More Information on the ER-2

Scientific instruments are located in the nose of the airplane, its belly (the so-called "Q bay"), and inside the large pods of each wing.  The instruments must be capable of obtaining measurements in a completely autonomous fashion because the pilot focuses only on flying the aircraft.  During instrument load-up and preparation prior to flight, the nose of the plane and its pods are detached, and the part of the plane's belly is "dropped", allowing access to instruments by investigators.  The photograph on the right was taken prior to instrument load-up during the POLARIS mission in Fairbanks, Alaska.

    Several frequently asked questions regarding the ER-2 are:

        Where is the fuel?

        How can the plane land only on the two small wheels along the fuselage?

  The answer to the first question is easy: the fuel is located in the wings, which have a total surface area larger than most one-bedroom apartments!  Most of the fuselage is a rocket engine.  The plane is essentially a rocket with glider wings.  

    The answer to the second question is a bit more involved.  Indeed, the plane lands using only its two small wheels.  The pilot has a difficult balancing act to keep the wings from scraping the runway as the plane slows after touch down.  As the plane slows, ground support personnel ride along side in a truck.  Just before the plane comes to a halt, a person jumps out of the truck, grabs hold of the wing, jogs along side the plane during its last few yards of motion, and balances the plane as it comes to a complete standstill.  Other people then attach temporary wheels called "pogos" to each wing (the orange pogos are visible from each wing in the above photograph).  Once the two "pogos" are secured, the personnel clear out of the way (actually, they race back to the hangar in preparation of their other duties), and the pilot brings the plane under its own power back to the hangar.  By the way, the "pogos" are attached as the plane takes off and are designed to fall off just as the plane clears the runway.

    The photo on the left shows an ER-2 pilot disembarking after an 8 hour science flight.  His pressurized suit is reminiscent of the space suits worn by the early astronauts.
    A fascinating account of the design of the U-2 aircraft (the predecessor of the ER-2) is given by Ben Rich and Leo Janos in their book entitled Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed (Little Brown & Co., 1996).


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Author: Ross J. Salawitch
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