Which is, of course, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (SR). But, not out of its famous “Birthplace” airfield at Columbus, New Mexico. No, now it’s continuing its SR work out of Beale Air Force Base (BAFB) about an hour’s drive North from the Capital of California, Sacramento.
In more modern times, the title of “Strategic” was substituted for “Surveillance” in the SR designation, but the mission basically remains unchanged, although the methods and equipment used by the FAS quickly show the immense changes science has made in how their SR mission is carried out.
While the FAS’s first combat airplane, the Curtiss Jenny, flew about 100 MPH at top speed, the U-2 flies at almost the speed of sound (Mach .7), and it also flies more than 7 times as high as could the Curtiss biplane of 1916 and 1917.
Today, at Beale, there are two aircraft used to carry out this vital security SR mission: the upgraded Lockheed U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane (at L), and the unmanned long-range drone, the Global Hawk (Below at R). On a daily basis, for a good twenty or more years, the FAS has been deploying its aircraft from Beale to the other side of the globe, especially to the Middleast.
Beale also remains the principal training base used by the FAS to ready its new pilots for both the manned U-2 and the ground-controlled Global Hawk.
Today we’ll look at some behind-the-scenes activities that few people understand are required in order to simply operate the U-2, which flies at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet. This high altitude is, of course, the reason its pilots must wear the same sort of protective personal gear as is worn by our astronauts.
Here, in the following 10:34 long video (after the photo of the SR-71 below) you will see how the U-2 even requires a “muscle car” chasing it down the landing strip just to help it safely return to earth, while a team of ground personnel is even required to help attach the “pogo” stick landing gear to the wings so that it can successfully taxi back to its hangar. This video will also show how the pilots must have assistance “suiting up” before each flight, and how they must similarly be helped un-suit themselves at its end.
Don’t forget that the all-time record-speed-setting jet, the SR-71 Blackbird, (Below) was additionally flown by the FAS. The Blackbird was also stationed at BAFB before its retirement in 1966.
The second, 8:22 long video, on the “Dragon Lady” was produced by your editor on a special visit to BAFB on the centennial of the FAS’s birth in 2013. It is used again here since what it portrays is still unchanged from what one would witness were they to visit the base, today.