When it comes to reconnaissance, only a few other spy planes could rival the legacy of the Lockheed U-2 aka Dragon Lady. It is one of the longest-serving planes for the United States Air Force (USAF) and shares this distinction with the likes of the Lockheed C-130, Boeing B-52, and Boeing KC-135.
Before the USAF got its hands on it, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) took charge of the Dragon Lady. The veteran aircraft found its use during the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in several NATO operations. Besides spying missions, Lockheed U-2 has also been used for scientific research, satellite calibration, communications, and more.
The Dragon Lady was developed by the Lockheed Corporation. Its inaugural test flight took place as early as 1955, and it became available for use a year later. The stealthy plane owes its peculiar look to the ingenuity of its designer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Due to the aircraft’s one-of-a-kind design, it undergoes a unique take-off and landing. For a closer look, you can check out the video below.
Coming to the plane’s capabilities, Lockheed U-2 is a manned plane that has room for one to two people. It can soar through the skies during the day as well as at night and capture media via its camera. Moreover, it is suitable for flying in all kinds of weather conditions, whether hot and dry or cold and wet. Also, it relies on a single-jet engine to achieve an altitude of 21,300m or 70,000ft above the ground.
Origins of Lockheed U-2 and its journey so far
In the ’40s, the United States’ need for a spy plane that could infiltrate enemy activities better than the existing technology grew consistently. This was down to the nation’s failure in anticipating the gruesome attack that took place on their Pearl Harbor naval base during World War II in 1941.
From the early ’50s, the dominoes for what would eventually be known as the Dragon Lady began falling. The idea for the spy plane was pitched in 1953, and it received the green flag the succeeding year. In 1955, test pilot Tony LeVier finally tested Lockheed U-2’s aerial aptitude. During the same year, he trained several other pilots to operate the aircraft.
After the U.S. forces grew accustomed to the Dragon Lady, the aircraft undertook spy missions in some of the most decisive times in U.S. history. These recon planes were deployed throughout the Cold War era and various other U.S.-related conflicts.
Although it emerged as a great tool of espionage for the Americans, there were a few popular instances where the rival nations, such as the former U.S.S.R., caught it red-handed. A particular incident that sticks out is from 1960, when a Lockheed U-2 variant, carrying American pilot Gary Powers, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in the Soviet Union.
Over time, Lockheed Skunk Works engineers have constantly improved the Dragon Lady to minimize mishaps and adapt to new requirements. That’s one of the reasons this spy plane has stayed relevant for the USAF for around seven decades. Its latest model, U-2S, received an overhaul as recently as 2012 and continues to aid the air force in carrying out various tasks.
For those who are in knowing more about U.S. Air Force’s fleet, check out this gigantic Boeing military plane.