(U.S. Air Force graphic/Airman 1st Class Drew Buchanan)
Fueling the high flyers - U-2 tube food calms cravings in the cockpit
by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel
9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
2/7/2013 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Pureed peach cobbler, chicken-a-la-king, key lime pie, or even the classic sloppy joe in a metallic tube don't compare to a home cooked meal, but U-2 pilots say the food they eat while flying long missions is delicious.
While wearing a fully pressurized suit, pilots aren't able to open the visors on their helmets and have limited range of motion to feed themselves while wearing their bulky yellow equipment. To overcome these challenges, America's highest flying aviators use tube food, a specialized method of eating.
Similar to the size of a tube of toothpaste, these metallic containers are fitted with a plastic straw designed to slip through a sealed port on each pilot's helmet. The port does not to affect the pressure of the suit and is also used for hydration.
The tube meals come from an Army research laboratory in Natick, Mass. Expert chefs and nutritionists craft these meals, which are then turned into a paste the consistency of baby food.
"We've been making these for years and years," said Dan Nattress, a food technologist with Combat Feeding. Combat Feeding has been supplying tube food to U-2 pilots for five decades and is constantly adding new flavors.
While technicians from the 9th Physiological Support Squadron assist pilots into their full pressure suits, they ask for their food preference.
"Depending on the duration of the flight, each pilot is different," said Staff Sgt. Suzzett Stalesky, 9th PSPTS suit technician. "Some pilots take the same thing every flight, and some are still trying to find what agrees with their body during a flight."
Stalesky said pilots usually eat one tube an hour. They can have the classics like beef stroganoff and applesauce, or more exciting options to give them a little "kick" like chocolate pudding with enough caffeine to satisfy any coffee addict.
"It's not like having a few cups of Starbuck's coffee, but it's pretty close," said an Air Force major with the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, whose favorite flavor is pasta Bolognese.
So what is the favorite dish among the most seasoned U-2 pilots?
Stalesky said caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-a-la-king takes the cake.