“The U-2 chase vehicles we received have no Air Transportability Test Loading Agency certification. They have no fixed area to be restrained or tied down in the aircraft, so there’s no black and white way on how to transport them,” Staff Sgt. Ryan Murray, 305th APS load planning supervisor.
For the 305th Aerial Port Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, there’s always a first time for everything. On Aug. 16, 2019 the squadron was tasked with moving two chase vehicles and a transportation truck to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, for utilization with the U-2.
As explained by Senior Airman Jake Carter, 87th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, in the article First ever: 305th APS moves U-2 specialized vehicles, to ensure the safety of the aircrew and the aircraft, chase vehicles must be certified to fly before being loaded onto the aircraft.
For Staff Sgt. Ryan Murray, 305th APS load planning supervisor, certifying each vehicle for flight has become a challenge.
“The chase vehicles we received have no Air Transportability Test Loading Agency certification,” Murray said. “They have no fixed area to be restrained or tied down in the aircraft, so there’s no black and white way on how to transport them. When they arrive to our area like that, they are deemed non-airworthy and that’s when we have to figure out how we can load them safely or we may have to make the call that we can’t load it.”
Air Transportability Test Loading Agency (ATTLA), based out of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, has dedicated members for each airframe that create certifications for the 305th APS cargo movements with the goal of keeping Airmen and the cargo safe.
“We act as the middleman between the shipper and the receiver,” said Senior Airman Jorge Chaparro Valentin, 305th APS customer service representative. “For us, we work with ATTLA for the cargo movements to make sure we move it the safest way possible and won’t cause damage to the aircraft or shipment.”
With ATTLA not being on hand to do the certifications, coordination with the 305th APS to conduct measurements and tests of the vehicles is vital for their certifications.
“We have to do a full inspection of the vehicle to see how much weight is on each individual tire, both axles weighed together, the total weight of the vehicle, ground clearance and check the overhang on the front and rear of the vehicle to see if it can go up an aircraft ramp or not,” Murray said. “Once we have those measurements, an ATTLA engineer takes the info to create a certification on how to move that cargo.”
While getting the vehicles certified is one thing, another pressing item is the vehicles being “green sheeted” by the receiving unit at RAF Mildenhall.
“Green sheet items take your cargo from a priority one status to priority one over all other cargo,” Murray said. “We can have 200 pieces of cargo that all say priority one, but if you ‘green sheet cargo’ it will move to the top of the list to be moved. We get these when units are in high demand for cargo or equipment.”
If ATTLA is unable to certify the vehicles for flight, the vehicles may potentially be shipped by boat or sourced at the end destination.
As we have previously explained since Lockheed’s U-2 spy planes are famously difficult to launch and land because of their extremely poor field of vision, a chase car that can keep up with them is required on the ground.
To fulfill this task the U.S. Air Force (USAF) puts U-2 pilots in the driver seat of fast muscle cars which the service buys at relatively low cost. By talking to the spy planes pilots through runway operations the chase car drivers act as ground-based wingmen for the U-2s in the air.
Noteworthy the U-2 chase car in fact must feature a top speed of 140 mph.
Photo credit: Senior Airman Alexis Siekert Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco / U.S. Air Force