U-2 Dragon Lady Thrills Miramar Crowd with ‘Touch And Go’ During Display

U-2 Miramar
The scheduled U-2 fly-by at the MCAS Miramar airshow featured a few surprises, including arriving an entire day before the schedule listed, and featuring a landing with a pilot in a pressure suit spotted by an exotic McLaren supercar. (All images, credit: TheAviationist/Tom Demerly)

U-2 Pilot Wearing High Altitude Pressure Suit Made Approaches with McLaren Chase Car.

While appearances of the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft have become more common at western U.S. airshows, it’s still a little unusual to see a Dragon Lady make a touch and go landing at an airshow. It’s even more unusual to see it done by a pilot wearing a high-altitude pressure suit and astronaut-type helmet, especially when the chase vehicles are exotic supercars like a McLaren 720S worth nearly 300,000 USD. During the Friday, September 23, 2022, air show at MCAS Miramar Airshow near San Diego, aviation enthusiasts got to see all three.

The fly-by demonstration from a USAF U-2 from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB turned into a minor sensation when the aircraft made an unexpected touch n’ go landing. It became even more interesting when photographers with telephoto lenses looked at the playback of their photos and realized the pilot was wearing a full pressure suit.

The surprise of the U-2 appearance was when the aircraft actually performed a touch and go landing, something not seen frequently at airshows.

Interestingly, according to the official program for the Miramar Air Show, the U-2 Fly-by was originally scheduled for 12:12 PM local time on Saturday, September 24. But as all air show fans know, the first casualty is always the flying schedule. So, the U-2 fly-by, which turned into an exotic sports car rally and U-2 landing demo, took place a day early.

The U-2’s impressive climbing capability was apparent after each the touch and go at Miramar.

During the unexpected touchdown the aircraft held both wingtips aloft for several seconds while being shadowed by a blue McLaren 720S driving at high speed, some claimed, “over 100 MPH”, along the runway. Keen-eyed observers noticed the pilot flying was wearing a full high-altitude pressure suit and helmet. Air show commentators Rob Reider and Matt Jolley told the crowd the aircraft had, “Descended from 60,000 feet” to make the series of approaches and eventual touch and go landing at the Miramar show.

The U-2 pilot was seen wearing a high altitude David Clark pressure suit.

Most commonly the pilot flying a U-2 demo at airshows is wearing standard flying gear, not the spacesuit-like high altitude pressure suit and helmet. The aircraft rarely touches down without a ground support team since it requires detachable “pogo” outrigger landing gear on each wing tip to prevent the wings from hitting the runway. During a U-2 arrival several years ago at the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB, we photographed a U-2 pilot arrive for the show from Beale AFB dressed in normal flight gear, not a high-altitude pressure suit.

It is more common to see U-2 crews at airshows wearing standard flight gear as opposed to the high altitude David Clark pressure seen at Miramar this past weekend. This photo is from a U-2 appearance at the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB in Nevada several year ago.

“We weren’t expecting to get a landing, so this was special,” one U.S. Marine observer at Miramar told TheAviationist.com. “I’ve seen the Dragon Lady a few times, but never like this” a photographer in the media area said after watching the demo flight.

The U-2 made three passes at the runway at Miramar, with one pass featuring the short touch and go. During each of the approaches the role of the landing chase vehicle was performed by a car from Precision Exotics, who was at the Miramar Air Show selling rides along the runway in its fleet of exotic supercars, including the McLaren 720S.

The high-altitude pressure suits used by U-2 flight crews are unique to the program. The suits are manufactured by the David Clark Company in Worcester, Massachusetts and are frequently referred to as, “David Clark suits” by support personnel and flight crews.

The U-2 first few passes were low-altitude approaches before actually touching down at Miramar.

In a December 29, 2019 article for Military.com, reporter Oriana Pawlyk wrote that the David Clark suits are evolving with the development and implementation of new fabrics, including a more breathable Gore-Tex membrane lining to facilitate moisture management.

Pawlyk also acknowledged the role of the David Clark U-2 pressure suits in the development of newer space suits in civilian manned space flight, reporting that:

“As the custom-made, smart-tech flight suits continue to improve, there’s no shortage of cutting-edge ideas to keep U-2 pilots soaring, and engineers are using emerging technologies to add mobility and develop even sleeker pressurized suits for the next batch of NASA astronauts who are getting ready to head out into the final frontier.”

It was a truly majestic sight to see the Lockheed U-2 “Dragon Lady” climb out and gracefully bank between each approach at Miramar.


About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.