U-2 Tweaks Aim to Avert Pilot Bends

Technicians at Beale AFB, Calif., are modifying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to nearly double the airplanes’ cockpit pressure, thereby lessening Dragon Lady pilots’ risk of decompression sickness, according to base officials. “What we’re doing is beefing up the structure and pressure equipment” including cockpit bulkheads, explained Lockheed Martin field representative James Barnes in Beale’s Feb. 15 release. The Cockpit Altitude Reduction Effort retrofits will boost ambient pressure from 3.88 pounds per square inch to 7.65 psi, states the release. Even wearing a pressure suit at 70,000 feet altitude, U-2 pilots experience the physiological effects of nearly 29,000 feet altitude—equivalent to standing on Mount Everest, according to the release. The modifications will halve the perceived altitude to a more manageable 15,000 feet, said base officials. Members of the 9th Maintenance Squadron undertake the CARE tear-down and Lockheed Martin technicians complete the mods during phase maintenance at Beale, they said. The mods take roughly 23 days per airframe. (Beale report by SrA. Shawn Nickel)