provides high-altitude, all-weather
surveillance and reconnaissance, day or night, in direct support of
U.S. and allied forces. It delivers critical imagery and signals
intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict,
including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict,
and large-scale hostilities.
The U-2S is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near space
reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft providing signals, imagery,
and electronic measurements and signature intelligence. Long
wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics and allow it to quickly
lift heavy sensor payloads to unmatched altitudes, keeping them there
for extended periods of time. The U-2 is capable of gathering a variety
of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and
synthetic aperture radar products which can be stored or sent to ground
exploitation centers. In addition, it also supports high-resolution,
broad-area synoptic coverage provided by the optical bar camera
producing traditional film products which are developed and analyzed
The U-2 also carries a signals intelligence payload. All intelligence
products except for wet film can be transmitted in near real-time
anywhere in the world via air-to-ground or air-to-satellite data links,
rapidly providing critical information to combatant commanders.
Measurement and signature intelligence provides indications of recent
activity in areas of interest and reveals efforts to conceal the
placement or true nature of man-made objects.
Routinely flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet, the U-2 pilot must wear
a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts. The
low-altitude handling characteristics of the aircraft and bicycle-type
landing gear require precise control inputs during landing; forward
visibility is also limited due to the extended aircraft nose and
"taildragger" configuration. A second U-2 pilot normally "chases" each
landing in a high-performance vehicle, assisting the pilot by providing
radio inputs for altitude and runway alignment. These characteristics
combine to earn the U-2 a widely accepted title as the most difficult
aircraft in the world to fly.
The U-2 is powered by a General Electric F118-101 engine, fuel
efficient and lightweight, which negates the need for air refueling on
long duration missions. The U-2S Block 10 electrical system upgrade
replaced legacy wiring with advanced fiber-optic technology and lowered
the overall electronic noise signature to provide a quieter platform
for the newest generation of sensors.
The aircraft has these sensors: electro-optical infrared camera,
optical bar camera, advanced synthetic aperture radar, signals
intelligence, and network-centric communication.
A U-2 Reliability and Maintainability Program provided a complete
redesign of the cockpit with digital color multifunction displays and
up-front avionics controls to replace the 1960s-vintage round dial
gauges which were no longer supportable.
Built in complete secrecy by Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk
Works, the original U-2A first flew in August 1955. Early flights over
the Soviet Union in the late 1950s provided the president and other
U.S. decision makers with key intelligence on Soviet military
capability. In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet
offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile
Crisis. In more recent times, the U-2 has provided intelligence during
operations in Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When
requested, the U-2 also provides peacetime reconnaissance in support of
disaster relief from floods, earthquakes, and forest fires and supports
search and rescue operations.
The U-2R, first flown in 1967, was 40 percent larger and more capable
than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the
TR-1A, first flew in August 1981 and was structurally identical to the
U-2R. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered in October 1989; in
1992 all TR-1s and U-2s were designated as U-2Rs. Since
billion has been invested to modernize the U-2 airframe and
These upgrades also included the transition to the GE
which resulted in the re-designation of all Air Force U-2 aircraft to
U-2s are home based at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force
Base, California, but are rotated to operational detachments worldwide.
U-2 pilots are trained at Beale using five two-seat aircraft designated
as TU-2S before deploying for operational missions.