At the time of the Cold War, Russia had nothing that could shoot the U2 out of the sky. Even their MiG jets had a ceiling 10,000 feet below the U2’s gliding altitude.
One pilot said they’d buzz around below him, “like angry bees.”
When the U-2 “Dragon Lady” debuted in 1957 it was an astonishing piece of technological achievement.
Able to fly reconnaissance from more than 13-miles above the earth, gather data through all weather conditions any time of day or night, while staying beyond the reach of Soviet military — it was an unbelievable achievement.
Lockheed Skunk Works, the top-secret wing of the aircraft manufacturer, tried to jump into the competition
The military didn't want Lockheed's design, a stripped down version of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter with glider-like long wings
The project soon got the name of U-2, 'U' being the prefix for deliberately vague 'Utility' aircraft
The aircraft has one of the most unique designs in the sky, making it one of the most difficult planes to pilot
The pilot wears the equivalent of a space suit when flying it because of the high operating altitude
Various versions of the U-2 use different kinds of engines, but generally earlier versions used Pratt & Whitney Turbojet engines while later aircraft use GE Turbofan engines
One issue with flying the aircraft is that its maximum speed is very, very slow -- this is deliberate, as it makes the plane very difficult to track
The problem is that -- in a few versions -- there is a 10-knot window between the aircraft's top speed and the speed where the plane stalls in the air
Despite all of these drawbacks, the U-2 has remained in service for generations simply because it's so good at what it does
This was because of the diplomatic problems inherent in flying military aircraft over another country
In 1962 a U-2 flying over Cuba observed Soviet forces installing nuclear missiles, kicking off the Cuban Missile Crisis
It's got an empty weight of 14,300 lbs, and can carry an absolute maximum of 25,000lbs worth of surveillance equipment.
The U-2's long history of service will come to an end in the next few years as the aircraft is replaced by aerial drones
The drones will allow the U.S. to carry out recon without the possibility of pilot loss, one of the major historical drawbacks of the U-2
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