Air Force Research Laboratory investigates U-2 pilot size
By Senior Airman Shawn Nickel, 9th RW Public Affairs
/ Published May 23, 2012
BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., --
With the U-2 Dragon Lady expected to fly well into the future, the experts from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, visited here May 21-24 to investigate how short or tall a pilot can be and still function in the cockpit.
The visiting doctors used a coordinated measuring machine to map 16 subjects inside a cockpit and create 3-D images to be used in pilot selection.
"Safety is the number one goal in this study along with being able to live and work in the space provided," said Lt. Col. Andrew Woodrow, 9th Physiological Support Squadron commander. "Height and weight are always an issue when it comes to flying, but being in a pressure suit and flying an aircraft with unique controls like the U-2 adds extra importance to how much space is available."
Airmen from across base who fit the bill of too tall or too short to be pilots were used as test subjects.
Dr. Gregory Zehner, 711th Human Performance Wing senior physical anthropologist, said Airman 1st Class Alexander Scott, 9th Maintenance Squadron U-2 phase technician, with his height of six foot six inches tall was a perfect subject to map.
"We are trying to push the limits," said Zehner. "We have to make sure each Airman is safe to fly; it's not just how tall they are, its proportions."
Each Airman was measured, dressed in a pressure suit, and then measured again. After baseline measurements, the suit was then inflated to simulate loss of cockpit cabin pressure at high altitudes. With the suit inflated a final measurement was taken.
"We need to make sure each situation a pilot can be in is measured and mapped," said Zhener. "Eventfully this data will be used to create a baseline for height waivers."
After measurements were taken at the 9th PSPTS, each subject was placed in an operational U-2 cockpit and mapped using specialized equipment. As each part of the body was scanned by a high tech laser in a static position, the image was produced on a computer screen and interpreted into a 3-D diagram.
"We put them in every operational position possible to simulate a real life missions and emergencies," said Zhener.
Woodrow said the study is long overdue, but was postponed for several years due to plans to phase out the more than 57 year old platform.
"The data from this study will be analyzed and sent to [Air Education and Training Command] by then end of summer. It will provide a much over-due baseline for [U-2 pilot] selection," he said.