Ever thought of an aircraft that lands on two wheels? Well, look no further than the U-2. The Lockheed U-2 is a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft and arguably the most well-known of them. Built for one sole reason that is to fly so high that it can barely get identified on the radar. Its natural habitat is not while on the ground but rather when it is cruising at 70,000ft (21,300m). Airplanes generally seem easier to land than fly, but not the U-2. The hardest part of any U-2 flight was not the fear of getting recognized by the enemies but rather while landing. Yes, while landing. But why is it so hard to land? Let’s find out.
The U-2 has an extremely narrow fuselage, but instead a longer wingspan. The wingspan is 105ft long, while the length of the aircraft is 63ft, meaning the wings themselves alone are longer than the entire aircraft. But the wings are supposed to be longer for it to maintain such a high altitude. The problem for the U-2 starts at the landing gear, unlike the majority of aircraft that have a stable landing gear design, the U-2 only has two sets of wheels like a bicycle to save weight. The plane’s massive wingspan makes it very difficult to control, so the pilots are left with their skill to avoid the long wings hitting and tipping the runway. Another key factor that makes it harder to land is the visibility in a U-2. Since the visibility is extremely poor the pilot needs a set of third eyes from the ground which he gets with the help of a back-up pilot to trail the plane in a car while offering control inputs. The ground pilot can reach speeds around 140 mph while attempting to keep up with the aircraft. And without his help, the plane could ground loop or worse vehicle right behind it. Upon landing, there are titanium skid plates that help the plane come to a stop, and then the pogos are reattached. All of these ingredients add up to make the landing extremely complicated.
Amid takeoff, the U-2 is attached with a set of temporary wheels called the ‘pogos’ that aid the wings while hurtling down the runway. As the plane picks up speed and takes off, the wheels are left behind, leaving the U-2 with just two wheels in the air and for landing.
The U-2 is truly a flying marvel. It’s been active for the past 50 years and does not look like it’ll be giving up that feat. All pilots find the U-2 to be extremely smooth during the cruise, but the part which catches their attention is the landing.