U-2/TR-1 gallery 1

(U-2A image). At the beginning of the 1950s, the events that were taking place in the Soviet Union led the Department of Defense to request a reconnaissance aircraft that was capable of flying over that country at a very high altitude to stay out of range of interceptors and anti-aircraft missiles. Requirement No.53WC-16507, dated March 27, 1953, specified that it must be a single seat sub-sonic aircraft capable of flying at an altitude of 21,000 meters with 700 kg of payload and having a range of 5,000 km. In addition, the plane would not carry any weapons or carry an ejection seat and its only mission would be photo reconnaissance at extreme altitude. 
(U-2A image). The USAF believed that the tracking of the Soviet radars was limited to 20,000 meters of altitude, since at that time the Soviets used mainly American technology transferred during WWII. But they were wrong, since the USSR had significantly improved the equipment supplied. The USAF tried to improve the operational height of its Martin B-57 Canberra bombers, which were the ones with the highest operational height, but despite the efforts, the aircraft failed to exceed 19,500 meters in height. The requirement for the new reconnaissance plane was coded with the name “Bald Eagle” and passed to Bell Aircraft, Fairchild Engine and Airplane and Martin Aircraft.
(U-2A image). Despite the fact that Lockheed had not been invited to present a project, the company found out about it, and decided to request the aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson, one of the heads of the Advanced Development Programs (Skunk Works), a design to present it to the new requirement. Johnson got down to it and shortly thereafter unveiled a design designated “CL-282“, based primarily on that of the Lockheed XF-104 interceptor but with a shortened fuselage and huge wings. The aircraft carried a General Electric J73 turbojet engine and could fly at an altitude of 22,300 meters with a radius of action of 2,600 km.
(U-2A image). The CL-282 prototype was basically a jet powered glider, which lacked landing gear, so it took off from a special cart and landed directly on the belly, something that along with other technical solutions did not like the USAF, which rejected the design in June 1954. However, there were those who thought the project had great potential and recommended it to the CIA for review. They were several civilian advisers to the USAF, among them an aide to Secretary of the Air Force, Trevor Gardner.
(U-2A image). In 1954, the Intelligence Systems Panel, which was a body that assisted the USAF and the CIA in aerial reconnaissance, warned that modified RB-57D bombers did not reach 21,300 meters in height, something that was considered essential to maintain the reconnaissance missions security. The CIA considered as optimal, the capabilities of the CL-282 that the USAF had disregarded and which were to have a light load factor and to carry a single engine. It seemed that the choice was clear, although not everything was going to be so easy.
(U-2 “article 341” image). The CIA proclaimed that the new aircraft would be exclusively financed and operated by them, as it was feared that if the CL-282 were operated by the USAF in peacetime, this could cause a serious crisis, even war. The USAF resisted this decision as long as it could, but after President Eisenhower’s decision that the CIA would be the sole operator, and the exchange of the J73 engine for the higher-performance J57, in November 1954 a joint program began between the USAF and the CIA.
(U-2A image). The manufacture of the plane had two covert fundings. One was for the airframe, under the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, which indicates that the director of this agency can spend government money without having to justify it. The second source was from the Air Force for the engines, which were purchased as spare engines for the B-52 bombers. Finally in December 1954, a contract was signed with Lockheed, under the code name “Project Aquatone”, to manufacture 20 aircraft for a value of 22.5 million dollars, the first being delivered in July of this year and the last in November of 1956. The work began immediately after the signing, at the Skunk Works factory in Burbank, California.
(U-2A image). Everything related to the new CL-282 aircraft was carried in secret, inventing cover stories when materials or equipment were requested. The Lockheed staff involved in the project called the aircraft as the “Angel”, and a safe location was sought for the test flights of the secret prototype. Shell Oil Co. developed a new low-vapor pressure, low-volatility jet fuel that does not evaporate at high altitude. The new fuel was designated as JP-7 and had a high flash point and high thermal stability, so it was not affected by the great heat generated in the aircraft surfaces by friction at the extreme heights at which it was going to operate.
(U-2 “article 341” image). After evaluating different locations, it was decided that the most suitable for testing would be Groom Dry Lake, which was part of the Atomic Energy Commission’s atomic test facility. This area was in the northwest of the Air Force Base of Nellis, Nevada, and was nicknamed like “The Ranch”, although later it would be known worldwide like “Area 51”. A paved runway was prepared, and in July 1955 the first prototype of the CL-282 was carried aboard a C-124 Globemaster cargo aircraft. The prototype arrived disassembled and was assembled inside a hangar, receiving the new name of U-2.
(U-2A image). The prototype was very similar to a sailplane and its dimensions were: 15.09 meters long, 24.37 meters wingspan and 4.61 meters high. Its empty weight was 5,436 kg with a take-off weight of 9,966 kg. It was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-PW-37 turbojet with 4,750 kg of thrust. The camera compartment or “Q-Bay” was installed behind the cockpit and was accessed through two doors installed on both the fuselage spine and belly. The landing gear was quite unusual and consisted of tandem sets of dual wheels with the rear set being much smaller than the front main gear. To balance the wings, a set of dropable stanchions with small dolly wheels were attached at mid-span on each wing. These wheels were known as “pogos” and were released after takeoff, later being retrieved by the ground crews to be reused.
(U-2 “article 341” image). On July 29, 1955 the aircraft was launched for the first time for a series of taxi tests, but during the third test the plane suddenly took flight up to about 12 meters in height due to pilot error. The pilot had to lower the wing abruptly in order to land, which generated an impact against the ground that blew out the front land gear wheels and damaged the rear wheels. The necessary repairs were made so that on August 1, everything was ready for the first official flight of the “Lockheed serial 001” or “Article 341“, as the plane was known within the CIA.
(U-2A image). On August 1, 1955, before the Sunk Works personnel involved in the project, Air Force commanders and CIA officers displaced from Washington, the U-2, under the command of test pilot Tony LeVier, took flight for first time. After making an ascent to 3,800 meters and staying flying for 45 minutes checking the instrumentation and flight equipment, the pilot began the landing operation. It was on the third attempt when he was able to gently land the aircraft on the runway, showing what would be one of the main drawbacks, the landing, which due to the disposition of the landing gear and the huge wing had to be done with extreme precision and in favorable wind conditions.
(U-2A image). After the first test flights, the U-2 made it clear that it was a demanding aircraft to fly. At the mission altitudes, only a 19 km/h margin separated the maximum speed from the stall speed, so its handling had to be attended with the greatest care. This small difference was known among the pilots as the “coffin corner”, a more than indicative nickname of what could happen if the plane stalled at that height. If that happened it was almost impossible to recover the aircraft and the pilot had no chance to escape, as the oxygen in the blood evaporates, giving the appearance of boiling, causing death quickly.
(U-2A image). Despite its demands, the aircraft demonstrated its excellent flight capabilities, and on August 16, the U-2 reached the highest altitude ever reached in sustained flight, 15,800 meters. On September 8, just 1 month after its premiere, the plane managed to fly at an altitude of 19,800 meters, something unimaginable only a few weeks earlier, demonstrating the correctness of its design. However, the problems during the landing continued and a procedure had to be created to make them as safe as possible.
(U-2S image). When the aircraft was going to land, it was necessary to make sure that the fuel in the wing tanks was balanced to prevent a wing from dipping and ground looping the aircraft. In addition, when it was about to touch down, the pilot did not know the real height he was over the track, so a “Mobile Control” vehicle had to be created to help during this operation. The vehicle is driven by another U-2 pilot who, following the aircraft, was relaying its height respect to the pavement at all times. When the aircraft is 60 cm from the ground, the pilot literally drops onto the runway and starts braking. After the aircraft came to a complete stop, the ground crew installed the “pogos” under the wings so the plane could taxi to the assigned location within the base.
U-2 pilots wear a partially pressurized space suit that supplies oxygen and serves as protection in the event of accidental cockpit depressurization. They can drink water and liquid food during their long missions by means of squeeze packets that are inserted into a self-sealing socket on the face mask, but even so it is common for a pilot to lose up to 5% of body mass after a mission. The hour before each flight, pilots breathe pure oxygen to avoid the risk of suffering the so-called decompression sickness, which can cause permanent damage to the brain.
When U-2 entered service and made constant flights over the USSR, the CIA decided to give each pilot a suicide pill in case they were shot-down and captured. This pill was full of potassium cyanide and caused death in about 15 seconds, but was withdrawn in 1960 after a pilot almost accidentally ingested it. In addition, the CIA was aware that if one of them accidentally broke inside the cockpit it would cause death of the pilot. In its place, a silver dollar was created that hid inside a needle impregnated with a lethal poison extracted from the shellfish, but apparently the pilots carried it more as a weapon to escape than as a method of suicide.
(U-2A image). Another problem to be solved was that of the existing cameras, since those that existed had a maximum resolution of 7 meters to 10,000 meters in height, insufficient for what was needed. This was the reason why since 1951 the USAF had initiated contacts with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to start the development of powerful photographic equipment with the idea of installing them in airplanes to significantly improve their aerial reconnaissance capacity. In October 1954, a Hycon K-38 camera with 24-inch (610 mm) lenses was modified to fit the height of use specifications and an anti-vibration system was installed, giving rise to the A-1 camera. Later the A-2 was created, which consisted of three A-1 cameras joined together and later the A-2B camera with 36 inches (910 mm) f/10 aspheric lens was built. The last camera created for the projected plane was the A-2C which carried a 240 inch (6,100 mm) f/20 lens system, but which was rejected because they could not be installed on the plane due to its huge size.
(U-2A image). James G. Baker, an astronomer and designer of optical systems, eventually took over the design of the new equipment and was able to manufacture a camera that had a resolution of 76 cm from a height of 18,000 meters. For this he used a 180-inch (460 cm) f/13.85 lens in a 33 cm × 33 cm format that he adapted for the new equipment. Finally the first camera installed in the U-2 was known as the “trimetrogon A camera” that had three 24-inch-focal-length (610 mm) cameras with F/8 lens. This camera had a maximum resolution on the ground of 60 cm. Then the “B camera” with a 36-inch-focal-length (910 mm) with F/10 lens and image motion compensation appeared, with a maximum resolution on the ground of 23 cm. Both resolutions were obtained from a flight height of 19,500 meters.
The photographic equipment was completed with two 1,800-meter reels of ESTAR Base film made of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and a 3-inch Perkin-Elmer low-resolution camera. This camera continuously took horizon-to-horizon photographs, which were often used to help locate smaller high-resolution images. In addition, the aircraft has another class of sensors in the nose, the Q-Bay and the wing pods with which it can collect all kinds of intelligence signals.
(U-2A image). After testing the prototype, the CIA ordered 20 aircraft to be designated as U-2A. These aircraft had some differences with the prototype, the main one was the change of the Pratt & Whitney J57-PW-37 engine for the more powerful J57-P-31A of 5,073 kg of thrust designed specifically for high altitude flights. A section of plexiglas was added to the upper canopy and was painted white to reflect the sun, and finally a broad, flat shape fairing was added to the rear fuselage (under the rudder) to house a braking parachute or additional sensors.
(U-2A image). These early U-2As lacked ejection seats, although they would later be added to the entire fleet. The planes were delivered to the CIA at Groom Lake in an overall natural metal finish with no markings, just the bare minimum to differentiate between them. As it was a small order, Lockheed manufactured the airframes by hand and added modifications as requested, so it was actually very difficult to know at all times, which aircraft belonged to which series. The same happened with the markings, which constantly changed to maintain security and the same aircraft could be labeled as belonging to NASA, NACA or CIA at different periods in the same year, assigning different random numerals.
(U-2A image). Of the first U-2A series it is believed that 48 units were built, some of which underwent transformations that generated some variants. Among them is the WU-2A, which was formed by 5 airplanes to which a special air intake was installed with which to take samples of particles in the air for later analysis. The U-2B variant consisted of at least 7 aircraft that were fitted with a new, more powerful Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13A engine with 7,157 kg of thrust and ejection seats. The airframe had to be strengthened and the range, payload and airframe fatigue-life were slightly improved.
(U-2C image). The U-2C variant arose as a result of installing in some U-2A and U-2B the Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B engine of 7,700 kg of thrust. The fuselage air intakes were enlarged to improve flow for the new engine. The nose was also lengthened to house new sensors and the internal fuel capacity was improved. In addition, the wings were modified to allow the mounting of auxiliary “slipper” type wing tanks and a dorsal equipment “canoe” fairing was added to the upper fuselage spine. This last equipment running from just behind the intakes to the base of the fin. This modification was applied to several U-2As that were being manufactured and that rolled off the assembly line as U-2C.
(U-2CT image). Two U-2CTs were made by modifying one U-2C and one U-2D to which a second cockpit was added that occupied half the Q-Bay. This variant was used as training aircraft. Of the U-2D variant, at least 7 units were made, to which the Q-Bay that could house a second crew member or sensors was modified. A raised entry hatch was installed behind the pilot’s cockpit, but this variant was not for training, being used in different infrared emission detection programs.

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