What and How Do U-2 Spy Plane Pilots Eat While Flying Near Space

What and How Do U-2 Spy Plane Pilots Eat While Flying Near Space
Image Credits: Airmen magazine

The U-2 Dragonlady has been a staple of the United States Air Force for over 50 years and continues to excel in recon missions. Missions in a U-2 can be quite lengthy so a pilot’s appetite may get the better of them after a while. Yet, these pilots can’t take off their pressurized suits being so close to space, so how do they eat?


Here’s a fascinating look at what and how the USAF’s finest pilots eat while flying America’s favorite spy plane: the A-12. Second, only to the A-12 Oxcart and its brother, the SR-71 BlackBird, being an A-12 pilot is an extremely physically demanding job, often requiring 12 hours of flying.


The short and simple answer is a product known as Tube Food, which is manufactured by the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Laboratories. Because even high-altitude pilots need to eat, but their process is a little trickier.

Watch Sgt. Suzzett Stalesky—an airspace physiologist and U-2 launch and recovery technician—explain how they eat their tube food, another American aerospace classic on itself. The video also includes some great sequences of the U-2 itself.

Controlled crash landing of U2 spy plane using 140-Mph Chase Cars

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Drew Buchanan/Released)

According to Stalesky, most pilots eat about a tube per hour. They really have to watch out for their food intake because they are not allowed to defecate in the suit. Their favorite tubed food: caffeinated chocolate pudding, which gives them a little kick while they are in the aircraft, and chickens a la king.

Other foods include peaches, hash browns with bacon, cinnamon applesauce, and key lime pie. I want to try them all.

It seems these are all new. Stalesky says that they have a chef creating new stuff and, once the pilots give the ok, they will start putting them in production.

U2 Dragon Lady Cockpit view at 70,000 feet – living on the edge of Space

Armed with Science
Armed with Science

Food is usually washed down with water or Gatorade, or a mixture. Similar to the foods provided to astronauts for consumption in zero gravity, the U-2 pilots eat by squeezing the contents from large metallic containers resembling toothpaste tubes. A small heater is provided to warm up some meals. Several food options include supplemental caffeine to help pilots stay alert on longer missions. So what’s on the menu? Here’s what was on offer this week:

  • ‘Jazzy Mac and Caffeinated Chocolate Pudding’
  • ‘Hashbrowns with Bacon’
  • ‘Polenta with Cheese and Bacon’
  • ‘Peaches’
  • ‘Chicken ala King’
  • ‘Beef Stroganoff’
  • ‘Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese’
  • ‘Chicken Tortilla Soup’
  • …and everyone’s favorite ‘Cinnamon Zapplesauce’

The key requirement is to sustain the pilot and keep him active and alert. As Lockheed Martin U-2 Senior Test Pilot Greg ‘Coach’ Nelson says “it’s a survival contest between you and the jet, and you don’t want the jet to win.”

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