Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Flying to the Edge of Space
August 7, 2009 2:31 AM   Subscribe

James Mays flies to the edge of space in a U2 spy plane.
posted by Effigy2000 (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, but did he take along a poison needle, concealed in a hollow coin?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Amazing that the U2 can even maintain engine thrust with air that thin.

How I'd love to make that flight.
posted by bwg at 2:58 AM on August 7, 2009


Prigs in space?
posted by fleacircus at 3:10 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


James May, Top Gear presenter (aka Captain Slow). No "s" please. This is part of a BBC Two / BBC Four series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing -- James May at the Edge of Space and James May on the Moon.

In other news, May is building a house out of Lego.
posted by grabbingsand at 3:42 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sadly he came back.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:49 AM on August 7, 2009


Pretty incredible, but I kind of wish they took Stephen Fry instead of James May
posted by ashaw at 3:53 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sadly he came back.

Oh come on, James May is the best one!

Pretty incredible, but I kind of wish they took Stephen Fry instead of James May

This is true, though.
posted by Jimbob at 4:02 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Love the landing gear configuration on the U-2. It's like landing a bicycle.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:06 AM on August 7, 2009


Oh come on, James May is the best one!

Given the competition that's not hard.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:21 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


lovely, thank you.

they could have gone another 5,000ft up with the hamster instead of may
posted by krautland at 4:26 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Surely I'm not the only one stupid enough to first think 'why would Bono have a spy plane?'
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 4:46 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Surely this means he has now travelled at the fastest speed of any of the Top Gear team?
posted by jaduncan at 4:50 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


At 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) they're about 80,000 meters shy of the edge of space (100,000 meters). Still, 13 miles up is pretty high.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:54 AM on August 7, 2009


13 miles? I can bike that in an hour, no sweat.
posted by @troy at 4:57 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The "form follows function" principle results in some ugly looking aircraft.

But what a view.
posted by Glee at 5:08 AM on August 7, 2009


From Wikipedia:

To maintain their operational ceiling of 70,000 feet (21,000 m), the U-2A and U-2C models (no longer in service) must fly very near their maximum speed. However, the aircraft's stall speed at that altitude is only 10 knots (19 km/h) less than its maximum speed. This narrow window was referred to by the pilots as the "coffin corner". For 90% of the time on a typical mission the U-2 was flying within only five knots above stall, which might cause a decrease in altitude likely to lead to detection, and additionally might overstress the lightly built airframe.

posted by popechunk at 5:26 AM on August 7, 2009


"I knew this would happen... I need to scratch my face."
posted by uncleozzy at 5:30 AM on August 7, 2009


Funny story from an air traffic controller that I heard once:

For some background, US airspace is split into many different zones. Class A airspace extends over the entire country from 18,000 feet up to 60,000 feet. Class A is controlled, meaning you must file a flight plan and be under surveillance while you are there.

ATC guy makes contact with an aircraft entering his zone of control, and the conversation goes something like this:

Aircraft: ATC, requesting Flight Level 600 [60,000 ft]
ATC, laughing: Well, sure, if you can make it that high.
Aircraft: Roger ATC, descending to Flight Level 600.

Turns out a U2 was coming in to his airspace.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:52 AM on August 7, 2009 [26 favorites]


I love the contrast between James' wonder and the pilot's terseness:

James [having just noticed that the sky above is black]: I suppose the sky is below us; we're looking out into eternity.
Pilot: You're technically correct.

Also, was anyone else surprised to see the pilot wearing glasses? I thought you wouldn't even be allowed near a plane like that unless your vision was perfect.
posted by metaBugs at 6:20 AM on August 7, 2009


Dammit. That made me cry.

I hate my stupid broken body that would have disqualified me from anything having to do with space or things that go more than 200 miles an hour. *sigh*

Thanks for posting this. It was awesome.
posted by elfgirl at 6:25 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


He did it In the name of love, too. One man in the name of love.
posted by Mister_A at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2009


That was pretty great, though. I love the fact that the U2 is a 55-year-old design of the Lockheed skunkworks that still totally kicks ass. They don't make 'em like they used to.
posted by Mister_A at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2009


Best shot ever, from near the beginning of the Moon one.
posted by smackfu at 7:13 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


More from Wikipedia:

The large wingspan and resulting glider-like characteristics of the U-2 make it highly sensitive to crosswinds which, together with its tendency to float over the runway, makes the U-2 notoriously difficult to land. This results in a required chase car (usually a "souped-up" performance model including a Ford Mustang SSP, a Chevrolet Camaro B4C, and most recently a Pontiac GTO) and assistant who "talks" the pilot down by calling off the declining height of the aircraft in feet as it decreases air speed in order to overcome the cushion of air provided by the high-lift wings in ground effect.


I wondered why that car was following them on the runway. What a weird bird.
posted by echo target at 7:35 AM on August 7, 2009


Previously.
posted by ZakDaddy at 7:49 AM on August 7, 2009


metaBugs: "Also, was anyone else surprised to see the pilot wearing glasses? I thought you wouldn't even be allowed near a plane like that unless your vision was perfect."

That was one of the first things I noticed. What would've happened if they'd slipped down his nose? More waterbottle tricks?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:51 AM on August 7, 2009


metaBugs : was anyone else surprised to see the pilot wearing glasses? I thought you wouldn't even be allowed near a plane like that unless your vision was perfect.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that in order to get into the flight program as a young pilot, they favor people with excellent eyesight, but once you are an experienced combat pilot, they start to place more of an emphasis on your many hours of flight time.

And with those many hours comes age, and with age often comes diminished eyesight. Pilots are expensive to train, and years of experience is no small thing when flying something as difficult as a U2, so I figure they probably are willing to take the trade off of perfect eyesight versus years at the yoke.
posted by quin at 8:03 AM on August 7, 2009


It does my heart a world of good to see this. What May says at the end of the video, if everyone could see the world from that viewpoint, it would change everything - has been expressed by just about everyone who has seen it.

Bittersweet.
posted by Xoebe at 8:14 AM on August 7, 2009


That was really something.
posted by ob at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2009


Is that this the flight where he hit his head and then died as a result?

oh, wait....
posted by nevercalm at 8:44 AM on August 7, 2009


I thought you wouldn't even be allowed near a plane like that unless your vision was perfect.

Used to be true, because the engine was right in front of you and notoriously unreliable and liable to spray oil, even on a good day. Glasses+Oil=Can't see anything, good luck cleaning them. Goggles+Oil=Can't see anything, but when you take them off, you can see.

Modern planes, the engine's behind you, it's vastly more reliable, and the only oil about the cockpit would be in a salad. So, you need to have vision corrected, but you can wear glasses.

Until recently, USAF didn't allow corrective surgery, and they only allow PRK now. The rest? Not enough data for them to be happy with it.
posted by eriko at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2009


Regarding the glasses issue, my understanding (when I was a young lad wanting to be a pilot) was that you only needed great eyesight at the point of selection. As soon as the selection process had been completed, your eyesight could degenerate to some extent.

It's very expensive to train a military pilot - think in terms of millions of dollars - so having their eyes stray from perfection is something you accept.

BTW, this is all relative to the RAF, though I'm sure the USAF would be similar.
posted by lowlife at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2009


was anyone else surprised to see the pilot wearing glasses?

I was surprised to see that the pilot was of Asian heritage. That's not something you see in Top Gun.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love the fact that the U2 is a 55-year-old design of the Lockheed skunkworks that still totally kicks ass. They don't make 'em like they used to.

That is more an indictment of now than a commendation of then.
posted by srboisvert at 9:48 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bono is really overstepping his bounds.
posted by cmoj at 9:50 AM on August 7, 2009


This is so cool.

I quite like James May. Here's a video of him driving a Bugatti Veyron - the second fastest production car in the world now, I believe - at it's top speed: 253 mph.
posted by threetoed at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2009


JAMES MAYS HERE FOR TOPGEAR.
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wanna do that. I guess I have to be famous, huh.
posted by grobstein at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2009


Favourite James May quote (paraphrased from memory):

"Oh yes, driving a bus is just as easy as being on a television programme. You just sit there. Probably easier, in fact, since you can have a joint."
posted by patr1ck at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2009


What's interesting to me is the question of why they keep the U2 around? I would imagine it doesn't really have much strategic value left.

Also interesting to me is that they have a 2-seater version, which I guess they had to have in order to train pilots.
posted by danny the boy at 1:38 PM on August 7, 2009


Spy planes are still nice because they go slow. You can hang out over somewhere for a while doing donuts until you see what you want. Satellites just keep orbiting at high speed, and you get your window for a little bit of each orbit. Damn physics.

The Global Hawk unmanned vehicle is the current replacement for the U-2.
posted by smackfu at 1:55 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a lad, back in 1987, I spent a week at RAF Akrotiri from where the U2 used to take off on a daily basis around 7am I think, landing in the evenings around 7pm.

It was fascinating to watch it take off, with its tiny-wheeled props under its fuel laden wings that would fall away once it has sufficient lift to keep them dragging on the runway. When it landed, it was escorted by a jeep of soldiers, all armed with sub-machine guns and no-one was allowed anywhere near the runway.

Oddest of all to me, for such a super secret spy plane, was that its tail-fin was painted with Snoopy in his Red Baron garb, sat on his kennel. (Although I can't find a photo on-line of that.)
posted by NailsTheCat at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2009


What's interesting to me is the question of why they keep the U2 around? I would imagine it doesn't really have much strategic value left.

Maybe if some enemy takes out several US spy satellites, they can immediately launch a bunch of -- still operational -- U2's?
posted by Glee at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2009


NASA used U-2s for research after the military moved on. I don't know if they still do but it wouldn't surprise me. They've got to be cheaper to fly than the SR-71.
posted by chairface at 3:06 PM on August 7, 2009


Oddest of all to me, for such a super secret spy plane, was that its tail-fin was painted with Snoopy in his Red Baron garb, sat on his kennel....

I think the reasoning is the same as in commercial surveillance: just inside the door at a supermarket in my neighborhood there's a prominently placed camera and large color monitor which displays your entry. Further in, there are only very discrete (2 or 3 inch) darkened camera blisters in the ceiling. The owners want you to know you're watched, but there's no telling where or when.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:47 PM on August 7, 2009


Stunning and humbling footage. Thank you.
posted by arcticseal at 8:15 PM on August 7, 2009


NASA or perhaps it was NOAA used to keep a U2 at Wallops island VA. I remember being quite surprised the first time I saw it just sitting on the runway there. This was the mid to late 1990's. Wallops Island is across from Chincoteague Va. and the Assateague national seashore, home of Pony Penning day and all that (Howard Pyle used to travel there) . It's an unassuming facilty, old Navy NAS and a newer launch area, but there is a lot going on down there.
posted by Akaky at 9:45 PM on August 7, 2009


Remember, we all live near the edge of space. We can't always see the curvature of the Earth, but we can see the Universe that we're a part of all around us. And when the sky is clear at night, we can get a pretty good sense of what's nearby.
posted by jiawen at 10:21 PM on August 7, 2009


that view was incredible.

did any the spy planes ever find what they were looking for?
posted by the aloha at 10:39 AM on August 8, 2009


« Older Sid Caesar demonstrates the art of doubletalk....  |  The coolest entrepreneur in th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments