexington aircraft carrier.
Schumacher landed the first U-2G (as the modified U-2 was designated) on the USS Ranger on Mar. 2, 1964, off the California coast, experiencing only one small problem when the engaged arrestor hook, forced the plane’s nose toward the deck and broke off the pitot tube. After quick repairs, he successfully took off again and in the following days, Schumacher and the CIA pilots received carrier qualifications from the Navy.
Even if the operational ability to take off from and land on a carrier was used only once, in May 1964, when a U-2G operating off the USS Ranger was used to monitor the French nuclear test range, at Mururoa Atoll, in the South Pacific Ocean, well out of range of any land-based U-2 aircraft, the program continued to advance in the following years.
In 1967 Lockheed introduced a new variant, designated U-2R, that was larger (by about 40 percent) and featured about twice the range and four times the payload of a standard U-2G. This plane was equipped with an integral arrestor hook, and with wings folding mechanism that reduced the aircraft’s footprint and made carrier operations easier.
Lockheed test pilot Bill Park and four CIA pilots conducted tests with the new type of U-2 in November 1969 , from the deck of USS America sailing off the Virginia coast: as part of the tests, a U-2R was successfully moved using one of the America’s elevators.
Still, none of these carrier-capable spyplane ever entered active service, being replaced by cheaper spy satellites.
In the impressive footage below you can see several U-2s perform carrier take offs, touch and gos and landings and even if today carrier-based U-2s are only a footnote to Cold War history, the last variant of this legendary aircraft, designated U-2S, is still in service and it remains one of the best intelligence platform among those operated by the U.S. Air Force.
Turkish, U.S. and NATO combat planes took part in the Anatolian Eagle exercise at Konya airbase.
Constantly attracting a significant amount of foreign air arms, Anatolian Eagle, a medium-scale exercise held at Konya airbase, in central Turkey, has become a high-tech exercise that gives participating units the opportunity to assess their capabilities and readiness for war, to improve multinational cooperation, and to test new weapons systems: some extremely important tasks, especially for nations such as Turkey which face increasing instability, pressure and threats along their borders.
The exercise features the same war environment Turkish and allied (or simply “friendly”) pilots would encounter during the very first days of a modern conflict: many aircraft, complex missions, COMAO (Combined Air Operation) packages, numerous targets and numerous threats, including SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems and dreadful aggressors.
This year, from Jun. 7 to 18, Ex. Anatolian Eagle was attended by large U.S. Air Force contingent, made of 12 F-15C Eagle jets, belonging to the 493rd Fighter Squadron from RAF Lakenheath accompanied by approximately 250 personnel, Pakistani Air Force F-16s, Spanish Air Force F-18 Hornets and RAF Typhoons, along with Turkish F-16s, F-4s and Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle.
The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito flew to Konya to take the stunning images you can find in this post.
Hordes of spotters have been allowed to take photographs during the Spotters Days on Jun. 17, 18 and 19.
In fact, according to Air Force Secretary Deborah James, the U.S. may deploy a squadron of F-22 Raptors to Europe to counter the Russian threat. Talking to reporters at Le Bourget airshow in Paris, she said that Russia is “the biggest threat on my mind,” a threat that has materialized itself with a proxy war in Ukraine and an increased activity of Russian Air Force planes around the Baltic region.
Among the units taking part to the rotational deployments to Europe there are also F-22 squadrons, even though for the moment, this is just one of the possibilities on the table.
Although they have never been deployed to Europe as part of a TSP, Raptors have often taken part in rotational deployments in the Asia-Pacific region since 2009, to show the presence of Washington’s most advanced fighter plane in service in an area where tensions have risen over maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Whilst TSPs include 12 aircraft, 200-300 support personnel and require an advanced planning, a smaller package of 4 F-22s can be deployed across the world much faster: in 2013 the U.S. Air Force conceived a new rapid deployment concept (dubbed “Rapid Raptor Package“) that allows to deploy a package of F-22s (accompanied by a C-17) and supporting logistics to any forward operating base and have the stealth fighter jet ready for combat operations within 24 hours of deploying with a small logistics footprint.
Cool, even though most of (if not all) the modern liners, equipped with fly-by-wire controls, powerful engines and innovative designs, are much more maneuverable than previous generations aircraft.
Now, take a look at the following footage (if the embed does not work, click here).
It was shot at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airshow in 1991 and shows a U.S. Air Force KC-10A Extender aerial refueler perform a very high angle take off. Although the tanker was probably empty, it’s still a quite impressive show for such a large (and obsolete) aircraft.
A series of training events is taking place in eastern Europe.
NATO and regional Allies are involved in a series of training events in eastern Europe that go under the name of Allied Shield.
Allied Shield is a series of exercises that includes:
Exercise NOBLE JUMP, the first training deployment of Allied high-readiness units under the new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) framework.
BALTOPS, a major Allied naval exercise in Poland that sees the involvement of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command’s B-52 Stratofortress bombers deployed to RAF Fairford, in UK, as well as NATO AWACS, US F-16s used as OPFOR (opposing forces), P-3 and P-8 Maritime patrol aircraft, German Tornados, Swedish Gripen and US KC-135 tankers.
SABER STRIKE, a big land exercise with forces scattered across the Baltic States.
TRIDENT JOUST, a NRF (NATO Response Force) command and control exercise in Romania.
According to NATO, approximately 15,000 troops from 19 different allied countries and 3 partner nations are taking part (or about to) in this series of training events whose purposes are “defensive and are a part of NATO’s assurance measures in response to challenges on NATO’s southern and eastern periphery.”
In other words, these are just some of the measures NATO has taken in the region to reassure local allies threatened by Russia.
Click here to open a larger version of the infographic.