An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

380AEW Article

99th ERS Airmen maintain U-2 flight suits

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady
  • 380th AEW/PA

The 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron aerospace physiology support detachment maintain full-pressure suits which allows the U-2 pilots to conduct their reconnaissance missions.

The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft. U-2 pilots can fly at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet during their missions. To operate in these conditions, the pilot requires a full-pressure suit.  

“This is a full-pressured suit that our pilots wear,” said Staff Sgt. Ariel Schlenther, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron aerospace physiology technician. “This suit will keep the pilot safe from any hazardous altitude threats such as hypoxia and decompression sickness. When we say we’re ‘bringing the suit up’ the pilot is actually diving, so we’re keeping him in a lower altitude. Keeping him safe from all those threats.”

The blended crew of flight equipment and aerospace physiology technicians perform maintenance support such as inspecting the suit and torso component, walking with the U-2 pilots to the jets and hooking them into it, along with loading the parachute and seat kit.

“It’s a lot different from Aircrew Flight Equipment, it’s more hands-on and you feel like a part of the mission,” Staff Sgt. Johnathan Cearley, 99th ERS aerospace physiology technicians. “We’re involved with the pilot all the way from getting them dressed for flight to hooking them up, it’s very rewarding.”

I like deploying because we get more interaction with the pilots,” added Schlenther. “We get to see them a lot at home station, however, on a deployment you get to know them better.”

The pilots have to stay on 100 percent oxygen the whole time so the aerospace technicians will walk with them to the jet and then connect them to the aircraft’s O2 system to prevent decompression sickness.

“We’re pretty much one of the last people they see before they go into the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. William Hazelwood, 99th ERS launch and recovery supervisor. “We’re hooking them up and making sure they are good to fly. We’re also maintaining their full pressure suits and survival equipment to make sure they are safe in any emergency situation so that consciously, they are not worrying about if their suit is going to work properly. That’s never going to be a thought in their heads.”

The teamwork between the U-2 pilots and aerospace physiology technicians enables the 99th ERS mission of providing imagery, surveillance and reconnaissance to the Air Force.

“With our support they are able to go up there and complete their mission,” said Senior Airman Yomira Ramirez-Martinez, 99th ERS aerospace physiology technician. “If they didn’t have this suit to protect them from the altitude then there would be no U-2 mission.”