Aviate, navigate, & communicate.
At altitude the plane is flown in a narrow window a few knots between overspeed (bye-bye tail section) and stall (hello ground). With such a small airspeed window to work with, speeding up and slowing down aren't options I could use to make my flight timing work. so, as I donned my suit, I was thinking of the geometry I might use on departure and how I could adjust my in-flight orbits if that became necessary.
Once the space helmet was closed up and tested I mentally reviewed the aircraft's takeoff emergency procedures (EPs) while sucking up 100 percent oxygen. At the jet a short time later, I'm stuffed in and hooked up by our physiological experts. While I awaited take off, I could feel the heat of the desert even though I was in a "controlled cooling environment." While the last checks were completed, I reflected on my preflight briefing concerning the unlikely event that I might have to divert. For this mission I had briefed a choice of fields in a nearby country - none of which I had been to. So it was with great confidence that I threw the throttle to full power and headed up for 70,000 feet.
Along my flight path, it was a clear day and I could see a couple of the divert fields I'd briefed earlier. I gave them little thought other tan what type chow hall they had, and wondered if they served ice cream. My timing to the mission area was spot on and I checked in with all players when I arrived.
One of the great things about the U-s engine for high flights is that the pilot places the throttle to full power on takeoff and leaves it there until he/she is ready to descend hours later. However, 3 hours into this sortie the engine began a series of un-commanded "rollbacks" in which the rpm would decrease momentarily to a mid-power setting, and then increase back to full power. It was instantly clear to me that my mission was over.
I began a turn back towards PSAB and followed tech order guidance by reaching over to place the engine mode switch from primary to secondary. This is the proven solution to fix most engine anomalies. Changing this switch takes the computer brain out of the picture and puts the engine in an almost pure mechanical mode.
When the switch hit secondary mode, the engine immediately began to grind and vibrate with incredible violence. The vibrations shook me so hard that I could no longer see clearly. The master caution light and the horn were going off and I (despite the blurriness) could see engine instruments quickly unwinding toward zero. The plane was off autopilot (did I do that?), and without really giving it conscious thought, my hand felt for that switch again and placed it back to primary.
Instantly, the vibrations ceased, but I was back to my original problem as the rollbacks continued. Home seemed an especially good idea now, and I acquired a direct heading back to PSAB. En route, the rollbacks became progressively more pronounced and more frequent and the jet was losing altitude. Would it sustain enough thrust to make it home?
I went through any and all checklists concerning the engine. I ran the parts of checklists that applied to engine failure. Perhaps a lower power setting would calm it down. While attempting different settings with the throttle, I informed AWACS of my emergency. I got word to my fighter escorts below and told the folks on the communication link to stand by. I began to think: This shouldn't be happening, so what did I do wrong.
My mind raced to figure it out, or remember anything I'd ever heard from the old-heads. I now began looking for a heading toward my divert base. I had the choice of two, and was uncertain which one to choose -- availability of ice cream was not a factor! I could reach either with plenty of altitude, however; despite my preplanning, I had never given thought to which one I might pick. I had only considered their location if they were needed.
Now, the rollbacks seemed to make the engine quiet as it hit the low end. I continued to try different power settings, and soon was all the way back in idle. While still attempting to not stall or over speed, I began a turn in the general direction of the divert fields.
The UHF, VHF, and link radios were all alive with calls. What were my intentions, what assistance did I need, what were the specifics of my engine problems, etc.? Still hearing my UPT instructor saying, "aviate, navigate, communicate," my master volume switch went to "zero."
Suddenly, I realized the rollbacks had stopped. There is no tech order guidance for this engine problem. The sinking feeling of losing altitude and not being able to stop it was not setting well with me. Why did idle stop the rollbacks? In hopes that they'd stopped, I pushed the throttle up to a position that corresponded with about 85 percent. To my shock, the engine responded by actually going backwards. I tried it again, disbelieving what I'd seen, but with the same result.
With the engine matter pretty much settled -- stuck in idle/now I'm a glider, I began looking through the in-flight guide for anything that would tell me which field could better handle a U-2 dropping in for awhile. I remembered that one had a bigger U.S. presence than the other, so I checked the map, called it up on the flight computer, and headed that way.
Fortunately, my intended field was near an international airport I'd flown to in a previous life. I remembered how traffic flowed into it, and decided to do a figure-eight type maneuver as I spiraled down to keep the field in sight and to keep away from any international traffic flow. I arrived over my field at around 40,000 feet. As I got closer and knew I had the field made, I lowered the gear and set 20 percent flaps for safer handling -- better to dolt now while I still can with an engine at least operating and giving me hydraulics, but for how long?
The fun started when I looked up the tower frequency of my divert field, dialed it in and called. I got very broken English -- so, U.S. presence, but locally run! I explained that I was arriving with a crippled engine and was going to land soon. The tower claimed I had no flight plan and no authorization. I smiled and said I was landing there because I had no choice -- I had no engine. "Oh, that is different..."
With the U-2's glide ratio, it was apparent this was going to take awhile. I started to do the math in preparation for the flameout pattern. I wanted to crunch the numbers on high key and low key altitudes. As I got into the checklist, I realized those numbers were for a plane with an engine that was not running. The U-2 engine does not windmill when shut down and acts as a huge speedbrake. The engine in idle would produce an unknown descent rate. In its purest form my flameout pattern would be a visual maneuver with no real altitude checkpoints.
AWACS came on UHF and told me the Supervisor of Flying (SOF) frequency at my divert base. A real heads up by the AWACS. This was news to me; GOOD NEWS! I dialed it up and got the group commander. Through him I was able to coordinate everything. He asked me how long before I landed, and I gave him a huge wag. He asked me for something more specific, and I explained to him I did not know. This was my first time doing this. He gave me a "fair enough."
During the glide down, I knew I was over the correct field. I confirmed with the SOF that certain unique aspects of the field I was seeing were actually associated with his field. Landing at the wrong field is one of those nightmares every pilot has. It is the equivalent of dreaming about showing up to school in your underwear. With the extra time, was also able to begin discussion on what would be needed to push the U-2 off of the runway once I landed -- we both assumed the best results from my upcoming dead-stick landing attempt.
At around 10,000 feet I began actual practice patterns over the runway to get an idea at the descent rate I could expect. I was shooting to manage my turns to make a high key point at 2,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). This was going to be close. The U-2 produces so much lift even at idle power, that to land safely, the approach must be flown to a near perfect threshold crossing height at an exact speed. Two knots slow and it will stall. Every additional knot of airspeed when crossing the threshold will cause the aircraft to float an additional 1,000 feet down the runway.
Not that I could ever do it again, but I hit my exact high key point at the exact altitude I was shooting for. Although I'd jotted down some potentially helpful numbers, the TLAR (That Looks About Right) method prevailed. I performed no fly off and began an immediate turn. Concentration was high as I attempted to remember everything from my training. The worst part of this whole thing was deciding when to make that final turn toward the runway. I could not turn too early, as these wings would float me down past the end. Too late would also lead to a poor result -- one that (did not want to think about. I forced myself 'to wait until it looked right.
It was a guess, but thanks to a long tradition of great training in the U-2, I guessed right. As I rolled out on final things looked good, and the landing was uneventful. I stopped, the heavier wing fell to the runway, and I shut down. There were all sorts of U.S. military folks gathering around the plane. I cracked the canopy and began the task of getting folks to level the wings so the fuel did not gather in one end. Without pogos (wheels) stuck in the wings, the fuel can gather in the low wing and no amount of human strength will get it back up. The space suit was heating up in the desert weather as I pinned the gear. The push back took 45 minutes and 25 folks, but we made it happen.
By day's end, that fleeting question I'd had earlier about what kind of chow hall they had here was answered. It was good stuff.
Editor's Note: Twelfth Air Force selected Ma] Olesen, for its Outstanding Airmanship Award for 2002. He also won the FY 02, ACC Outstanding Airmanship Award and the Koren Kolligian, Jr., Trophy.
"These awards draw attention to Beale and the hard work each member does here to support the vital U-2 mission," Olesen said.