U-2 planes at Beale Air Force Base may
be up and flying by the end of next week after the
reconnaissance jets were grounded worldwide due to
wiring problems, base officials said Tuesday.
Crews checked, inspected and repaired all U-2 aircraft
stationed overseas, and they have returned to the skies.
Meanwhile, aircraft at Beale are still undergoing
inspections and repairs.
The problem was discovered while maintenance workers
checked out an unrelated flap problem following a flight
last week at the base, said Col. Stephen Sheehy, 9th
Maintenance Group commander.
Tech Sgt. Charles Warren discovered an exposed wire
rubbed through from contact with a tank that had a
pinprick hole seeping fuel, Sheehy said.
“We were lucky for not losing the aircraft,” Sheehy said
Tuesday. “This was a good find. This was fantastic. We
found it because of great training.”
That situation led Beale and Air Combat Command
officials to ground the fleet worldwide to inspect and
repair each plane.
“It was (a decision) not taken lightly,” Sheehy said.
“We had a lot of input in this decision.”
Three of six planes inspected right after the discovery
had exposed wires, and two others potentially had wire
problems, Sheehy said.
The solution sounds simple - clamp the wire away from
the tank. But implementing the fix was not simple at
all, he said.
“This inspection is the most intrusive inspection
known in the U-2's history,” Sheehy said. “You can't
find a tougher job to do.”
Maintenance crews had to remove the engine and other
components of the plane to place the clamps. It takes
about 80 hours for the crews to fix each plane, he said.
“We got through it with teamwork,” he said. “We were up
and flying (overseas) before most folks thought we would
The U-2 gathers intelligence through different sensors
from altitudes more than 5 miles above the Earth's
surface. It's been heavily used in the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The plane has been stationed at Beale since
Many of the aircraft airframes date back to 1980, but
some are older. The aircraft is checked out with
preflight and post-flight inspections. The U-2s also
undergo scheduled maintenance programs every 200 flight
hours and a major inspection every 600 flight hours,
The frames are not new, but crews discover problems
because of the frequent inspections, said Sheehy. They
deal with problems before they become major issues, he
Beale airmen faced such an issue after the June 22,
2005, crash and death of U-2 pilot Maj. Duane Dively. A
shaft that connected the plane's engine to other parts
broke and Dively lost his primary electronic display
screens and hydraulics. It was a problem not previously
experienced with the U-2, officials said.
Following the crash, crews inspected the entire fleet
and replaced parts before officials lifted the flight
Air Force officials have discussed retiring the U-2 in
favor of the unmanned Global Hawk, but the plan has been
shelved for now.
Sheehy said the aircraft is well maintained. Officials
from Beale's headquarters, Air Combat Command, noted
that the base's aircraft are safe, reliable and the best
they inspected all year, Sheehy said.
Numerous people from different specialties are working
on the current problem, trying to get the remaining
planes back in the air as fast as possible, he said.
“It was truly a team effort,” he said. “Everyone's