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U2 Carrier Landings

February 3rd, 2010 · 15 Comments · General

Back in the 60’s a test program was established to see how US aircraft would/could operate off aircraft carriers.

USS America (CV-66) was used, as was USS Ranger (CV-61) and Kitty Hawk.  This film shows that you can land almost ANYTHING on a carrier, if you wanted to/needed to.


From Aerospace Web:

The idea started in the late 1950s when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was looking for a way to overcome the range limitations of the U-2. Possessing a useful range of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km), the U-2 simply could not reach every location of interest to the CIA given the locations of U-2 bases. As a result, the CIA began a cooperative effort with the US Navy known as Project Whale Tale. The purpose of this project was to adapt the U-2 for use aboard aircraft carriers. Testing commenced in August of 1963 when, in the dark of night, a crane lifted a U-2C onto the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk at San Diego, California. The vessel streamed off the coast on the morning of 5 August where Lockheed test pilot Bob Schumacher began flight test operations.

Head on over there to read more about the program. It appeared this capability was used only once to monitor a French nuke test in the south pacific. With the 103 foot wingspan (for comparison, a Tomcat had a 65′ wingspan), you couldn’t have a whole lot of other things on deck, making a carrier a pretty expensive U-2 Mobile Delivery Platform. Plus, even with an empty deck you had *better* be on centerline when landing.

I can imagine the headaches the LSO would have. Those big ol’ long wings creating a ton of lift would create an almost diametrically opposite landing sequence than a normal, conventional Navy tactical aircraft. “Long in the groove and flat” would be the hallmarks of a good approach, it would seem.


When you watch the video, take a look at the wind over deck requirements (by watching the flight deck guys clothes almost being ripped off) to get that thing airborne.  That ship musta been haulin’ the mail.

Hat tip to former VF-43 pilot extraordinaire and later F-4 nose-gunner Snively Evans and his son, LCDR Zach Evans for the email.


15 Comments so far ↓

  • J. Carmichael

    Hey Pinch,

    Great find, I’m pointing Dad toward your post today. He was Cat & Arresting Gear Officer on Ranger Danger during these tests and… eh hem… operational missions in ’63.


  • Bob Kelly

    Those guys has brass basketballs somewhere. WOW!

  • Larry Sheldon

    My first solo at Van Nuys, I was “cleared to land number 2 behind the U2, caution the Lear jet coming up behind you”.

    As I recall my answer as “something Victor Pop roger, how about I make a right 360 here and let the Lear go by?”

  • SJBill

    The very bird (in NASA colors, sans tailhook) that did the landings on CV-66 is currently at the former NAS Moffett Field.

    She’s currently in wings-off condition, being prettied-up to become a static showpiece.

  • olga

    awesome video, thank you!

  • Glenn Mark Cassel AMH1(AW) USN Ret.

    Saw some of this as a young man aboard Independence. I also sort of knew Jim Flatley, who landed the C-130 on Coral Sea.

  • Pinch


    Flatley landed the C-130 on Forrestall, if I remember my history correctly. Coral-Maru would have been too small for that big plane.

  • Kevin

    Great video! Does anyone have video of a SR-71 landing on a carrier? Might have to get a steely eyed Navy pilot for that one, and maybe a few more corpse-men standing by as well.

  • larry Sheldon

    I recall at Van Nuys that ever time the U2 (‘Coldfoot”? ” Coldstream”?”Cold{something]”) took off, they closed the runway while the escort car went out an picked the parts that fell off.

    What did the do to keep the loose parts from going over the side?

    • Paul Zimmerli

      Probably held up the wingtips by hand as the ship picked up speed. The parts that fell off were tires attached to what was basically a section of car leaf spring. When the bird lifted off, the “gear” would just slip down out of the slot on the wing and tumble off to be picked up by the always-accompanying launch/recovery pickup truck. Once in a while, one would stick due to crosswind pressure and be carried a couple of thousand feet up before it fell off. Those things sometimes bounced a couple of hundred feet in the air when they’d hit – especially if they landed on the paved runway. They could tear up some desert brush and cactus, that’s for sure! Anyhow, once the ship was up to launch speed, the aircraft would virtually float up out of the steadying hands. Landing was only a problem when the windspeeds were too high. I’ve seen one land almost vertically because the wind was only a couple of knots below the “no go” speed – and the pilot had to use really fine touches of throttle to overcome that.

  • larry Sheldon

    And keeping the wingtips off the rolling deck must have been fun.

  • Wilko

    Would have thought the U-2 to be more of a jet powered glider and too fragile for carrier ops.
    Great video and a real surprize.

  • steeljawscribe

    For reference, it was the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) that Flatley made the C-130 landing/launches from.

    As for the U-2, other than that big wing’s reaction to the burble created by the island (ask an E-2 *ahem* or an F-14 driver about the associated problems that can pose), the U-2 handled quite well around the boat – more so when Lockheed made CV-specific mods, yielding the U-2G (which in turn, were incorporated into the U-2R/TR-1 and by association, U-2S). More here (like tailhook P-51’s) and here (like tailhook B-25’s).
    – SJS

  • Londen bezienswaardigheden

    What an awesome video! Is there any material on the SR-71? Thanks for sharing.

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