1988 USAF Special Service Mustang

Thanks to Charles Ricks for info and photos.

     History of USAF Mobiles: The USAF used Special Service Mustangs as chase cars for the U-2 spyplane from approximately 1986 until the late 90's. The Air Force began using chase cars with the U-2 spyplane very early in the program, all the way back to the 1950's. During the testing phase of the U-2 at The Ranch (the lockheed test facility at Groom Lake), it was discovered that the U-2 was a very hard plane to land. It is a light plane with a long wingspan, basically a powered glider made to fly very high. When close to the ground, it has tremendous lift and does not want to set down. Thus the plane actually has to be stalled about 2 feet from the ground. While close to the ground with it's long wingspan, if the pilot does not keep it very level, it is easy to dig a wingtip into the ground and crash. Also, while wearing a pressure suit and with the long nose on the U-2, it is hard for the pilot to judge his exact distance from the ground. So in the 1950's the Air Force began using large Ford station wagons with the biggest engine available. Another U-2 pilot would drive the chase car, or "mobile", and talk to the pilot by radio and tell him how many feet he was from the ground and if a wingtip is low. As a result, landing mishaps were reduced.

 

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Preparing to chase a U-2 in the older 'Mobile'

 

     History of RAF Alconbury Mobile 1: This 1988 Mustang began its career at Beale AFB in CA, where it was equipped for USAF service. An aircraft radio and lightbar were added, and then it was placed on a USAF transport plane and flown to RAF Alconbury in England where it would serve for several years with the 17th Reconnaissance Wing and the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron. RAF Alconbury was the largest U-2 base outside of the United States. Alconbury sent half of its U-2's to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, and served as the main overhaul base for U-2's operating in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. There were originally 3 Mustangs stationed at Alconbury, a 1986 and two 1988's, but by the time of Desert Storm the 1986 car had been crashed and totaled and only the two 1988's were left. This car is one of those two. It's USAF license plate number was 88B 9971, or Mobile 1. The other 1988 Mustang was 88B 9970, or Mobile 70. While stationed here, the last pilot to crash a U-2 at Alconbury drove this car and forgot his hat in it. He survived the crash, and his hat was discovered in the car between the seats and is preserved today. His name and three U-2 bases are written inside the hat. Also during Mobile 1's stay at Alconbury, a USAF Enroute High Altitude Flight Map of Europe, North Africe and the Middle East was left in the car (also preserved). In March of 1995, the U-2's in England transferred from Alconbury to RAF Fairford (England) for a little less than one year. In Jan. of 1996, the U-2's were transferred to Istres AFB in France. This car, Mobile 1, was transferred to Istres, while the other Mustang, Mobile 70, was transferred back to Beale in CA. During it's stay in France, repair work was done on the main runway and operations were temporarily transferred to Aviano Italy and Mobile 1 served there. Finally, late in it's career Mobile 1 served at Sigonella Sicily. Mobile 1 was retired and sold through the DRMO in Aviano Italy in Oct. of 1999. It was purchased by a serviceman stationed in England. He drove the car across Europe to Calais France, and took it across the ferry to England. He then shipped it back to the states. About a year later, I purchased the car from him.

 

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A view of USAF 'Mobile 1'

 

     SSP Mustangs are used: By the 1970's and early 1980's, the USAF was using Chevy El Camino's as mobiles with the U-2's. In the summner of 1986, they began to search for a faster car. At Beale AFB in CA, contact was made with the local CHP office to see if they could bring one of their Mustangs over for a trial run. At that time, Beale AFB was a fairly hard base to get access to, as it had not only the secret U-2's, but also the SR-71's. The CHP had been wanting to take some photos so they were more than happy to help out. They took a 1985 Mustang for the trial and it easily outperformed the El Camino. The USAF immediately ordered some Mustangs, and from this first order until the last in the early 90's, they purchased a total of less than 20. Since the last of the Mustangs were retired in the late 1990's, the USAF has been using Chevy Camaro's as mobiles with the U-2.

 

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CHP Mustang at Beale AFB, Summer 1986. The USAF was so impressed with the SSP's they ordered 20 for chase use.

 

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1986 'Mobile' at Alconbury UK

 

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Nice View of units 1 and 70 circa 1992

 

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A view of Unit 9970 from inside 9971 at Alconbury UK.

 

One more Mobile, this one and older '85 or '86, stands ready for chase at Beale AFB!

 

Look at this dramatic view behind the enormous wingspan-Wow!

 

     About the car: It has 53,000 original miles and has been completely restored as it was in the Air Force, down to being painted USAF blue. For restoration, the engine, doors, hood, trunk, trim and interior were removed for restoration and painting or recovering (for the seats). The engine bay was correctly painted with the engine removed, and the engine itself was detailed and restored. Care was taken to preserve the original USAF stenciling under the hood. All of the hood was repained except for the two panels with the stenciling, which were carefully cleaned and polished and match the rest of the hood perfectly. The stencling includes the USAF license plate number, as well as "AFE RAF A", which stands for "United States Air Forces Europe, Royal Air Force Base, Alconbury". Brakes and suspension were repaired or replaced. All new Ford headlights and taillights and trim items. In short, everything was done and done correctly. Going with the car (not installed yet) is a correct lightbar exactly as used by the USAF in Alconbury. It has five brand new correct z-rated tires as used by the Air Force (including the spare). Other documentation on the car includes its U.S. Government bucktags; U.S. Government transfer title; plastic USAF vehicle serv-o-plate; USAF Service Vehicle card, with plate number, from Alconbury; Instruction sheet for fueling mobiles, from Istres. If the pumps don't work, "...walk over to the sliding glass windows on the building and ask for help. They speak French, so good luck."; the ID'd USAF U-2 pilots hat; the DOD High Altitude flight map; and other documents from England and Italy.

 

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Restoration of Mobile 1 in progress..

 

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5.0 engine bay after restoration.

 

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A little piece of history under the hood as well.

A nice shot of the interior, notice switches for equipment.

A nice shot of the bucktags!

and the original title!

Note: This vehicle is now owned by Keith Suzuki of California-it can be seen here:
 

Last Update: 11.03.06

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