NASA and the Air Force Used Awesome Chase Vehicles
There’s been a bit of news recently about the new Dodge Charger being utilized as a chase vehicle for the latest iteration of the U-2 spy aircraft, but there’s a long history of American sports cars and muscle cars used for the same purpose. Both NASA and the Air Force have used some of these vehicles chase down all manner of aircraft over the years:
According to Lt. Col. Mikko LaValley, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, the visibility inside an aircraft designed specifically to allow us to see over great distances is ironically very limited. “The helmet cuts off large portions of the peripheral vision. Without the pressure suit helmet you could see side references and sometimes the wings, [but] with the helmet on, all that is gone…You need a Wingman to help you land.”
The Wingman is where a Mobil Officer comes in. “The Mobil is another qualified U-2 pilot who is driving the chase car. That car has to be able to accelerate from zero to close to 100 mph in a turn to come into position behind the airplane on the runway. While accelerating and turning, the Mobil begins to make radio calls to the pilot beginning when the aircraft is ten feet off the runway. These calls tell the pilot how far off the ground he/she is, whether or not they are line up with center line, if the wings are level, and if any control inputs are needed.”
Over the years, a lot of cars were put into use.
Ford Mustang SSP
Probably the most recognizable of any of the chase cars was the Fox-bodied Ford Mustang. At the program’s height, the U.S. Air Force used to buy eight or ten at a time. The military ordered Mustangs with the SSP package (Special Service Package) similar to the cars used by municipalities around the country.
The Air Force’s cars were originally ordered in Dark Shadow Blue metallic, and then sprayed with non-metallic United States Air Force “Strato Blue.” The Mustang LX 5.0s were all ordered identically, with an AOD automatic transmission. Upon delivery, they were accessorized with a two-way aircraft radio, and an amber light bar. They were also equipped with a heavy-duty 130-amp alternator to run the radio and lights.