The Air Force's latest challenge: getting 2 Dodge muscle cars across the Atlantic to help U-2 spy planes land

Military Tech

VIDEO: The U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane at the edge of space

A squadron of airmen are currently grappling with an unusual task: sending a pair of Dodge Charger chase cars from their current home in New Jersey to the United Kingdom to help U-2 Dragon Lady spy planes land safely.

The Air Force announced last week that personal at 305th Aerial Port Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst are currently working to certify a pair of chase cars and a transportation truck for overseas transport to Royal Air Force Mildenhall — a time-consuming (and apparently unexpected) process that ensures cargo can be safely transported by aircraft.

Chase cars are employed to assist the spyplanes during takeoff and landing given both the aircraft's unique design and the limited peripheral vision of U-2 pilot pressure suits. Why RAF Mildenhall couldn't fine local alternatives remains unclear.

A 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady pilot drives a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 performing a low-flight touch and go at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 15, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

"The chase vehicles we received have no Air Transportability Test Loading Agency certification," 305th APS load planning supervisor Staff Sgt. Ryan Murray, said in an Aug. 21 Air Force news release."They have no fixed area to be restrained or tied down in the aircraft, so there's no black and white way on how to transport them."

"When they arrive to our area like that, they are deemed non-airworthy and that's when we have to figure out how we can load them safely or we may have to make the call that we can't load it," he added.

The chase vehicles at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey on Aug. 16, 2019(U.S. Air Force photo)

This isn't just a matter of measuring the cargo. Personnel from the 305th APS have to coordinate with ATTLA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to actually translate the data into a certification that ensures the transportation process doesn't damage both the vehicles and the C-17 Globemaster III or KC-10 Extender aircraft that, according to The War Zone, are the likely choices to ferry them overseas.

"We have to do a full inspection of the vehicle to see how much weight is on each individual tire, both axles weighed together, the total weight of the vehicle, ground clearance and check the overhang on the front and rear of the vehicle to see if it can go up an aircraft ramp or not," Murray said. "Once we have those measurements, an ATTLA engineer takes the info to create a certification on how to move that cargo."

The risk of shifting cargo is no joke. In 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash of a Boeing 747-400 plane just after takeoff from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan occurred after an Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) broke free of its restraints and plowed into the aircraft's hydraulic systems. Six crew members were killed.

And this isn't just a complicated lift, but a relatively costly one: As The War Zone points out, using a C-17 or KC-10 to lug a pair of chargers across the Atlantic could cot the Air Force as much as $190,000 just to get the vehicles RAF Mildenhall. Wouldn't it be a bit cheaper to simply source a similar vehicle from the unit handling U-2 operations at RAF Fairford?

Maybe! There is another crew that could do it cheaper — or should I say, a family:

Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis (DoD photo)

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who led a Marine task force to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, said the Washington Post's recent reporting about the U.S. government's pattern of lies about the war over the last two decades is not "revelatory."

Mattis, who was interviewed by the Washington Post's David Ignatius on Friday, also said he does not believe the U.S. government made any efforts to hide the true situation in Afghanistan and he argued the war has not been in vain.

Here are 10 key quotes from Mattis regarding the Washington Post's reporting in the 'Afghanistan Papers.'

Read More Show Less
Cmdr. Sean Shigeru Kido (Navy photo)

The Navy relieved a decorated explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer on Thursday due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command, the Navy announced on Friday.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Air Force airmen from the 405th Expeditionary Support Squadron work together to clear debris inside the passenger terminal the day after a Taliban-led attack at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Brandon Cribelar)

Blasts from Taliban car bombs outside of Bagram Airfield on Wednesday caused extensive damage to the base's passenger terminal, new pictures released by the 45th Expeditionary Wing show.

The pictures, which are part of a photo essay called "Bagram stands fast," were posted on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service's website on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, June 17, 2017 (U.S. Navy photo)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Shortly after seven sailors died aboard USS Fitzgerald when she collided with a merchant ship off Japan in 2017, I wrote that the Fitzgerald's watch team could have been mine. My ship had once had a close call with me on watch, and I had attempted to explain how such a thing could happen. "Operating ships at sea is hard, and dangerous. Stand enough watches, and you'll have close calls," I wrote at the time. "When the Fitzgerald's investigation comes out, I, for one, will likely be forgiving."

The investigations, both public and private, are out, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report assessing the changes to training implemented since the collisions.

So, am I forgiving? Yes — for some.

Read More Show Less
Belgian nurse Augusta Chiwy, left, talks with author and military historian Martin King moments before receiving an award for valor from the U.S. Army, in Brussels, Dec. 12, 2011. (Associated Press/Yves Logghe)

Editor's note: a version of this story first appeared in 2015.

Most people haven't heard of an elderly Belgian-Congolese nurse named Augusta Chiwy. But students of history know that adversity and dread can turn on a dime into freedom and change, and it's often the most humble and little-known individuals who are the drivers of it.

During the very darkest days of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Chiwy was such a catalyst, and hundreds of Americans lived because of her. She died quietly on Aug. 23, 2015, at the age of 94 at her home in Brussels, Belgium, and had it not been for the efforts of my friend — British military historian Martin King — the world may never have heard her astonishing story.

Read More Show Less