Lockheed U-2

U-2 Dragon Lady
The United States Air Force U-2 Dragon Lady
The United States Air Force U-2 Dragon Lady
RoleHigh altitude reconnaissance
Length62 ft 9 in (R model)19.1 m
Wingspan103 ft (R)30.9 m
Height16 ft 1 in (R)4.8 m
Wing area1,000 ft²92.9 m²
Empty14,990 lb (R)6,800 kg
Maximum take-off41,000 lb (R)18,600 kg
EnginesOne Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B engine; one General Electric F-118-101 engine
Thrust17,000 lbf76 kN
Maximum speed510 mph (R)821 km/h
Combat range3,500 mi (R)5,633 km
Ferry range
Service ceiling> 70,000 ft
(R model 90,000 ft)
> 21,212 m
(R 27,432 m)
Rate of climb

The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude reconnaissance airplane flown by the United States Air Force. It provides continuous day and night, high-altitude (70,000 ft, 21,000 m plus), all-weather surveillance of an area in direct support of U.S. and allied ground and air forces. It also provides critical intelligence to decision makers through all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, crises, operations other than war, and major theater war. The aircraft also are used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.



The U-2, whose development name at Lockheed was the CL-282 Aquatone, needed an official name. It could not be named with letters such as B for bomber and F for fighter because its purpose was not for any of those specific designations. Also, since the project was under high secrecy, it could not be called a reconnaissance plane. Finally, the Air Force decided to call it a utility plane. Since the names U-1 and U-3 had already been chosen, the name given to the plane was U-2. The plane's nickname is the "Dragon Lady." Initially, Kelly Johnson adapted the F-104 Starfighter, replacing the low aspect ratio blade wings with extremely large glider type wings as a starting point.

High aspect ratio wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics and make the aircraft extremely challenging to fly, not only due to its unusual landing characteristics, but also because of the extreme altitudes it can reach. When flying the U-2A and U-2C models (no longer in service) the maximum speed (critical mach) and the minimum speed (stall speed) are approaching the same number. In these models over 90% of a typical mission is flown within five knots of stall speed.

Because of its high-altitude mission, the pilot must wear the equivalent of a space suit. The suit provides the pilot's oxygen supply and emergency protection in case cabin pressure is lost at altitude (the cabin provides pressure equivalent to approximately 30,000 feet). Unprotected in the low pressure environment above 50,000 feet, human fluids will boil and vaporize. To prevent decompression sickness, pilots don the pressure suit and begin breathing 100 percent oxygen at least one hour prior to launch; while moving from the building to the aircraft they carry their own oxygen supply.

The aircraft carries a variety of sensors. The U-2 is capable of simultaneously collecting signals and imagery intelligence. Imagery intelligence sensors include either wet film photo, electro-optic or radar imagery. It can use both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data links.

The aircraft completed an upgrade to the General Electric F-118-101 engine in 1998, to provide better fuel economy, reduced weight and increased power. Other upgrades to the sensors and the addition of the Global Positioning System increased collection capability and provides superimposed geo-coordinates directly on collected images.


The U-2 project was initiated in the early 1950s by the CIA which desperately wanted accurate information on the Soviet Union. It was thought a high altitude aircraft such as the U-2 would be hard to detect and impossible to shoot down. Lockheed Martin was given the assignment with an unlimited budget and a short time frame. Its Skunkworks, headed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson performed remarkably, the first flight occurred in August 1955. New cameras were also developed by Kodak, and they also worked well. It made its first over-flight of the Soviet Union in June 1956. The aircraft came to public attention during the U-2 Crisis when pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet territory on May 1 1960. On October 14, 1962, it was a U-2 from the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing that photographed the Soviet military installing nuclear warhead missiles in Cuba, precipitating the Cuban missile crisis. However later in the Cuban missile crisis another U-2 was shot down, killing Major Rudolph Anderson, the pilot. Major Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross. U-2s provided critical intelligence data during all phases of Operations Desert Storm and Allied Force. The development by the Soviets of SAMs that could reach the U-2 the type that shot down Powers and Anderson prompted the development of a very fast, very high flying reconnaissance plane, the CIA's A-11 Blackbird (later the A-12 Oxcart, and then the USAF SR-71). The U-2 provides daily peacetime indications and warning intelligence collection from its current operating locations around the world. However, most imagery intelligence used by the US military now comes from reconnaissance satellites. The first Corona surveillance satellite took more photographs of the Soviet Union than the total from all 24 of the U-2 missions over the country.

When requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U-2 also has provided photography supporting their disaster relief efforts.

On June 21, 2005 at 22:30 UT a U2, returning from a mission supporting US forces in Afghanistan, crashed at an undisclosed forward-deployed location in south-west Asia.[1] (http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123010842) The pilot, who was serving with the 380th Expeditionary Wing based at Al-Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi, was killed. "The specific location is not releasable due to host nation sensitivities" according to US Air Force Capt David W Small. The cause of the crash is unknown. [2] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4119344.stm)

A u2 had also crashed in 2003 in South Korea injuring four Koreans on the ground.


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. 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 Alconbury, 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 trainer variant of the TR-1, the TR-1B, was redesignated as the TU-2R. After re-engining with the F-118-101 engine, the former U-2Rs were designated the U-2S Senior Year.

A derivative of the U-2 known as the ER-2 (Earth Resources -2) is used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for high altitude civilian research including Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes.


U-2s are based at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and support national and tactical collection requirements from three operational detachments located around the world. U-2 pilots are trained at Beale initially using the U-2ST, the two-seat trainer version of the aircraft. In 2005, there were 29 active Air Force aircraft and 5 two-seaters. The two civilian ER-2's are based at the Dryden Flight Research Center.

General characteristics

  • Primary Function: high-altitude reconnaissance
  • Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
  • Date Deployed: U-2, August 1955; U-2R, 1967; U-2S, October 1994
  • Inventory: Active force, 35 (4 two-seat trainers); Reserve, 0; ANG, 0

See also: SR-71 Blackbird

Modern USAF Series Miscellaneous
Attack--OA/A-10,AC-130H/U RC-135V/RC-135W Rivet Joint
Bomber--B-52,-2,-1B,F-117A OC-135B Open Skies
Fighter--F-15/E ,F-16 KC-10 Extender
Electronic--E-3,-4B,-8C EC-130E/J,HKC-135 Stratotanker
Transport--C-5,-17,-141B, -20,-21 MC-130E/H HC-130P/N
C-22B, -32, -130, -37A, -40B/CMC-130P Combat Shadow
Trainers--T-1, -37, -38, -43, -6MH-53J/M Pave Low
Weather--WC-130, -135 HH-60G Pave Hawk
UAV--RQ-1/MQ-1 UAV, Global HawkUH-1N Huey
VC-25 - Air Force One

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