The Full Wiki

Lockheed U-2: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is a single-engine, very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency. It provides day and night, very high-altitude ( ), all-weather surveillance. The aircraft is also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.


In the early 1950s, with Cold War tensions on the rise, the U.S. military required better strategic reconnaissance to help determine Soviet capabilities and intentions. The existing surveillance aircraft were primarily converted bombers, vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery, missiles, and fighters. It was thought an aircraft that could fly at would be beyond the reach of Soviet fighters, missiles, and even radar. This would allow "overflights"—knowingly violating a country's airspace to take aerial photographs.

Under the code name "AQUATONE", the Air Force gave contracts to Bell Aircraft, Martin Aircraft, and Fairchild Engine and Airplane to develop proposals for the new reconnaissance aircraft. Officials at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation heard about the project and asked aeronautical engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson to come up with a design. Johnson was a brilliant designer, responsible for the P-38 Lightning, and the P-80. He was also known for completing projects ahead of schedule, working in a separate division of the company jokingly called the Skunk Worksmarker.

Johnson's design, called the CL-282, married long glider-like wings to the fuselage of another of his designs, the F-104 Starfighter. To save weight, his initial design didn't even have conventional landing gear, taking off from a dolly and landing on skids. The design was rejected by the Air Force, but caught the attention of several civilians on the review panel, notably Edwin Land, the father of instant photography. Land proposed to CIA director Allen Dulles that his agency should fund and operate this aircraft. After a meeting with President Eisenhower, Lockheed received a $22.5 million contract for the first 20 aircraft. It was renamed the U-2, with the "U" referring to the deliberately vague designation "utility".

The first flight occurred at the Groom Lakemarker test site (Area 51marker) on 1 August 1955, during what was only intended to be a high-speed taxi run. The sailplane-like wings were so efficient that the aircraft jumped into the air at .

James Baker developed the optics for a large-format camera to be used in the U-2 while working for Perkin-Elmer. These new cameras had a resolution of from an altitude of . Balancing is so critical on the U-2 that the camera had to use a split film, with reels on one side feeding forward while those on the other side feed backward, thus maintaining a balanced weight distribution through the whole flight.

When the first overflights of the Soviet Union were tracked by radar, the CIA initiated Project RAINBOW to reduce the U-2's radar cross section. This effort ultimately proved unsuccessful, and work began on a follow-on aircraft, which resulted in the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird.

Manufacturing was restarted in the 1980s to produce TR-1/U-2R aircraft.


The unique design that gives the U-2 its remarkable performance also makes it a difficult aircraft to fly. It was designed and manufactured for minimum airframe weight, which results in an aircraft with little margin for error. Most aircraft were single-seat versions, with only five two-seat trainer versions known to exist. Early U-2 variants were powered by Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engine. The U-2C and TR-1A variants used a more powerful Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet. The U-2S and TU-2S variants incorporated an even more powerful General Electric F118 turbofan engine.

High-aspect-ratio wings give the U-2 some glider-like characteristics, with a lift-to-drag ratio estimated in the high 20s. To maintain their operational ceiling of , the U-2A and U-2C models (no longer in service) must fly very near their maximum speed. However, the aircraft's stall speed at that altitude is only less than its maximum speed. This narrow window was referred to by the pilots as the "coffin corner". For 90% of the time on a typical mission the U-2 was flying within only five knots above stall, which might cause a decrease in altitude likely to lead to detection, and additionally might overstress the lightly built airframe.

The U-2's flight controls are designed around the normal flight envelope and altitude that the aircraft was intended to fly in, the controls provide feather-light control response at operational altitude. However, at lower altitudes the higher air density and lack of a power-assisted control system makes the aircraft very difficult to fly. Control inputs must be extreme to achieve the desired response in flight attitude, and a great deal of physical strength is needed to operate the controls in this manner.

The U-2 is very sensitive to crosswinds which, together with its tendency to float over the runway, makes the U-2 notoriously difficult to land. As the aircraft approaches the runway, the cushion of air provided by the high-lift wings in ground effect is so pronounced that the U-2 will not land unless the wing is fully stalled. To assist the pilot, the landing plane is paced by a chase car (usually a "suped-up" performance model including a Ford Mustang SSP, Chevrolet Camaro B4C, or a Pontiac GTO) with an assistant who "talks" the pilot down by calling off the declining height of the aircraft in feet as it decreases in airspeed.

Instead of the typical tricycle landing gear, consisting of a nosewheel and two sets of main wheels, one under each wing, the U-2 uses a bicycle configuration, with the forward set of main wheels located just behind the cockpit and the rear set of main wheels located behind the engine, coupled to the rudder in order to provide taxi steering. To maintain balance while taxiing for takeoff, the ground crew installs two auxiliary wheels, called "pogos". These fit in sockets under each wing at about mid-span, and fall onto the runway as the aircraft takes off. To protect the wings during landing, each wingtip has a titanium skid. After the plane comes to a halt, the ground crew re-installs the pogos. The first pogo goes on the "light" or "up wing" while the other crew members use their weight to pull down the light side. Then two of the crew push up the heavy wing, allowing a third crew member to install a pogo on the other side.

Because of the high operating altitude the pilot must wear the equivalent of a space suit. The suit delivers the pilot's oxygen supply and emergency protection in case cabin pressure is lost at altitude (the cabin provides pressure equivalent to about ). To prevent hypoxia and decrease the chance of decompression sickness pilots don a full pressure suit and begin breathing 100% oxygen one hour prior to launch to de-nitrogenize the blood; while moving from the building to the aircraft they breathe from a portable oxygen supply.

The aircraft carries a variety of sensors in the nose, Q-bay (behind the cockpit, also known as the camera bay), or wing pods. The U-2 is capable of simultaneously collecting signals, imagery intelligence and air samples. Imagery intelligence sensors include either wet film photo, electro-optic or radar imagery — the latter from the Raytheon ASARS-2 system. It can use both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data links. One of the most unusual instruments in the newest version of the U-2 is the off-the-shelf Sony video camera that functions as a digital replacement for the purely optical viewsight (an upside down periscope-like viewing device) that was used in older variants to get a precise view of the terrain directly below the aircraft, especially during landing.

Operational history

United States

U-2 testing aboard .

Though the U.S. Air Force and Navy would eventually fly the U-2, it was originally a CIA operation, run through the Office of Scientific Intelligence. Due to the political implications of a military aircraft invading a country's airspace, only CIA U-2s conducted overflights. The pilots had to resign their military commissions before joining the CIA as civilians, a process they referred to as "sheep dipping".

As often happens with new aircraft designs, there were several operational accidents, some fatal. The first fatal accident was on 15 May 1956, when the pilot stalled the aircraft during a post-takeoff maneuver which was intended to drop off the wingtip outrigger wheels. The second occurred three months later, on 31 August when the pilot stalled the aircraft immediately after takeoff. Two weeks later, a third aircraft disintegrated during ascent, also killing the pilot. There were a number of other non-fatal incidents, including at least one which resulted in the loss of the aircraft.

The U-2 came to public attention when CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet territory on 1 May 1960, causing the U-2 incident.

On 14 October 1962, a U-2 from the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, based at Laughlin Air Force Basemarker near Del Rio, Texasmarker, and piloted by Major Richard S. Heyser, photographed the Soviet military installing nuclear warhead missiles in Cubamarker, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis. Heyser concluded this flight at McCoy AFBmarker in Orlando, Floridamarker, where the 4080th established a U-2 operating location for the duration of the crisis. On 27 October 1962, in flight from McCoy AFB, a U-2 was shot down over Cuba by two SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross.

In 1963, the CIA started project Whale Tale to develop carrier-based U-2Gs to overcome range limitations. During development of the capability, CIA pilots took off and landed U-2Gs on the aircraft carrier USS Rangermarker and other ships. The U-2G was used only twice operationally. Both flights occurred from USS Ranger in May 1964 to observe France's development of an atomic bomb test range at Moruroa in French Polynesiamarker.

In early 1964, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) sent a detachment of U-2s from the 4080th to South Vietnam for high-altitude reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam. On 5 April 1965, U-2s from the 4028th SRS (Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron) took photos of SAM-2 sites near Hanoimarker and Haiphongmarker harbor. On 11 February 1966, the 4080th Wing was redesignated the 100th SRW and moved to Davis-Monthan AFBmarker, Arizonamarker. The SRS detachment at Bien Hoa ABmarker, South Vietnam, was redesignated the 349th SRS.

The only loss of a U-2 during combat operations occurred on 8 October 1966, when Major Leo Stewart, flying with the 349th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, developed mechanical problems high over North Vietnam. The U-2 managed to return to South Vietnam where Stewart ejected safely. The U-2 crashed near its base at Bien Hoa. In July 1970, the 349th SRS at Bien Hoa moved to Thailandmarker and was redesignated the 99th SRS, remaining there until March 1976.

In 1969, the larger U-2Rs were flown from the aircraft carrier . The U-2 carrier program is believed to have been halted after 1969.

One of NASA's ER-2s in flight over the California desert.
A NASA ER-2 set the world altitude record for its weight class

In June 1976, the U-2s of the 100th SRW were transferred to the 9th SRW at Beale Air Force Basemarker, Californiamarker, and merged with SR-71 aircraft operations there. When Strategic Air Command was disestablished in the early 1990s, the wing was transferred to the new Air Combat Command (ACC) and redesignated the 9th Reconnaissance Wing (9 RW).

In 1984, during a major NATOmarker exercise, Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Mike Hale intercepted a U-2 at a height of , where the aircraft had previously been considered safe from interception. Hale climbed to in his Lightning F3.

In 1989, a U-2R of 9 RW, Detachment 5, flying out of Patrick Air Force Basemarker, Florida successfully photographed a space shuttle launch for NASAmarker to assist in identifying the cause of tile loss during launch discovered in the initial post-Challenger missions.

On November 19, 1998, a NASAmarker ER-2 research aircraft set a world record for its weight class ( to for an altitude in horizontal flight of .

The U-2 remains in frontline service more than 50 years after its first flight despite the advent of surveillance satellites. This is primarily due to the ability to direct flights to objectives at short notice, which satellites cannot do. The U-2 has outlasted its Mach 3 SR-71 replacement, which was retired in 1998.

Possible retirement

A classified budget document approved by The Pentagonmarker on 23 December 2005 called for the termination of the U-2 program no earlier than 2011, with some aircraft being retired by 2007.

In January 2006, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the pending retirement of the U-2 fleet as a cost-cutting measure, and as part of a larger reorganization and redefinition of the Air Force's mission that includes the elimination of all but 56 B-52s and a complete reduction in the F-117 fleet.

Rumsfeld said that this will not impair the Air Force's ability to gather intelligence, which will be done by satellites and a growing supply of unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft. However, Congress has not, as of 2009, passed legislation to retire the U-2 as there is no system able to replace it. Proposals to retire the U-2 have been met with significant resistance from military leadership due to gaps in capability that would present if the U-2 were removed from service.

In 2009, the Air Force stated that it plans to extend the U-2 retirement from 2012 until 2014 or later. The delay is to allow more time to field the RQ-4 Global Hawk to replace the U-2.

Republic of China

Another U-2 operator was the Republic of Chinamarker (Taiwanmarker), which flew missions mostly over the People's Republic of Chinamarker (PRC). Since the 1950s, the Republic of China Air Force had used the RB-57A/D aircraft for reconnaissance missions over the PRC, but suffered two losses when MiG-17 and SA-2 SAM were able to intercept the aircraft. In 1958, ROC and American authorities reached an agreement to create the 35th Squadron, nicknamed the Black Cat Squadron, composed of 2 U-2Cs in Taoyuan Airbase in northern Taiwan, in isolated part of the airbase. To create the typical misdirections at the time, the unit was created under the cover of high altitude weather research missions for ROCAF. To US government, 35th Squadron and any US CIA/USAF personnel assigned to the unit was known as Detachment H on all documents. But instead of under normal USAF control, this whole project known as Project RAZOR, and was ran directly by CIA with USAF assistance, after a long gunfight between the two agencies. And main ground rule of 35th Squadron's any operational missions had to be approved by both US and Taiwan/ROC president before hand.

A total of 26 out of 28 ROC pilots sent to US completed training from period of 1959 to 1973 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. In July 1960, the CIA provided the ROC with two U-2Cs and in December the squadron flew its first mission over mainland China. Other countries were also covered by 35th Squadron, like North Korea, North Vietnam and Laos from time to time, but the main objective of the ROC 35th Squadron was to conduct reconnaissance missions assessing the PRC's nuclear capabilities. For this purpose the ROC pilots flew to as far as Gansumarker and other remote regions in northwest China. Some of the missions, due to mission requirements and range, plus to add some elements of surprise, had the 35th Squadron's U-2s flew from or recovered at other US air bases in Southeast Asia and Eastern Asia, like K-8(Kunsan) in South Korea or Tikhli in Thailand, besides 35th Squadron's home base at Taoyuan airbase in Taiwan, as all US airbases in the region were listed as emergency/alternate recovery airfields.

In total, the squadron flew overall ~220 missions, with about half over mainland China resulted in five aircraft shot down, including three fatalities and two pilots captured, plus another six U-2 were lost in training with six pilots killed. In 1968, the ROC U-2C/F/G fleet was replaced with the newer U-2R. However, with the coming of the Sino-Soviet split and the rapprochement between the US and the PRC, the ROC U-2 squadron stopped entering Chinese airspace, and instead only conducted electronic surveillance plus photo reconnaissance missions with new Long-Range Oblique Reconnaissance (LOROP) cameras on the U-2R while flying over international waters. Last mission of U-2 flew over mainland China took place March 16, 1968. After that, all missions had the U-2 aircraft keep a buffer zone at least 20 nm out of China.

During his visit in China in 1972, US President Richard Nixon promised the Chinese authorities to cease all reconnaissance missions near and over China, but also due to US photo satellites by 1972 were able to provide better overhead images without risking losing aircraft, pilots and international incidents. The last 35th Squadron mission was flown by Sungchou "Mike" Chiu on 24 May 1974. At the end of ROC's U-2 operations, with total of 19 U-2C/F/G/R operated by 35th Squadron from 1959 to 1974, lost total of 11 aircraft. On 29 July 1974, the two remaining U-2R aircraft in ROC possession were flown from Taoyuan AB in Taiwan to Edwards AFB, California, US, to process and turned them over to USAF.


Primary list

Sub-section source:

U-2A: Initial production, single-seat; J57-P-37A engine; 48 built
U-2B: Two-seat trainer; J57-P-31 engine; five built
U-2C: Enhanced single-seat model with J75-P-13 engine and modified engine intakes
U-2D: Enhanced two-seat trainer
U-2CT: Enhanced two-seat trainer rebuilt from U-2D airframes with relocation of the seats; six known converted
U-2G: A-models modified with reinforced landing gear, added arresting hook, and wing spoilers for US Navy carrier operations; three converted
U-2R: C-models enlarged and improved with underwing pods and increased fuel capacity; 12 built
U-2RT: Enhanced two-seat R-model trainer; one built
U-2EPX: Proposed US Navy maritime surveillance R-model; two built
WU-2: Atmospheric/weather research WU-model

A two-seat U-2 TR-1B
TR-1A: All new "tactical recon" TR-model based on the U-2R with side-looking radar, new avionics, and improved ECM equipment; 33 built
TR-1B: All new two-seat trainer for the TR-1A; two built
ER-2: Single-seat "earth resource" ER-model for NASA research
U-2S: New redesignation for the TR-1A; updated with a improved engine, improved sensors, and addition of a GPS system; 31 converted
TU-2S: New redesignated TR-1B two-seat trainer with improved engine; four converted

U-2E/F details

In May 1961, in a little-known attempt to extend the U-2's already considerable range, Lockheed modified six CIA U-2s and several USAF U-2s with aerial refueling equipment which allowed the aircraft to receive fuel from either the Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker or from the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. This extended the aircraft's range from approximately and extended its endurance to more than 14 hours. The J57-powered U-2Bs were re-designated U-2E and the J75-powered U-2Cs were redesignated U-2F. Although the modified U-2s were capable of flying for over 14 hours this took little account of pilot fatigue, and although an additional oxygen cylinder was installed on these aircraft little use was made of this capability. One aircraft was both air-refueling- and carrier-capable and was the only U-2H.

U-2R/S details

The U-2R, first flown in 1967, is significantly larger and more capable than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the TR-1A, first flew in August 1981. A distinguishing feature of these aircraft is the addition of a large instrumentation "superpod" under each wing. Designed for standoff tactical reconnaissance in Europe, the TR-1A was structurally identical to the U-2R. The 17th Reconnaissance Wing, Royal Air Force Station Alconburymarker, England used operational TR-1As from 1983 until 1991. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered to the Air Force in October 1989. In 1992 all TR-1s and U-2s (all U-2Rs) were designated U-2Rs. The two-seat trainer variant of the TR-1, the TR-1B, was redesignated as the TU-2R. After upgrading with the F-118-101 engine, the former U-2Rs were designated the U-2S Senior Year.

ER-2 details

ER-2#709 takes off from NASA Dryden
A derivative of the U-2 known as the ER-2 (Earth Resources -2) is based at the Dryden Flight Research Centermarker and is used by NASAmarker for high-altitude civilian research including Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. Programs using the aircraft include the Airborne Science Program, ERAST and Earth Science Enterprise.


Popular culture

In the television series Call to Glory (ABC, 1984 to 1985), the U-2 was the "main ride" of US Air Force Colonel Raynor Sarnac from the October 1962 Cuba Crisis to 1979.

Specifications (U-2S)

See also


  1. Miller, Herbert L. (Director). "Suggestions re: The Intelligence Value of AQUATONE." Central Intelligence Agency, 17 July 1956. Retrieved: 10 March 2009.
  2. Fensch 2001, p. 52.
  3. Huntington, Tom. "U-2." Invention & Technology Magazine, Volume 22, Number 3.
  4. Invention & Technology Magazine, volume 22, number 3
  5. Karl, Jonathan. "So High, So Fast." ABC News, 17 August 2007. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  6. Donald, David, ed. "Lockheed U-2". The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Barnes & Nobel Books, 1997. ISBN 0-7607-0592-5.
  7. Donald, David, ed. "U-2, The Second Generation". Black Jets. AIRtime, 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.
  8. "The U-2 World, January 1991 - July 1994, May - October 1996." Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  9. Polmar 2001, p. 64.
  10. Pedlow and Welzenbach 1992, pp. 79-80.
  11. Correll, John T. "Airpower and the Cuban Missile Crisis." Air Force Magazine, August 2005. Retrieved: 27 June 2009.
  12. "U-2 Aircraft Carrier Operations." Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  13. Richelson 2006, pp. 212–213.
  14. Hobson 2001
  15. Video of U-2R landing on the USS America in 1969.
  16. Ross, Charles. "Lightning vs Concorde.", Lightning Association, 14 November, 2004. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  17. "NASA Aircraft Sets New World Altitude Record." Science Daily, 24 October 1998. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  18. "List of records established by the 'Lockheed Martin ER-2': Database ID 5795." General Aviation World Records, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), Lausanne, Switzerland. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  19. Butler, Amy and David A. Fulghum. "USAF not Ready to Retire the U-2." Aviation Week, 26 August 2008. Retrieved: 10 March 2009.
  20. Sherman, Jason and Daniel G. Dupont. "DoD Cuts Air Force Aircraft Fleet.",, 11 January 2006. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  21. Tirpak, John A. "12 Miles High, Changing Course." Arlington, VA: Air Force magazine, Air Force Association, February 2009. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  22. Taiwan Air Blog, Project RAZOR, updated April 11, 2007, retrieve Sept. 14th, 2009
  23. Taiwan Air Blog, Extension of Project RAZOR, updated April 15, 2007, retrieve Sept. 14th, 2009
  24. Taiwan Air Power, U-2 Page, pilots
  25. Taiwan Air Blog, Target North Korea, updated April 23, 2009, retrieved Sept 15, 2009
  26. Taiwan Air Power, U-2 page, missions
  27. Taiwan Air Power, U-2 page, aircraft
  28. Taiwan Air Power, U-2 Page, Pilot Loses
  29. Taiwan Air Blog, The End of an Era. April 7, 2006, retrieved Sept. 14th, 2009
  30. Taiwan Air Power, U-2 page, aircraft
  31. Taiwan Air Blog, The End of an Era. April 7, 2006, retrieved Sept. 14th, 2009
  32. Thou Shalt Not Fly...Ever August 1, 2009, retrieve Sept. 14, 2009
  33. Brief History of U-2. Defence International (全球防衛雜誌), Vol. 35 Issue. 5, May 2002, Taiwan, ROC.
  34. "Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady: Tactical Reconnaissance." Aerospaceweb. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  35. Polmar 2001, p. 173.
  36. Video of U-2 refueling
  37. Pocock, Chris. "Lockheed U-2C/TR-1/U-2R/S.", 6 January 2008. Retrieved: 8 March 2009.
  38. Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady, p. 39. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 1998. ISBN 1-58007-009-4.
  39. "Call to Glory." Retrieved: 13 September 2009.


  • Donald, David, ed. "U-2 The Second Generation". Black Jets. AIRtime, 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.
  • Fensch, Thomas. The C.I.A. and the U-2 Program: 1954-1974 (Top Secret). Chula Vista, CA: New Century Books, 2001. ISBN 0-93075-109-4.
  • Frawley, Gerard. The International Directory of Military Aircraft. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.
  • Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF, USN, USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961 - 1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-1156.
  • Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works: The Official History... (updated edition). Leicester, UK: Midland Publishing Ltd., 1995. ISBN 1-85780-037-0.
  • Pedlow, Gregory W. and Donald E. Welzenbach. The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 1992. ISBN 0-78818-326-5.
  • Polmar, Norman. Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified. St. Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Imprint, 2001. ISBN 0-76030-957-4.
  • Richelson, Jeffrey T. Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0-393-05383-8.
  • The World's Great Stealth and Reconnaissance Aircraft. New York: Smithmark, 1991. ISBN 0-8317-9558-1.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address