Skip to comments.U-2 Dragon Lady: Airmen Discuss their Continued Push for Operational Success
Posted on 05/11/2010 11:41:51 AM PDT by SZonian
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- In the first three months of 2010, Airmen supporting the U-2 Dragon Lady deployed operations with the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing flew nearly 200 combat sorties in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. When averaged out in flight time, that means a U-2 is flying in the AOR 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In those 200 missions, U-2 Airmen supported more than 70 "troops in contact" events where deployed ground forces were supported by the U-2's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, said Mr. Ralph X, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing historian. "The U-2 has also provided tens of thousands of real-time imagery to assist the ground forces on on-going operations," he said.
In the 380th AEW, aircrew and planning personnel for the operations of the U-2 are in the 99th ERS. On the maintenance side, Airmen with the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's Dragon aircraft maintenance unit keep the planes ready for missions on a daily basis. Master Sgt. John X, the U-2 maintenance production superintendent said it's no secret the U-2 "Dragon Lady" is an older airframe and needs special care. However, he said he keeps busy meeting the mission needs for the plane.
"Primarily, I have to manage flightline maintenance operations for the U-2 weapons system," Sergeant X said. "My deployed duties also require me to coordinate maintenance actions that generate sorties for the warfighters in three areas of responsibility and to interact with operations Airmen to ensure the aircraft are properly configured for missions."
Sergeant X, who is deployed from the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., said he knows the importance of the role of the U-2 when it comes to the warfighter so he makes sure every day that the missions he helps prepare for are on time and the plane is ready to go.
"The fact that, daily, we support up to three areas of responsibility means we stay busy," said Sergeant X, whose hometown is New York City. "We are the 'eyes and ears' of ground forces."
Although he's returned from the deployed environment, Lt. Col. Kevin X, a U-2 mission planner, helped coordinate many of the 200 missions flown by the 99th ERS in the first three months of 2010. He said his deployed job directly affected the Dragon Lady's deployed operations.
"I keep the command chain advised on status of current missions," said Colonel X about working as a planner. He re-deployed to Beale AFB and the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron in February. "I also ensure pilots have current information on communications and weather."
For the U-2 to complete its multi-faceted deployed mission, Colonel X said U-2 planners like him have to ensure there is adequate spacing between takeoffs, landings and the flight paths of U-2s so that operations will proceed smoothly with no danger to aircraft.
"This effort means coordinating with embassies to ensure proper flight clearances," said the 28-year Air Force veteran. "Additionally, I work with my team to track the effectiveness of missions and devise ways to increase that effectiveness."
Colonel X, who resides in XX, Calif., said the information the U-2 provides directly aids the warfighters on the front lines of operations.
"We provide the information to ground troops necessary to predict and follow enemy actions in real time," Colonel X said. "The over-watch is a big benefit to keeping our troops safer than they would be otherwise."
Maj. Will Gottenberg, a U-2 Dragon Lady pilot also deployed from Beale AFB who achieved 100 combat missions in March, in one of those Airmen supporting the front-line troops from high in the sky. He said when he's flying at 70,000 feet on a combat mission looking at the curvature of the Earth, he's not lost in thought but rather tightly focused on the mission of the day. When he's "on station" at his target location, he said the focus becomes even more intense.
"Well, to be honest, the time flying goes by really quickly once I get on station and we start doing the job the U-2 does," said Major Gottenberg, whose hometown is Rocklin, Calif. "I think the most impressive thing to me is the fact that the airplane transforms itself from a really neat flying machine into a lethal weapons system. On a combat mission, we'll spend our whole time directly interacting with guys on the ground providing them with actionable, near real-time intelligence they use to go out and hunt bad guys with."
"The awesome thing is that the U-2 is more in demand now than it was in its almost 55-year history," Major Gottenberg said. "The airplane, as a weapons system, has evolved into this amazing thing. What's impressive to me is to be a part of it and to watch the effort that is required to prepare the airplane -- from the maintainer and life support standpoint - to get it ready to fly as consistently as it does. To see the worldwide effort that is required to exploit what we're collecting on the airplane, and then to get it back to a guy on the ground literally minutes after its intercepted is amazing to me," the major said. "In the last three to four years, the plane has revolutionized itself in how we employ it. I like to think that effort will continue if we are given the opportunity to keep flying the airplane. It's a system that takes a worldwide effort to make it happen and the guys on the ground, I know, love having us out there. That's an added benefit to a very rewarding job."
The 99th ERS is an attached unit of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. In addition to the U-2 Dragon Lady, the wing is home to the KC-10 Extender, U-2 Dragonlady and RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft. The wing is comprised of four groups and 12 squadrons and the wing's deployed mission includes air refueling, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of overseas contingency operations in Southwest Asia. The wing supports operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
A pilot guides a U-2 Dragon Lady assigned to the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing to a parking spot on the airfield while being guided by a maintenance Airman from the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Dragon aircraft maintenance unit at a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia on April 9, 2010.
For a minute I thought this was the Black Muslim AF..
Not for nuthin, but if the PA office of the air wing published it, I don’t think you are going to be revealing many secrets. I appreciate your concerns, but the U2 is not exactly an operational secret.
Redacted names and specifically named home towns. Nothing of a “secret” nature.
I just don’t like seeing full names of our servicemembers and their hometowns posted.
The newspapers did it to quite a few of us who deployed in ‘90 and I didn’t like it.
I worked on the U2 program for a few years, the work they are doing is very important.
And I just noticed I missed one...we need an edit feature.
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