Designed in the 1950s and still used today, the Lockheed U-2 (nicknamed Dragon Lady) is a super specialized, high-altitude spy plane. It’s light enough to fly at 70,000 feet, but notoriously difficult to operate. Especially land. Landing is a bitch and a half. That’s where a Tesla Model S comes in.
The easiest way to land a U-2, the Air Force eventually discovered, was to have a chase car on the ground along with a group of spotters, acting as eyes for the U-2 pilot. And these chase cars needed to be fast to keep up with the incoming aircraft. Back in 2010, we took a closer look at how this was done:
Because of the speeds involved, the chase cars are usually high-performance cars. They wait at the end of the runway, and when the U-2 passes, they burn rubber to keep up, calling out altitude and wing attitude over the radio. When the airplane’s main gear is roughly two feet over the tarmac, the pilot deploys several sets of spoilers and flaps to reduce lift and minimize wing drop, lowers the plane down, slows to a stop while balancing on the two center wheels, and then drops a wingtip to the ground (they have titanium skidplates for this purpose) and stops. The “pogo” wing landing gear that fell off on take-off are then reattached, and the U-2 taxis to its hangar. The addition of the chase cars all but eliminated serious landing accidents.
In the past, the USAF has used Pontiac GTOs, Chevrolet El Caminos and Camaros. They needed cars that could accelerate fast and reach speeds of about 140 mph, all while staying in close behind the plane, all while at the same time keeping way clear of it.
And now it seems that the Tesla Model S is being used as a chase car. In a video uploaded last week by YouTuber Elliot Langram, we can see a Model S following a U-2S during takeoff at the RAF Fairford base.
With a top speed of a claimed 155 mph and a zero to 60 time of at least 3.2 seconds (it’s unclear which Model S is being used in the video), the Tesla definitely seems like a good pick to keep up with the U-2.
For all of you wondering if cars can catch planes, here’s your proof.