Lockheed U-2

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Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady
RoleStrategic reconnaissance
First Flight4 August, 1955 (U-2A), 28 August, 1967 (U-2R)
Entered ServiceApril, 1956
Number built40 (U-2A), 12 (U-2R), 37 (TR-1 and ER-2)
Length19.2 m63 ft
Wingspan32 m105 ft
Height4.8 m16 ft
Wing area92.9 m²1,000 ft²
Empty 7,257 kg16,000 lb
Maximum takeoff weight18,000 kg40,000 lb
Capacity2,268 kg (5,000 lbs)
Enginesone General Electric F118-GE-101
Thrust77 kN (each)17,000 lbf (each)
Maximum speed660 km/h410 mph
Operational range11,286 km6,090 nm
Service ceiling21,212+ m70,000+ ft
Rate of climbm/minft/min
AvionicsSee main text



The Lockheed U-2 is - without doubt - the best known reconnaissance aircraft in the world. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded and run Project Aquatone, while the US Air Force stuck to the RB-47 en RB-57 for its strategic reconnaissance. Lockheed Skunk Works, directed by Kelly Johnson, developed the U-2, drawing from expertise gained in the F-104 program. The resulting U-2, nicknamed Dragon Lady, is a single-engine, high-altitude aircraft flown by the United States Air Force and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency. It provides day and night, high-altitude (70,000 ft, 21,000 m plus), all-weather surveillance. The aircraft is also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation. The Q-bay, located in the forwards fuselage, can accommodate various sensors. Initially, photographic camera's were used. The Type A camera system had an image motion compensation system which rocked the three Fairchild HR-732 24 inch cameras simultaneously. Type B was a high resolution camera with 36 inch folded optics lens. The U-2S is still operated by the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based at Beale AFB in California. Aircraft are frequently detached to Osan in Korea, RAF Fairford in England, RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and Istres in France. In addition, aircraft have frequently operated out of Taif in Saudi Arabia and Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and are flying operational missions over Iraq and Afganistan. Intelligence gathered is usually relayed direct to ground stations in the US for processing, interpretation and dissemination.

Aquatone operations

Early U-2 operations were initially funded and conducted by the CIA, the US Air Force preferring the RB-57D Canberra and X-16 designs. Procurement of the aircraft's components occurred secretly. The aircraft was renamed the U-2 in July 1955, the same month the first aircraft, Article 341, was delivered to Groom Lake. The "U" referred to the deliberately vague designation "utility" instead of "R" for "reconnaissance", and the U-1 and U-3 aircraft already existed. The CIA assigned the cryptonym Aquatone to the project, with the US Air Force using the name Oilstone for their support to the CIA. The U-2 is often called Deuce and The Article by pilots. The prototype was referred to as Angel. By January 1956, the U-2 so impressed the US Air Force that it decided to obtain its own aircraft. The US Air Force purchased a total of 31 U-2s through the CIA; the transaction's code name, Project Dragon Lady, was the origin of the aircraft's nickname. The first operational U-2 flight was undertaken on 20 June 1956, when a U-2 flew over Poland and East Germany, with more flights on 2, 4 and 5 July (overflying Moscow). Covert operations penetrating Warsaw-pact airspace continued through 1956 to 1960. On May 1st, 1960, the Soviet Union finally managed to down a U-2C, flown by Gary Powers, with SA-2 Guideline missiles. In May 11th, 1960, all Warsaw-pact overflights were cancelled. The debris of Powers' aircraft was used to design a copy under the name Beriev S-13. That was then discarded in favor of the MiG-25R and reconnaissance satellites. Although overflights of the Soviet Union ended, the U-2 continued operations elsewhere. Control of the U-2, after several jurisdictional disputes, eventually passed to the US Air Force. The last (known) CIA missions took place in October 1974.

Soviet clone

After the crash of Lockheed's U-2 in Soviet Union in 1960, a special team of experts searched the site for a long time, collecting everything, down to the smallest particles hit by cars. The debris collected was first thoroughly studied by experts at the airport of the State Red Research and Testing Institute (GK NII VVS) in Chkalov. After that, all the remains of the U-2 were sent to OKB-49 at Taganrog, led by Beriev. The engine was studied first and on June 28, governmental decree #702-288 was issued which called for replication of the J75-P-13 engine. A copy designated RD-16-75 was built in Kazan at OKB-16. The American turbojet gas generator proved quite successful, and based on it was proposed to develop engines for heavy vehicles, including the Tu-104E. The aircraft's intelligence equipment made possible the collection of significant amounts of information. the GK NII VVS concluded that an aircraft capable of flying at such high altitudes and long range with such limited weight was of great interest to the Air Force. On May 12, 1962, governmental decree #40-191 abruptly called for all work on the S-13 to cease.




Initial model, powered by a J57-P-37 turbojet. 48 ordered in FY56 and delivered to the CIA and the Strategic Air Command. First overseas deployment was Operation Overflight, the first two U-2s being air freighted to RAF Lakenheath, England on April 30, 1956. An unit was formed under the name 1st Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Provisional (WRSP-1). In reality, the unit—a strange mix of CIA employees, Air Force personnel, and contracted civilians, was known simply as "Detachment A". During the summer of 1957 Lockheed delivered six U-2A HASP (High Altitude Sampling Programme by the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) based at Laughlin AFB in Texas. Operating from a variety of deployed locations in Operation Crowflight, which was later renamed Toy Soldier, these aircraft with fitted with filter systems, located in the nose or in a pod attached to the side of the 'Q' bay, and were used to gather small particles from the upper stratosphere to determine whether nuclear debris from Soviet nuclear tests were present and allow it to be analysed. The HASP flights continued until an international moratorium on banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere was eventually agreed in Jul 1963. A single U-2A, 56-6722, was modified to the U-2A HICAT (High-altitude Clear Air Turbulence) configuration and equipped with a gust sensing probe under the nose and other associated equipment.


Two seat trainer, five conversions from U-2A airframes.


Upgraded U-2A airframes, with J-75-P-13A turbojet rated at 67 kN, modified air intakes, 5.000 liter interne fuel and 757 liter fuel in the wingtips. The U-2C was famous for the downing of Gary Powers in May 1960 and its involvement in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. On 28 August 1962 it was a CIA U-2 that found the initial evidence that the Russians had sited a number of missiles in Cuba. This soon resulted in a dispute between the CIA and US Air Force over who should conduct further overflights of Cuba, a dispute that was won by the US Air Force. To almost to rub salt in the wound, the CIA had to allow the US Air Force to use their U-2Cs that were equipped with the more advanced System 9 intercept warner and System 12 receiver that gave the pilot a warning if SAM radars were locked onto his aircraft. The sorties over Cuba were also the first time that the U-2C had been challenged by the MiG-21. The MiG-21s were flown by Cuban pilots and had been seen many times by the U-2C pilots as they attempted to climb and intercept the high-flying spyplanes. However, although the MiG-21 could zoom-climb up to around 60,000ft, in the thin upper atmosphere they were effectively out of control and on a ballistic trajectory, with very little opportunity to fire off a missile or U-2 with sugar-scoop operate their guns. Nevertheless, one U-2C pilot was given a rude shock when a MiG-21 actually shot over the top of his aircraft, the shaken pilot then watched as the MiG-21 then tumbled out of control into the thicker air lower down before the pilot could recover. To counter the potential threat from a heat-seeking missile fired from a MiG-21, the U-2s were fitted with a ‘Sugar Scoop’, an 18-inch extension to the tailpipe, which would hopefully shield the hottest part of the engine from the infra-red seeker. U-2Cs operating from the United Kingdom were given a two-tone camouflage scheme to make the aircraft less suspecious compared to the all black scheme normally applied to US Air Force U-2Rs. Two U-2As were modified to the U-2CT configuration to serve as dedicated trainers. A second cockpit and associated controls and instrumentation were installed in the area normally referred to as the "Q-bay". The WU-2C designator was an unofficial Lockheed company designator eventually leading to the U-2R.

U-2D Low Card/Smokey Joe

Two seat conversion trainer, the instructor's seat is raised to improve forward view. Five new production airframes built, as well as an unknown number of U-2A modifications. Designation JU-2D used for temporary test aircraft. Three Lockheed U-2Ds were modified to support the MIDAS program in Project LowCard, which later was renamed Smokey Joe. These aircraft carried an airborne optical spectrometer in a special rotating "pickle-barrel" housing atop the fuselage, behind the cockpit.The cylinder-shaped installation contained aforward-facing lens which could be used toscan for missile exhaust plumes. An observerwas carried in the reconfigured Q-bay to monitor incoming data and aim the sensor. The MIDAS satellites were supposed toprovide extended warning from space of a Soviet ICBM attack.


In May 1961, in a little known attempt to extend the U-2's already considerable range, a number of aircraft were modified with aerial refueling equipment. Lockheed began to modify six CIA U-2s and several US Air Force U-2s with aerial refueling equipment that extended the aircraft's range from approximately 4,000 nm to over 8,000 nm and extended its endurance to more than 14 hours. The U-2Bs were re-designated U-2E.


In a similar move, the J75 powered U-2Cs equipped with refueling probe and capable of carrying two underwing 100 us gallon fuel tanks were re-designated U-2F. Although the modified U-2s were capable of flying for over 14 hours, this took little account of pilot fatigue and although an additional oxygen cylinder was installed on these aircraft, little use was made of this capability. Operated by CIA.

U-2G Whale Tale

In mid-1963 the CIA initiated Project Whale Tale, the goal of which was to adapt U-2s for carrier operation. The Navy then performed modifications to three U-2A variants. It gave them stronger landing gear, an arresting hook, and wing "spoilers" capable of canceling aerodynamic lift when the aircraft came over the deck. These aircraft were designated as U-2Gs and painted with N-series civilian serial numbers and Office of Naval Research markings. The first successful carrier landing of a U-2G occurred March 2, 1964, altough the landing was close to a crash-landing. Eventually, the carrier-based U-2 evidently wasn't in high demand. In fact, it is known to have flown only one operational mission, as part of Operation Seeker. It occurred in May 1964. USS Ranger launched a U-2G spyplane to monitor nuclear tests carried out by France at Mururoa atoll, a Pacific test site in French Polynesia (under the name Project Seeker).


One aircraft was both air refueling and carrier capable and was the only U-2H.


Lockheed in-house designation for a proposed version based on U-2C, with two 30 inch fuselage plugs ("L" for 'Long' or 'Lengthened'). This configuration eventually led to the U-2R. The U-2L+ was a proposed two seater, with upward looking optical sensor in the nose. Neither version was built.


In company designator for Lockheed Model CL-351, later redesignated U-2R. The N is acronym for New.


Second generation U-2, Lockheed Model CL-351, approx one-third larger than the U-2C. Ordered to provide SIGINT missions nears the borders of the Warsaw Pact, as well as providing high quality images by Long-Range Oblique Reconnaissance (LOROP) cameras. The larger cockpit allowed the pilot to wear a much more comfortable full pressure suit and was fitted with a zero-zero ejection seat. The high altitude version of the J75-P-13B engine was retained, giving 17,000 lbs thrust. A new 104 ft span wing, with an area of 1,000 square ft, would provide the additional lift needed for the new design that soon had a gross take-off weight of 40,000 lb. The U-2R could carry a 3,000 lb payload over 3,000 miles at altitudes at or above 70,000 ft. From 1964 until 1974, a number of U-2Rs were capable to operate from US Navy carriers. Two seat conversion trainer designated U-2RT, later redesignated TU-2R. Twelve ordered in FY68.


The U-2s can also be fitted with a special nose containing a Raytheon Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS-2A) which entered service in 2001. The ASARS-2A is an imaging radar system that can provide very high-resolution images day or night and in all weather conditions. The radar has two V shaped planar arrays, equipped with electronically scanned antennas, that scan the ground on either side of the aircraft and can acquire images out to around 160km. The radar can operate in either search or spot modes and data from the SYERS and ASARS -2A is relayed in near real time via a wideband data link, with a range close to 300nm, to a dedicated ground station without being seen by the pilot.

U-2R DB-110

A number of other upgrades have also been incorporated in the U-2S. Goodrich has developed a low-cost, small, compact, lightweight electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) dual-band reconnaissance sensor for tactical as well as high-altitude standoff applications. This sensor is a derivative of SYERS and is known as the DB-110. The DB-110's direct viewing reflective optic sensor is inertially stabilized to provide high- resolution imagery when operating in severe vibration environments.


In a re-run of the U-2G programm, in 1973-74, two U-2R aircraft were modified to the U-2EPX configuration for evaluation by the US Navy for the ocean surveillance role. During the evaluation the airplanes were fitted with a derivative of the AN/ALQ-110 Big Look surveillance system, a modified AN/APS-116 forward-looking radar (useful for detecting surface ships and periscopes or snorkels of submerged submarines), and an infrared detection unit. The radar, fitted in the U-2's sensor or "Q" bay, had an antenna protruding below the fuselage in an inflatable radome. The U-2EPX was to link its radar to surface ships under a program known as Outlaw Hawk. Other sensors, including space- and land-based, were to be linked to a command center ashore and, subsequently, fitted in the carrier Kitty Hawk. During the Outlaw Hawk exercise involving Kitty Hawk, the carrier steamed from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, with the U-2s flying from California. The U-2EPX concept died because of high costs and the promised effectiveness of satellites for ocean surveillance.

U-2R Senior Book

Sigint/Comint configuration for collecting intelligence vary considerably from aircraft to aircraft and are highly dependent on target emitters and mission objectives.

U-2R Senior Glass

The Senior Glass system is a SIGINT sensor suite which includes the Senior Spear COMINT system and the Senior Ruby ELINT system and this system was upgraded in 1996. This system is carried in the superpods.

U-2R Senior Lance

Modified U-2R with Goodyear SLAR in the Q-bay and its antenna housed in a zippered, inflatable central radome under the nose.

U-2R Senior Ruby

The Senior Ruby is a radar emission monitoring ELINT sensor package carried by the U-2R.

U-2R Senior Span/Senior Spur/Senior Stretch

Senior Span and Senior Spur are two separate satellite relay systems that are contained in a special dorsal pod and carried on the upper fuselage. When out of range of the data link system SYERS and ASARS data is transmitted via these satellite links at global ranges.

U-2R Senior Spear

In 1971 Melpar developed a new COMINT sensor for the U-2R. Known as U-2R Senior Spear the equipment was carried in a podded mid-wing installation and this sensor gathered much valuable information during the latter stages of the war in Vietnam.

U-2R Senior Year/SYERS

The Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS), an Hughes Danbury Optical Systems (now Goodrich) DB-110 sensor installed in the U-2, is the only operational American dual-band, real-time reconnaissance system. SYERS is the electro-optical daylight/fair weather imagery sensor on the U-2. The long focal length sensor provides deep look, high resolution, near-real-time (NRT) imagery to the warfighter. The U-2 also carries the Hughes Radar and Communications Systems' Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS-2), an imaging radar system, as well as the 30-inch Optical Bar Camera (OBC) and a 24-inch IRIS camera. Both of these are panoramic format film sensors. SYERS was developed under specialized management with no formal documentation (eg. a black program). The Senior Year Defensive system Senior Year is a defensive system carried in the nose of the aircraft and designed to protect the U-2S against all current and future threats. The initiative improves threat warning, RF countermeasures, and situation awareness capabilities. Provides group A wiring for all PAI U-2s plus 20 defensive systems with spares. Additionally all aircraft will receive I/R signature reduction and cockpit modifications. On 29 March 2011, Northrop Grumman announced a new contract from the US Air Force to deliver two upgraded senior year electro-optical reconnaissance systems 2A (Syers-2A) payloads for the U-2R.


Upgraded U-2R airframe, powered by a F118-GE-101 engine (derived from the F101-GE-102 as used in the B-2 Spirit, previously designated F101-GE-F29). Endurance and service ceiling are improved. All remaining 33 U-2R and 4 U-2RT airframes were modified. Upgraded U-2RT airframes are designated TU-2S. The original cockpit layout of the U-2S has also been upgraded in the Reconnaissance Avionics Maintainability Program (RAMP) which began in 1999. The round dials in the original cockpit were replaced by two 6 by 8 inch multifunction displays and the large driftsight was removed. To improve navigation, an Aztec GPS receiver is embedded in the Litton LN-33 P2/P3 INS.



Designation for 33 U-2R aircraft, ordered in FY80. Delivered to Tactical Air Command and - for political reasons - designated as Tactical Reconnaissance One. A distinguishing feature of these aircraft is the addition of a large instrumentation "superpod" under each wing. One of the roles originally planned for the TR-1 was for the aircraft to be equipped with the Precision Location & Strike System (PLSS). The PLSS was a secret ELINT system built to locate Warsaw Pact radars and missile sites and designed specifically for the TR-1. However, the system proved to be difficult to integrate with the other aircraft systems and was cancelled in 1987. At the end of the 80s, the aircraft were redesignated U-2R.


Designation for one U-2R(T), ordered in FY80. Redesignated TU-2R.



Civil registered TR-1, operated by NASA for Earth Rousources missions. including earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. First flight was before the first TR-1, so the ER-2A was technically the prototype. In the underwing 'superpods' 680 kg equipment can be carried. One ER-2 was delivered factory freshm another two were former TR-1A aircraft. Redesignated U-2ER.


Designation for F118-GE-101 re-engined ER-2A.

System packages[1]

Over the years, several system packages were developed, from System I to System XXII. The first seven devices were developed by TRW.

System I

System I used S-band and X-band Elint receivers to collect ground-controlled intercepts and air defense signals. Weighing 7.7 kg, this systen was aboard all U-2's from 1955 through 1959.

System II

A communications and navigations system, never worked properly and cancelled.

System III

A 16 kg VHF Comint recorder. Never used and transferred to the US Navy in 1958.

System IV

Frret device that recordered electromagnetic energy in the 150 to 4,000 MHz range. Used for 16 mission betwen 1957 and 1959, when it was transferred to the US Air Force.

System V

Similar to System I but covered nine frequency bands. It was so heavy that the U-2 could not carry a camara system. It was used on only three mission and was replaced by the lighter System VI.

System VI

Covered the P-, L-, S-, X-bands and could be used with A or B type camera. Used from 1959 to 1966.

System VII

Missile telemetry intercept system, developed by Haller-Raymond-Brown. It could record up to 12 minutes of data from six simultaneous frequencies. Used on 22 missions from June 1959 to 1960.

System VIII

Navalized System VII for US Navy.

System IX

ECM device for generating false-angle information in response to X-band radar pulses from SAM's. Also designated Mk30, it was developed by Granger Company.

System X

Modified System VII specially built in 1962 for a mission over the Soviet Union that never took place.

System XI through XV

ECM devices used by U-2's overflyting China and North Korea duting the Vietnam war.

System XVI

Passive Elint collector.

System XVII

Built in 1965 by HRB-Singer to collect ABM missiles being launched from Saryshagan, Soviet Union.

System XX

ECM device to counter acquisition and guidance radar of the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21.

System XXI

Comint package that replaced the much older System III. Originally developed for the Oxcart program, but later adapted for the U-2R.

System XXII

Infra-red jammer to counter air-to-air missiles.



More information

External links



  1. ^ The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart programs, 1954-1974
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