Military.com's founder and current man-about-the-planet Chris Michel snagged a backseat ride in a U-2 a few weeks back. Yeah . . . we had the same reaction. We're still flying U2s?
Yep. Here's an excerpt from Chris' report running at USNI's way gouge blog:
As I slipped open the sunshade of my spacesuit, I could see that the sky above was black. The curved white and blue earth fell away below the horizon. Sailing like Icarus past 70,000 feet, I was now the 11th highest human on earth (Soyuz astronauts would solidly hold the top-10 that afternoon). Noticeably absent any trace of sound and fury, we were silently flying through the upper atmosphere in what amounted to large black wing, aptly named the U-2 Dragon Lady. Just in below and in front of me, the master of this craft, Lt. Colonel Joe “Tucc” Santucci, aptly coaxed our dragon higher and higher, trying to get every last foot of altitude. “She’s given us all she can today,” said Tucc, my pilot and the Commander of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, as we leveled off past 70K. The glass around my canopy was beginning to freeze over – the combination of extreme cold (70 degrees below zero) and the vapor from my (likely rapid) breath. It was an ethereal feeling to be floating among ice crystals reflecting the bright sunlight on the edge of space. A wave of melancholy washed over me as I realized that this moment would be one of the highlights of my life; unlikely to be ever repeated. Not so for “Tucc” and the 56 U-2 pilots actively flying today. Although a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, this was their job, regularly flying 10- to 12-hour missions all over the world.And here's a video that Chris shot during the flight (set to a great Snow Patrol tune):
Read Chris' entire report here.
(Photo: Chris Michel self portrait during U-2 flight. To see the entire gallery go here.)