Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady

U-2 Dragon Lady reconaissance aircraft

The U-2, a high-flying reconaissance aircraft, was camouflaged by this inoccent 'utility' designation. Ironically, it has become the most famous U-designated aircraft... The extremely high-flying U-2 spyplane became infamous in 1960 by being shot down over the Soviet Union. After that, the U-2 was claimed to be restricted to meteorological and environment control flights, but it continued to spy above countries other than the USSR, such as China and Cuba. Some were shot down. The WU-2 was used for sampling of the stratosphere, and examining the fall-out from nuclear tests. Later versions had a J75 engine. The U-2R is a much-modified version with two large pods on the wing, built in the second and third production runs --- the aircraft of the third series were named TR-1 for some time. The latest U-2R models were still present during the 1991 Gulf War. Reengining with the lighter and more powerful G.E. F118-GE-F29 engine is under way.

A classified budget document approved by the Pentagon on December 23, 2005, calls for the termination of the U-2 program by 2011, with some aircraft being retired as early as 2007. The U-2 would likely be supplanted by the Northrop Grumman's high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle.

Type: U-2B
Task: reconaissance
Year: 1956
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 7710kg P&W J57-P-13B
Max. Speed: 850km/h
Ceiling: 27400m
Max. Range: 6640km

Type: U-2R
Country: USA
Function: reconaissance
Year: 1967
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 7710kg P&W J75-P-13B
Wing Span: 31.39m
Length: 19.13m
Height: 4.88m
Wing Area: 92.90m2
Empty Weight: 7031kg
Max.Weight: 18733kg
Speed: M0.8
Ceiling: 24380m
Range: 10060km


The U-2 provides continuous day or night, high-altitude, all-weather, stand-off surveillance of an area in direct support of U.S. and allied ground and air forces. It provides critical intelligence to decision makers through all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, crises, low-intensity conflict and large-scale hostilities.


The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft. Long, wide, straight wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics. It can carry a variety of sensors and cameras, is an extremely reliable reconnaissance aircraft, and enjoys a high mission completion rate.

Because of its high altitude mission, the pilot must wear a full pressure suit. The U-2 is capable of collecting multi-sensor photo, electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery, as well as performing other types of reconnaissance functions. However, the aircraft can be a difficult aircraft to fly due to its unusual landing characteristics.

The aircraft is being upgraded with a lighter engine (General Electric F-118-101) that burns less fuel, cuts weight and increases power. The entire fleet should be reengined by 1998. Other upgrades are to the sensors and adding the Global Positioning System that will superimpose geo-coordinates directly on collected images.


Current models are derived from the original version that made its first flight in August 1955. On Oct. 14, 1962, it was the U-2 that photographed the Soviet military installing offensive missiles in Cuba.

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 and was delivered to the Air Force the next month. Designed for stand-off tactical reconnaissance in Europe, the TR-1 was structurally identical to the U-2R. Operational TR-1A's were used by the 17th Reconnaissance Wing, Royal Air Force Station Alconbury, England, starting in February 1983. 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 were redesignated U-2R. Current U-2R models are being reengined and will be designated as a U-2S/ST. The Air Force accepted the first U-2S in October, 1994.

U-2s are based at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. and support national and tactical requirements from four operational detachments located throughout the world. U-2R/U-2S crew members are trained at Beale using three U-2ST aircraft. The last R model trainer will be converted to an S model trainer in 1999.


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 designations U-1 (de Havilland Canada "Otter") and U-3 (Cessna 310) had already been chosen, the designation given to the plane was U-2.

Initially, Clarence "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 some glider-like characteristics. The aircraft is 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) close to its operational ceiling, the maximum speed (critical mach) and the minimum speed (stall speed) approach the same number, presenting a narrow window of safe airspeed the pilot must maintain. In these models over 90% of a typical mission is flown within five knots (9 km/h) of stall speed.

The difficulty experienced by the pilots flying the U-2 led to it being called the "Dragonlady" because the aircraft was extremely unforgiving with respect to pilot ineptitude or incompetence.

General Characteristics U-2
Primary Function: high-altitude reconnaissance
Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
Power Plant: One Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B engine; one General Electric F-118-101 engine
Thrust: 17,000 pounds (7,650 kilograms)
Length: 63 feet (19.2 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Wingspan: 103 feet (30.9 meters)
Speed: 475+ miles per hour (Mach 0.58)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms).
Range: Beyond 7,000 miles (6,090 nautical miles)
Ceiling: Above 70,000 feet (21,212 meters)
Crew: One (two in trainer models)
Date Deployed: U-2, August 1955; U-2R, 1967; U-2S, October 1994
Cost: Classified
Inventory: Active force, 36 (4 trainers); Reserve, 0; ANG, 0

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