The famous Lockheed U-2 "Dragon Girl" reconnaissance aircraft was born between the East and the West during the Cold War era (1947-1991). Work on this iconic aircraft began in 1954 when Americans needed a purpose-built high-altitude spy plane/reconnaissance platform.
The "U-2" designation is intended to avoid drawing attention to the plane's true spy role -- the "U" stands for "utility." The high-altitude use of the aircraft was designed to exclude it from the threat posed by the impressive Soviet air defense capabilities in the early days of the Cold War.
Despite its Cold War origins, it still plays the same role today (2020), nearly 65 years after its first flight. Today, the platform flies in a highly modernized form to better handle the dangers of the modern battlefield. The U-2 was originally intended to be replaced by Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk surveillance drone, but those plans have been shelved -- instead, the Air Force has opted to continue developing the U-2 manned platform for the foreseeable future .
The U-2R underwent an extensive redesign of its airframe, making the aircraft approximately 30% larger than its predecessor. A major flaw of the early U-2 systems was their airframe hour limit - limiting their overall lifespan - which the U-2R attempted to remedy. For longer range, underwing fuel tanks were added and additional sensors were installed.
Fourteen were built to the new specification. The U-2RT is an example of a two-seat trainer platform from the U-2R series.
The U-2EPX is a proposed model for maritime patrols by the US Navy, of which only two were built.
The TR-1A (TR = "Tactical Reconnaissance") was the third major production form of the U-2 series, and the aircraft's manufacturing facility reopened in 1979 to be dedicated to the manufacture of new mounts. This release brings new and modern avionics, improved Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) and Side-Looking Radar (SLR) support. Essentially, the aircraft is a combination of the U-2R and the ASARS-2 Battlefield Surveillance Radar (BSR), forming a powerful spy combo.
Thirty-three aircraft were built to the standard, which were later designated "U-2S".
The U-2S aircraft are TR-1A and U-2R platforms powered by GE F118 series turbofan (non-afterburner) engines. Lockheed implemented the Re-Engine program from 1992 to 1998. Additionally, the batch gets improved sensors and GPS.
Completed 31 examples with the express goal of keeping the series viable in 2020.
U-2S specifications include an overall length of 63 feet, a wingspan of 105 feet, and a height of 16 feet. With a curb weight of 16,000 pounds, the MTOW hits 40,000 pounds when fully equipped and fueled.
Power comes from a single GE F118-101 turbofan engine that produces 17,000 pounds of thrust, a top speed of 410 mph, a range of 7,010 miles, and a service ceiling of 80,000 feet. Climb speeds up to 9,000 feet per minute.
The TR-1B serves as a pair of two-seater trainers for TR-1A/U-2S training. The TU-2S are marked TR-1B trainers with upgraded engines, with about five converted to standard.
The ER-2 designation includes a pair of TR-1A airframes for research purposes under the USAF and NASA labels. Likewise, WU-2 is an atmospheric/weather research platform.
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
- Special Forces
62.99 ft (19.2 m)
104. 99 feet (32 m)
15.75 ft (4.8 m)
475 mph (764 km/h; 413 knots)
84,974 ft (25,900 m; 16.09 mi)
7,000 miles (11,265 km; 6,083 nautical miles)
No. Mission equipment is limited to sensors, radar, and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.
U-2 "Dragonlady" - name of the base series
U-2A - first production model; equipped with J57-P-37A engine.
U-2B - Various modifications; equipped with J57-P-31 engine.
U-2C - Various modifications; equipped with J75-P-13 engine.
U-2CT - Two-seater trainer.
U-2D - two research variants
U-2EPX - Naval Surveillance Version (recommended).
U-2R Dragon Lady (TR-1) - increased wingspan; elongated trunk; has J75-P-13B engines.
U-2RT - two-seater model
U-2S-R models are powered by General Electric F118-GE-101 engines.
U-2ST - redesigned two-seater model
TU-2S - Trainer variant of the U-2S
TR-1A - tactical reconnaissance variant
TR-1B - two-seat model; tactical reconnaissance variant
ER-2 - NASA powered U-2 aircraft (2 examples)