This is the Lockheed U-2, the irreplaceable US spy plane that has been in service for 65 years

It was secretly developed by the United States at the dawn of the Cold War. It made its first flight in the mythical Area 51. It has been in service for more than 65 years and there is no other aircraft in the world that compares to it. This is the story of Lockheed U-2, the high-altitude spy plane that is not afraid of being replaced by satellites.

In the early 1950s, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower was especially concerned about the military development of the Soviet Union. Fears were growing in Washington that the USSR might have surpassed the West in its nuclear and bomber production capabilities.

The plane that crossed the Iron Curtain

As Lockheed Martin explainsClearing up those doubts was not easy. Crossing the Iron Curtain had become a real challenge. Due to the enormous size, control and surveillance of the Soviet Union, it was very difficult to get effective work with spies on the ground and, when planes were dispatched, they were usually shot down.

If the United States wanted to stay one step ahead in the Cold War, it needed reliable intelligence data, and it was thought to build an aircraft that would fly high enough to be out of range of Soviet eyes or, if detected, be too low. Too late for a threatening reaction.

In 1953, the United States Air Force (USAF) requested designs for the new spy plane from Bell Aircraft, Martin Aircraft, and Fairchild Engine and Airplane, three small companies. But Lockheed Aircraft found out about the project and decided to submit an unsolicited proposal on their own.

With the clear objective of winning the contract, Lockheed asked his best aeronautical engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, to devise an aircraft capable of flying at an altitude of 21,000 meters and carrying reconnaissance and surveillance equipment, which were the requirements that he demanded. the USAF.

The result was an aircraft never seen before: the fuselage was very thin, it had two wings similar to those of a glider and did not have conventional landing gearInstead, it took off from a moving platform and landed on “bicycle-style” wheels.

U2 Production

Despite meeting the required specifications, the USAF rejected the project, but it caught the attention of Edwin Herbert Land, the creator of instant photography and founder of Polaroid. Land told the CIA director about the project and convinced him to let his agency use the plane.

After a meeting with President Eisenhower, Lockheed received the green light to develop their project. A contract of $22.5 million to develop the first 20 aircraft. Thereafter the design was renamed “U-2” and eight months later it was ready.

According to the Encyclopedia BritannicaOn August 1, 1955, at an airfield located in southern Nevada, now known as Area 51, the Lockheed U-2 made its first flight. The aircraft was fitted with a camera system developed by Polaroid and began its high-altitude surveillance missions for the CIA and later for the USAF and NASA.

The Lockheed U-2 made its first flight in the mythical Area 51

In early 1956, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, had declared that his country was increasing its military power by manufacturing a large number of missiles and that it would soon have a bomb capable of hitting “anywhere in the world.”

In response to that announcement, the United States sent a U-2 from Wiesbaden, Germany, to the Soviet Union to capture detailed images of factories, airfields, and shipyards unreachable by other aircraft of the time without first being tracked or shot down.

However, the U-2 was tracked by Soviet radar, but it was too far away from USSR fighter planes and anti-aircraft defenses to return to its base with all the material collected, which revealed that Khrushchev’s statements were exaggerated.

U 2

But not all spy planes had the same luck. A Soviet surface-to-air missile hit near a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers while on a reconnaissance mission in 1960, it notes. Air Force Magazine. The pilot survived the crash, but was captured and later traded for a captured spy.

Years passed, and by 1966 only 15 of the 55 aircraft built were operational. Production resumed in the 1980s.but with a lot of improvements: they were almost 40% larger and could carry more gear thanks to their new modular design.

Currently, despite its many years of service and advanced systems such as spy satellites in orbit or the Boeing spacecraft, X-37B its versatility and strategic deployment to fulfill different missions has no opponents, so The U-2S, an improved version that could fly another 30 years, is in the works.

The U-2 is considered one of the most difficult aircraft to fly. The cockpit is fully pressurized the pilot, who uses a voluminous suit similar to that of astronauts, it must maintain adequate speed to protect the airframe at 21,000 meters.

Upon landing, the pilot has such limited visibility of the runway that he cannot complete the task himself. He compulsorily must rely on the instructions of another U-2 pilot driving a car down the runway as the plane touches down at speeds in excess of 100 km/h.

Pictures | Lockheed Martin

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