The U-2 was developed for "high altitude reconnaissance"- in other words, spying.  It was one of the bigger icons that represented the Cold War between the USA and USSR between the 1950's and 1990's.

Under direction of the C.I.A. (not the Air Force), the U-2 was developed by Lockheed and was another brainchild of Kelly Johnson.  It was also the first plane tested at Groom Lake (the famous Area 51) which is a remote dry lake handpicked by Johnson for testing.  The U-2's only defense system was the fact that it could simply fly at altitudes so high that no enemy aircraft or surface to air missiles could reach it.  This defense, however, wasn't effective for long and the U-2 became obsolete after a newly developed Soviet missile shot down the one piloted by Frances Gary Powers in 1960.  The C.I.A. was quick to development a replacement and, six years later, the SR-71 went into service.

Even though the U-2 was technically "obsolete", it is still in service today and has lasted longer than its replacement, the SR-71.  It is still used for military reconnaissance and for performing high-altitude experiments.

You can still occasionally see a U-2 flying around the Edwards AFB and Air Force Plant 42 area.  We have spotted one once taking off from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale and were able to identify it by the unique way it climbs after takeoff.  As soon as it lifts off, the plane immediately tilts up at an almost 45 angle and begins the climb to its desired altitude.  Because the plane is designed to cruise at a very high altitude, where the air is much thinner, its wing is designed in a way that produces lift in this thinner air.  When the U-2 is close to the ground and in thicker air, it has to climb (or descend) at much sharper angles (like 45) than an average airplane or it will stall and literally fall out of the sky. 

A note for you rock 'n roll fans:  The Irish rock group U-2 did not get its name from this airplane but, rather, from a form used by the Irish government. 

A U-2 static display on the flight line at Edwards.
A slightly different view than the previous head-on view.
A profile view of the U-2.

Back to top or Back to Edwards AFB Air Show

Copyright (c) 2005, BackRoadsWest.com

Copyright 2011, BackRoadsWest.com