The U-2 , nicknamed Dragon Lady , is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude Surveillance aircraft flown by the United States Air Force.
It provides continuous day and night, high-altitude (70,000 ft, 21,000 m plus), all-weather surveillance of an area in direct support of U.S. and allied ground and air forces.
It also provides critical intelligence to decision-makers through all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, crises, operations other than war, and major theater war.
The aircraft came to public attention during the U-2 Crisis when pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet territory on May 1, 1960.
On October 14, 1962, it was a U-2 from the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing that photographed the Soviet military installing nuclear warhead missiles in Cuba, precipitating the Cuban missile crisis.
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 plane must maintain.
In these models over 90% of a typical mission is flown within five knots of stall speed.
Its large wingspan and resulting glider-like characteristics make the U-2 highly sensitive to crosswinds. This sensitivity, and the aircraft's tendency to float over the runway, makes the U-2 notoriously difficult to land.
As the U-2 passes, the chase car follows it at high speed, with the mobile calling out the aircraft's altitude via radio to the pilot.
When the aircraft's main landing gear is within approximately two feet of the runway surface the pilot deploys spoilers located on the top of the wings to reduce lift (spoiling the lift and increasing the stall speed by 2 knots).
Retractable stall strips on the wings' leading edges that are deployed prior to entering the landing phase help to produce equal stalling effects.
This is done to minimize wing drop, assisting in aircraft control particularly during strong cross winds.
The aircraft carries a variety of sensors. The U-2 is capable of simultaneously collecting signals and imagery intelligence. Imagery intelligence sensors include either wet film photo, electro-optic or radar imagery -- the latter from the Raytheon ASARS-2 system. It can use both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data links.
It was thought a high altitude aircraft such as the U-2 would be hard to detect and impossible to shoot down. Lockheed Corporation was given the assignment with an unlimited budget and a short time frame. Its Skunk Works, headed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson performed remarkably, and the first flight occurred in August 1955. Kodak also developed new cameras, which worked well. It made its first over-flight of the Soviet Union in June 1956.
Data for Lockheed U-2R
1× Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B turbojet, 17,000 lbf (76 kN)
Video 1: The U-2 TR-1 Story
Video 2: Lockheed U-2 Flight - 70,000ft (2 Seat TU-2 Trainer)
Video 3:Lockheed U-2S "Dragon Lady" Cockpit Tour