U-2 Dragon Lady

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Product Type:

High-altitude aerial reconnaissance aircraft "Spy plane"

Service (US):

Air Force (USAF)

Program Status:

Operations & Sustainment (O&S) Phase

Prime Contractors:

Lockheed Martin Corp.

The U-2 Dragon Lady

About the U-2 Dragon Lady:

The Lockheed Martin U-2S Dragon Lady is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near space reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. The aircraft provides signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and electronic measurements and signature intelligence (MASINT). Long and narrow wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics and allow it to quickly lift heavy sensor payloads to unmatched altitudes.

The U-2S is powered by a lightweight (and fuel efficient) General Electric F118-GE-101 turbofan engine (with 17,000 pounds of thrust), which eliminates/reduces the need for aerial refueling on long duration missions. The engine is a less powerful version of the F118-GE-100 used on the B-2A Spirit. The first variants of the U-2 were powered by the Pratt & Whitney (PW) J57 turbojet engine, while the U-2C/TR-1A were powered by the PW J75 turbojet.

The aircraft is equipped with the following sensor packages: the Raytheon ASARS-2 advanced synthetic aperture radar; electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) camera; optical bar camera; signals intelligence (SIGINT); and network-centric communication.

The original U-2A was built in absolute secrecy by aeronautical engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works and 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. The U-2 was the famed spy plane that, in October 1962, photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, which touched off the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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 after landing.

The U-2 also carries a signals intelligence (SIGINT) 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. Routinely flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet (21,300 meters), the U-2 pilot must wear a full pressure body-suit similar to those worn by astronauts. The U-2 Dragon Lady is widely regarded as the most difficult aircraft in the world to fly.

The U-2 Dragon Lady has undergone multiple modifications and upgrades over the years. The U-2R (first flight in 1967) was 40% larger 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 to the Air Force in October 1989 and, in 1992, all TR-1s and U-2s were designated as U-2Rs. Since 1994, about $2 billion has been invested to modernize the U-2 airframe and sensors. These upgrades also included a re-engining program, which would replace the old Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet with a new General Electric F118-GE-101 turbofan engine. With the re-engining, all Air Force U-2 aircraft had their designation changed to U-2S.

All U-2s are based at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base (AFB) in California, but are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. U-2 pilots train at Beale AFB using two-seat trainer aircraft (designated as TU-2S) before deploying for operational missions.

FY 2020 & FY 2021 - U-2 DoD Program:

This data is available in Forecast International's U.S. Defense Budget Forecast, a comprehensive analytical database containing historical and forecast budget figures, year-to-year funding comparisons, congressional budget markups, program justification documents, and much more.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Lockheed Martin Corp.

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