Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady History

The famous Lockheed U-2 "Dragon Lady" spyplane was born in the thick of the Cold War (1947-1991) years during the content between East and West. Work on the iconic aircraft began in 1954 with an American need for a purpose-built very-high-altitude spyplane / reconnaissance platform. The designation "U-2" was used as a rouse so as to not draw attention to the aircraft's true spying role - the "U" signifying "utility". The high-altitude operation of the aircraft was intended to keep it out of harm's way, namely to counter the threat of the impressive Soviet air defense capabilities of the early Cold War period.

Despite its Cold War roots, it continues to function in its same role today (2020), nearly sixty-five years after its maiden flight. Today the platform flies in a highly-modernized form to better contend with the dangers of the modern battlefield. The U-2 was slated to be replaced by the unmanned Northrop Grumman "Global Hawk" surveillance drone but these plans have been shelved - instead, the United States Air Force has elected to further evolve the manned U-2 platform for the foreseeable future.

The U-2R saw an extensive revision of the airframe to make the aircraft some 30% larger than its forerunners. One primary failing of the early-generation U-2 systems was in their airframe hour limits - thus restricting their overall service lives - which the U-2R set out to rectify. Underwing fuel pods were added for increased operational ranges and additional sensors installed. Fourteen were built to the new specification. The U-2RT was a single-example, twin-seat trainer platform for the U-2R series.

The U-2EPX was a proposed USN maritime surveillance model of which only two were built.

The TR-1A (TR = "Tactical Reconnaissance") was the third major production form of the U-2 line and production facilities for the aircraft were reopened in 1979 specifically to build the new mount. This version brought with it all-new modernized avionics, enhanced Electronic CounterMeasures (ECMs), and support for Side-Looking Radar (SLR). In essence, the aircraft was the U-2R coupled with the ASARS-2 Battlefield Surveillance Radar (BSR) fit to form a potent spying combination. Thirty-three aircraft were built to the standard and these later fell under the "U-2S" designation.

U-2S aircraft were TR-1A and U-2R platforms powered by the General Electric F118 series turbofan (non-afterburning) engine. The re-engine program took place from 1992 to 1998 by Lockheed. Beyond this, the lot was given enhanced sensors and GPS. Thirty-one examples were completed with the express goal of the keeping the series viable until 2020.

U-2S specifications include an overall length of 63 feet, a wingspan of 105 feet, and a height of 16 feet. Empty weight is 16,000lb and MTOW reached 40,000lb when fully-equipped and fueled. Power is from a single GE F118-101 turbofan engine developing 17,000lb of thrust providing a maximum speed of 410 miles-per-hour with a range out to 7,010 miles, and a service ceiling up to 80,000 feet. Rate-of-climb is a strong 9,000 feet-per-minute.

The TR-1B followed as a pair of twin-seat trainer forms to satisfy TR-1A/U-2S training. TU-2S marked TR-1B trainer aircraft with uprated engines and some five were converted to the standard.

The ER-2 designation covered a pair of TR-1A airframes used for research under the USAF and NASA labels. Similarly, WU-2 were atmospheric / weather research platforms.

Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady Specification


Active, Limited Service


[ 104 Units ]:
Lockheed Martin Aeronatics - USA


- Reconnaissance (RECCE)

- Special Forces



62.99 ft (19.2 m)


104.99 ft (32 m)


15.75 ft (4.8 m)


Empty Weight:

14,991 lb (6,800 kg)


41,006 lb (18,600 kg)

(Diff: +26,015lb)


1 x General Electric F118-101 non-afterburning engine developing 17,000 lb of thrust.


Maximum Speed:

475 mph (764 kph; 413 kts)

Service Ceiling:

84,974 feet (25,900 m; 16.09 miles)

Maximum Range:

7,000 miles (11,265 km; 6,083 nm)


None. Mission-equipment limited to sensors, radar, and other Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance related systems.


U-2 "Dragonlady" - Base Series Deisgnation

U-2A - First production model; Fitted with J57-P-37A powerplant.

U-2B - Various improvements; Fitted with J57-P-31 engine.

U-2C - Various improvements; Features J75-P-13 engine.

U-2CT - Two-seat trainer.

U-2D - Two-seat research variant

U-2EPX - Naval surveillance version (proposed).

U-2R "Dragon Lady" (TR-1) - Increased wingspan; elongated fuselage; features J75-P-13B engine.

U-2RT - Two Seat Model

U-2S - R-model fitted with General Electric F118-GE-101 engine.

U-2ST - Redesignated two-seat models

TU-2S - Trainer variant of U-2S

TR-1A - Tactical Reconnaissance Variant

TR-1B - Two-Seat Model; tactical reconnaissance variant

ER-2 - NASA-operated U-2 aircraft (2 examples)


Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady

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