This muscle car is crucial to helping the U-2 spy plane land

Who said muscle cars don’t have a practical purpose?

For decades, the U.S. Air Force has used fast cars to help pilots of the Lockheed Martin U-2 spy plane land. In service since the early days of the Cold War, the U-2 is notoriously difficult to land, earning it the nickname “Dragon Lady” and leading the Air Force to institute some very special procedures.

Chase cars like the Pontiac GTO in this video from YouTube user TopFelya accompany U-2s on the runway. They’re driven by pilots who provide information to the person in the cockpit. It really is the perfect use for an American muscle car.

This is usually just a precaution for takeoffs, according to The Drive, but it is absolutely necessary for landings. The U-2’s glider-like wings were designed to help it claw onto thin air at high altitudes, but they make landing tricky. Their high-lift characteristics mean the pilot essentially has to stall the plane a few feet over the runway to land. The U-2 is also very susceptible to crosswinds, and its massive wings can droop close to the ground (they actually do rest on the ground once the plane has come to a stop).

That’s why the Air Force uses chase cars. A U-2 pilot is stationed in one of these cars at the end of the runway, and speeds off in pursuit once the plane approaches. The driver calls out relevant information to help guide the pilot into a safe landing. Because the chase car needs to catch up to the plane in order to do that, they must be fast.

In addition to the Pontiac GTO (the last generation, that was actually a disguised Holden Commodore) the Air Force has used the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and the Pontiac G8 as U-2 chase cars. A Tesla Model S was even spotted shadowing a U-2 on takeoff at a British military base recently. The U-2 has been in service for around 60 years, but it could still outlast all of those V8 muscle cars. Even in an electric-powered future, there will always be a need for fast cars.

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