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Air Force airlifts pair of Dodge Chargers to UK for U-2 chase duty

Shipping the cars could cost much more than simply buying more locally in Europe.

The US Air Force has highlighted plans to ship a pair of Dodge Chargers to the UK where they will be used as chase cars for U-2 spy planes.

The U-2 is notoriously difficult to land, integrating 'bicycle'-style landing gear below the fuselage and using a pair of temporary wheels below the wings that are jettisoned at takeoff.

Sketchy landing gear isn't the biggest challenge pilots face when returning to terra firma. Designed to keep the aircraft aloft in the thin air at 70,000 feet, the U-2's wings produce so much lift that the cushion of ground-effect air between the wings and runway requires the pilots to enter an aerodynamic stall to descend the last few feet onto the tarmac.

Driven by fellow U-2 pilots, the 'catch' cars accelerate up to 120 mph on the runway as the aircraft attempts to land. The pilots' pressure suits and cockpit characteristics inhibit visibility, necessitating help from eyes on the ground to keep the wings level and determine when the plane is close enough to the ground to stall the wings and drop the final inches without damaging the landing gear.

The Air Force has used numerous vehicles for the job, ranging from the Pontiac GTO to the Camaro SS. A Tesla Model S was once spotted on the runway assisting landings at the RAF Fairford base.

The Drive's Tyler Rogoway has raised a few interesting points about the latest Air Force announcement, questioning why the military decided to airlift cars from New Jersey to the RAF Mildenhall base. The Chargers are undergoing certification to be loaded onto cargo planes, which have per-hour flight costs of more than $20,000 for the KC-10 and C-17 operated by the 305th Aerial Port Squadron. A round trip across the Atlantic consequently costs taxpayers at least $300,000.

The Air Force announcement doesn't mention cost as a potential issue, though the cars will be shipped by boat or "sourced at the end destination" if the inspectors cannot find a safe and effective way to strap them into the back of a cargo jet.

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