Pilot safety: award of distinction.
Capt Wright displayed exceptional airmanship and flying ability in
handling a U-2S emergency divert. Capt Wright was returning from a
10-plus hour night combat mission in support of Operation ENDURING
FREEDOM and the weather was deteriorating rapidly. On a 20-mile final,
Capt Wright's mobile informed him that the fog had just started to
form but to continue with the approach. Just prior to decision height,
the mobile informed the pilot that he could no longer see the runway to
chase. Capt Wright was unable to see the runway environment at decision
height and executed a go-around and began to climb to the holding fix.
As the pilot climbed, the SOF advised to continue the climb to 45,000 ft
to save fuel. Once at 45,000 ft, the pilot, mobile, and SOF coordinated
checklists for bingo fuel, divert locations, and max endurance. Prior to
bingo, the SOF sent him to his divert location. Capt Wright remained at
altitude as long as possible to conserve fuel and began the descent
declaring minimum fuel (125 gallons) for priority. The divert field had
a narrow runway (148 ft) and taxiways, so there was little room for
error (the U-2S wingspan is 105 ft). The U-2S cannot land over
centerline lighting due to damage or failure of the tail landing gear,
which is the only method for controlling the U-2S on the ground, and
failure or significant damage to the tail gear can cause the U-2S to
depart the runway. Despite the complications that create unique landing
problems not found in other aircraft (the long duration mission, limited
forward vision, and the space suit), Capt Wright flew a flawless night
approach and landing, touching down off centerline without mobile
officer assistance. The quick thinking, outstanding airmanship,
exceptional flying skills, and efficient use of crew resources directly
contributed to the safe recovery of the aircraft.
Capt Jeff Wright, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Reconnaissance
Wing, Beale AFB, Calif.