The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is an American single-jet engine, ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF).

Lockheed Tr.1 Dragon Lady

Design/Development

The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is an American single-jet engine, ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, high-altitude (70,000 feet; 21,000 m), all-weather intelligence gathering.

 

Lockheed Corporation originally proposed it in 1953, approval followed 1954, and the first test flight occurred in 1955. It was flown during the Cold War over the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, Gary Powers was shot down in a CIA U-2A over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile (SAM). Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was shot down in another U-2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

 

U-2s have also taken part in post–Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supported several multinational NATO operations. The U-2 has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, scientific research, and communications purposes. The U-2 is one of a handful of aircraft types to have served the USAF for over 50 years, like the Boeing B-52. The newest models (TR-1, U-2R, U-2S) entered service in the 1980s with the latest model, the U-2S, receiving its technical upgrade in 2012.

 

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Lockheed Tr.1 Dragon Lady

The design that gives the U-2 its remarkable performance also makes it a difficult aircraft to fly. Martin Knutson said that it "was the highest workload air plane I believe ever designed and built ... you're wrestling with the air plane and operating the camera systems at all times", leaving no time to "worry about whether you're over Russia or you're flying over southern California". The U-2 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.

  • History

    Role  High-altitude reconnaissance aircraft

    National origin  United States

    Manufacturer  Lockheed Skunk Works

    Designer  Clarence "Kelly" Johnson

    First flight  1 August 1955

    Introduction  1957

     

  • Primary User

    Status  In service

    Primary users  United States Air Force

    Central Intelligence Agency (former)

    NASA

    Republic of China Air Force (former)

     

  • Variants

    Produced  1955–1989

    Number built  104

    Unit cost

    $950,000 (1955)

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The highest-flying aircraft available to America and its allies at the time was the English Electric Canberra, which could reach 48,000 feet (14,600 m). The British had already produced the PR3 photo-reconnaissance variant, but the USAF asked for English Electric's help to further modify the Martin B-57 (the American licensed version of the Canberra) with long, narrow wings, new engines, and a lighter-than-normal airframe to reach 67,000 feet (20,400 m). Air Research and Development Command mandated design changes that made the aircraft more durable for combat, but the resulting RB-57D aircraft of 1955 could only reach 64,000 feet (19,500 m). The Soviet Union, unlike the United States and Britain, had improved radar technology after the war, and could track aircraft above 65,000 feet (19,800 m).

Lockheed Tr.1/U-2S Dragon Lady

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Lockheed Corporation originally proposed it in 1953, approval followed 1954, and the first test flight occurred in 1955. It was flown during the Cold War over the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, Gary Powers was shot down in a CIA U-2A over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile (SAM). Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was shot down in another U-2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

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