Why the Tesla Model S Is the Chase Car for the Air Force’s U-2 Spy Plane [Video] ""

By | August 1, 2017

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A Tesla Model S sedan has been spotted at Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, a sprawling air force base in the United Kingdom, accompanying U-2 spy planes during takeoffs. The air force uses “chase cars” that monitor the airplane on the ground and assist the pilot during takeoff.

This video, released on YouTube on July 26, shows the Model S acting as the chase car for a U-2 operating out of RAF Fairford. The U-2 and its escort pass the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team and a C-17 Globemaster III transport during the takeoff process.

Designed in the 1950s, the U-2 became famous during the Cold War for its overflights of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other hostile countries. Flying slowly at an altitude of 70,000 feet, the U-2 could photograph wide swathes of enemy territory below, providing invaluable intelligence. The airplane is still used today, with updated sensors, to keep track of potential adversaries and their activities.

One big problem with the U-2: The same characteristics that make it an ideal spy plane also make its takeoffs difficult. The aircraft has a huge turning radius on the ground, a function of its wide wingspan and the location of its landing gear. Small landing gear wheels called “pogos” that keep the plane’s sagging, fuel-laden wings from dragging on the ground fall away during takeoff, making any abort during the process inherently dangerous.

In order to make the takeoff and landing process safer, the U.S. Air Force began using muscle cars driven by other U-2 pilots to spot for the pilot in the plane. The U-2, designed to operate at high altitudes, accelerates quickly at sea level, making it difficult for ordinary cars to follow. The use of muscle cars including the Pontiac GTO, driven by “mobile pilots” who watch for hazards and call out aircraft speed and other useful information, has virtually eliminated U-2 accidents on the ground.



Why a Tesla? The Tesla Model S has super-quick acceleration, going from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds in C/D testing, with a top speed of 155 mph. The U-2’s takeoff speed is roughly 115 mph, and the Tesla keeps up with the plane right up to takeoff.

This story originally appeared on Popular Mechanics.

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