USAF Pontiac GTO / G8 – U2 Chaser

Filed in Pontiac G8, Pontiac GTO by on May 29, 2017 • views: 1349

Riding a wingspan roughly as wide as a 10-story building is high, the U-2 pilot, insulated in a full pressurized flight suit and astronaut-like helmet, grips the stick and makes a final check on his alignment with the runway. The Lockheed spyplane is in the final seconds of a long, high-altitude recon mission overflying volatile hotspots to see what the bad guys have been up to lately.

Despite the hostile areas it just visited, the most dangerous part of the mission is landing. The U-2 was made to fly, but it’s a handful to land. Its long wings amplify every breeze, but they must be kept level. Just a few degrees off horizontal will drag the wingtip, risking a crash. Those long wings give it so much lift that landing becomes an unnatural act. The technique is to get close to the ground, then stall it and just drop onto the runway.

Very tricky.

So tricky that a second pilot, also familiar with the U-2’s quirks, accelerates down the runway with the U-2 in a high-performance car or “mobile,” spotting the pilot and coaching him down via radio.

In service since 1957, some will remember the U-2, a.k.a. the “Dragon Lady,” as the plane in which Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, and which detected the Soviet missiles in Cuba in October 1962.

It’s not just any car that can hang with jets. Initially the Air Force used Ford station wagons with large V-8s, then switched to El Caminos from the ’70s through 1986. But when GM announced the El Camino’s discontinuation in 1987, the USAF began looking for a replacement that would be up to the challenge.

The search began in 1986 at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California, where the local California Highway Patrol provided one of their light and agile Mustangs for testing. Priorities for the USAF were immediate throttle response and rapid acceleration, which the Mustang delivered in spades. The USAF immediately called the 5.0 Fox-body Mustang into active duty.

The U.S. Air Force testing a CHP Mustang at Beale AFB, Summer 1986

Most of them were automatics, almost all of them were blue, and with the exception of a few stenciled logos, a light bar, and some auxiliary switches, they were stock. One is currently in civilian hands (click HERE) after being stationed in Europe, but the rest are rumored to have been crushed.
Fourth-gen Camaros in Chevrolet’s B4C/Special Service trim came after that, lasting until a few years ago, at which point they were replaced with 2005-2006 Pontiac GTOs. The V-8-powered Pontiac G8 GT recently filtered into the fleet, though it appears that the GTOs have yet to be removed from service. No matter the model, the chief draws are usually acceleration capability, high-speed stability, and parts continuity.

USAF Pontiac GTO at Travis Air Force Base (California)

Note the USAF license plates and antennas to communicate with the planes and the control tower

Pontiac G8 giving chase to a landing U2 spy plane

Video:

Here’s a great video to enjoy!

Top Gear\'s James May chasing a U2 spy plane in a HSV GTO / Monaro / VXR YouTube play

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