U-2/TR-1 gallery 3

(U-2S image). In 1960 U-2 pilots were warned that flying over the USSR would be far more dangerous than before due to improvements in Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The CIA commented internally as something “quite probable” that the planes could be hit by these missiles even flying at 21,000 meters of altitude. But the flights were not canceled, due to the trust gained from years of trouble-free operations and the dire need for information. It is estimated that in 1960 the U-2s had already photographed 15% of the entire Soviet territory and made about 5,500 reports. In April 1960, a new flight was authorized within Soviet territory, which was on the verge of becoming a disaster, as Soviet leader Khrushchev would later write in his memoirs.
(TR-1A image). The President authorized one more flight for May 1, 1960, to attend a Summit in Paris the following day 16 with recent information. The mission was baptized as “Grand Slam” by the CIA and it was assigned to Francis Gary Powers, a pilot with 27 missions behind him that made him the most expert of all. The flight would depart from Peshawar, Pakistan, and would end in Bodo, Norway, crossing the USSR completely, just on “May Day”,the International Workers’ holiday, so the air traffic was much lower than any weekday. Here came the first mistake.
(U-2S image). The Soviets detected Gary Powers 25 km outside the border and allowed him to enter deep in its territory until after four and a half hours of flight, when he was over Sverdlovsk, (present-day Yekaterinburg), they launched some fourteen SA-2 Guideline missiles simultaneously against him, accordingly to Soviet sources. Almost all missiles missed its target, but one hit a Soviet fighter that had come out to intercept the American plane. Despite no missiles hit in the U-2, all exploded near the aircraft, close enough to damage the engine and knock Gary Powers down from 21,400 meters. Despite old CIA conjectures that it was “almost” impossible for a pilot to survive a fall from that height, Gary Powers did, and was logically captured. In addition, the aircraft was not completely destroyed, but was surprisingly intact, so the Soviets obtained abundant equipment from it.
(TR-1A image). On May 3, the United States began with the cover prepared previously in case this fateful day arrived. NASA, the successor to the former NACA, reported that one of its planes had disappeared over Turkey during a meteorological research flight. The Soviets were silent as the Americans primed their story, but on May 7, Soviet leader Khrushchev announced that pilot Gary Powers was alive and had confessed that he was spying on the USSR from the air. The flights were immediately canceled, but Khrushchev demanded a public apology from the United States during the Paris Summit, which of course Eisenhower refused.The U-2 pilots were ordered to tell what they wanted about the mission they carried out if they were shot down, since this information was limited to drawing on a map where they had to fly and little else. On August 17, 1960 the trial against Gary Powers began, who was finally sentenced to 3 years in prison. However, he did not fully comply with them because in February 1962, he was exchanged along with an American student for a Soviet spy.
(U-2S image). Gary Powers left the CIA and USAF to join as a Lockheed pilot and the remains of his U-2 were used to make a Soviet aircraft designated as Beriev S-13, which was a copy of the U-2, but did not reach enter service. The takedown of Powers was a shock within the U.S. reconnaissance community that had to totally change its performance and security protocols. Detachment B left Turkey shortly thereafter as flights over the USSR were completely canceled, and Detachment C, based in Japan, had to do the same following a request from the Japanese government. Both Detachments were unified into Detachment G and moved to Edwards Air Force Base, California.
(TR-1A image). Flights from foreign countries were canceled so the CIA had to adopt another mission system for the U-2s. A deployment test of several U-2 overseas was carried out to carry out 3 reconnaissance missions without refueling, which was carried out successfully, with which operational flights were resumed. The President’s personal approval for each flight was replaced by a National Security Council Special Group that discussed the missions and authorized them or not. The information on the USSR was now carried out by satellite images, but these had between 7 and 10 times less resolution than those made by the U-2.
(U-2S image). Since October 1960, the U-2s have made about 15 flights over Cuba in order to provide information for the Bay of Pigs Invasion that was to take place in April 1961. Finally, the invasion was a resounding failure that ended up straining the difficult American relations with the island. In August 1962, an alarming number of Soviet SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles and Soviet MiG-21 fighters deployed in Cuba were detected, which partly limited U-2 flights in that area. The USAF U-2s did not fly over Cuba even though it was believed that it was better for the military to do so in case one was shot down and thus avoid what happened with Gary Powers.
(TR-1A image). On October 14, 1962, an U-2F photographed an installation of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) in San Cristóbal, Cuba, which would lead to one of the largest diplomatic crises in history, which was about to provoke a full-scale war between the USSR and the United States. This conflict is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis and took place between October 16 and 29, 1962. During this period, U-2 flights over the island were constant and on October 27 an U-2F was shot down by a SA-2 Guideline anti-aircraft missile, killing the pilot and raising the crisis to its peak. Finally everything could be solved and a Third World War was avoided, but the flights over Cuba continued until the 70s under the name “Olympic Fire”.
(U-2S image). In addition to the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Cuba, the U-2s also flew numerous flights over Asia. The first ones were carried out from Japan, the base of Detachment C of the CIA, over Indonesia. Also in 1958, they guarded the Chinese border with Taiwan due to a crisis between those two countries and in 1959 they watched Communist China after the Tibetan uprising. Also in those years air samples were collected at high altitudes to check if the USSR was conducting atomic tests. Detachment C was withdrawn from that area after the shooting down of Gary Powers in May 1960.
(U-2S image). The flights over North Vietnam began in February 1962 and were carried out by the CIA’s “Detachment G” from the Takhli base in Thailand. These aircrafts flew with numerals of the unmarked Taiwanese “Detachment H”, but as of August 1964 they were replaced by U-2 of the USAF in the flights over Vietnam. Detachment G carried out missions over the Sino-Indian border at the request of the latter country, as a result of the Sino-Indian War in October-November 1962. To avoid range limitations and operating U-2s from foreign territory, in 1963 the CIA carried out several test flights of its U-2Gs from aircraft carriers with considerable success. Thus, in May 1964 two operational missions were carried out from the USS Ranger carrier to monitor the first French atomic tests, carried out in the atoll of Moruroa in French Polynesia.
(TR-1A image). In 1964 flights over North Vietnam were made by the USAF’s 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) from South Vietnam. These operations were framed under the code name of “Lucky Dragon”, and later as “Trojan Horse” and “Giant Dragon”. In April 1965 SA-2 Guideline missiles were detected in Hanoi so the flights were reduced due to their risky nature. Despite the risks, only one U-2 was lost during the entire campaign and it was not due to a missile, but due to a mechanical failure that arose during a flight in North Vietnam. Although the pilot managed to return to South Vietnam, he had to eject and the aircraft crashed near his base at Bien Hoa. After the signing of the ceasefire between the United States and North Vietnam in January 1970, military flights over this area were prohibited, so the CIA took over again between 1973 and 1974.
(TR-1A image). After these first hectic 20 years of service, starting in the mid-1970s the U-2‘s career was partly relaxed. The arrival of advanced reconnaissance satellites reduced the number of flights needed, although there were still missions, in which the satellites were not as effective as they were. In addition, the evolution of interceptors and anti-aircraft missiles made their missions more difficult. For example, in 1984 a RAF Lightning F-3 interceptor carried out during maneuvers the interception of an U-2 at an altitude of 20,000 meters, an altitude at which until that moment, was considered safe for reconnaissance missions. The British Lightning was able to ascend to almost 27,000 meters, something impossible until then and which showed that the U-2‘s “age of impunity” had definitely ended.
(U-2S image). Of course, the U-2 has continued to participate in all missions in which US forces have been directly involved such as the Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom Operations of 2010. They also carried out missions over Libya in 2011 and it is more than likely that they have. flown over Syria most recently. The U-2 maintains an operational flexibility that satellites cannot achieve and this aircraft can change targets with just an order communicated to the pilot, so despite its many years, they continue to provide valuable services.
(TR-1B image). Something really unusual in the career of the U-2 is the fact that it has been flown by non-American personnel with the planes under control of the CIA and the USAF. In May 1958, four RAF pilots were sent to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, to be trained to fly the new aircraft. Unfortunately one of the British pilots lost his life on July 8 due to a mechanical breakdown which caused his U-2 to crash. This was the first death in the U-2 career and unfortunately it would not be the last. The inclusion of the British was done in order to increase the plausible denial argument when the time came and because the CIA thought that the British Government could facilitate flights over the USSR that President Eisenhower would not allow.
(U-2F image). RAF operated the U-2s within CIA Detachment B, although it consisted of two separate programs and not one joint British-American program. Like the American pilots, the secret British service MI6 was in charge of the payment of the British pilots, who according to their contract worked in the Meteorological Office. The British U-2 program only lasted two years, until May 1960, although four pilots remained in California until 1974. During these two years the British flew most of their flights over the Middle East, but also flew over the USSR on several occasions. In two of them they discovered three nuclear complexes, two missile test ranges, an aircraft engine and a missile production plants and the Tupolev Tu-22 supersonic bomber. As in the United States, British flights over the USSR had to be personally authorized by Prime Minister Macmillan. According to a CIA report, since May 1960, after the shooting down of Gary Powers, no British pilot ever returned to perform a mission in an agency U-2, but of course, everything related to these missions remains secret.
(U-2C image). In 1958, the United States and the Republic of China (Taiwan) signed an agreement that created the 35th Squadron, nicknamed the Black Cat Squadron. This unit consisted of two U-2Cs based in Taoyuan Air Base in northern Taiwan. As always, the unit was dedicated to “meteorological research”, but was in charge of the CIA and USAF under the name “Detachment H”. The operations were framed within the “Project Razor” under the command of the CIA with the help of the USAF. The missions had to be approved by the Presidents of the United States and the Republic of China (Taiwan) because usually consisted in overflight Chinese territory.
(TR-1A image). Twenty-six pilots from the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) were sent to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, between 1959 and 1973. In April 1961 they carried out their first mission over China, which would be followed by many, especially in search of of nuclear facilities. They also flew over other countries in the area such as Laos, North Korea and North Vietnam, even using air bases from South Korea and Thailand. In 1968 they received new U-2R aircraft, but since March of that year, flights over China were canceled due to a new climate in relations between the United States and China, with only flights being made from international waters and respecting a minimum distance of 37 km to border.
(ROCAF U-2 image). The ROCAF U-2s carried out their last mission at the end of May 1974. During the 15 years that the 35th Squadron used the U-2s they carried out 220 missions, half of them over China, in which they suffered 5 kills with the loss of three pilots and two captured. In these 15 years, the ROCAF used 19 U-2 aircraft, of which 17 were lost between accidents and shot downs mentioned above. On July 29, 1974, the two U-2Rs that were still active were returned to the USAF, concluding this long collaboration.
(ER-2 image). Though from the beginning it was said that U-2 was attached to NACA and later NASA, in reality from 1955 to 1970, this was only a cover. In April 1971 the USAF transferred two U-2Cs to NASA for its High Altitude Missions Branch (HAMB) based at the Ames Research Center, Naval Air Station Moffett, California. The mission of these planes was mapping, water management, land use or disaster assessment. In June 1982 an ER-2 joined the NASA fleet to carry out support missions for space shuttles or to map unknown areas of Alaska among others.
(ER-2 image). In 1989 the two U-2Cs were withdrawn from NASA, leaving only the ER-2 since then. It is estimated that NASA’s U-2s have conducted an average of 100 missions a year, many of which have been carried out in areas hit by natural disasters. Other times they have been used, like the military U-2s, for rescue tasks at sea, as in February 1976 when they located the rescue rafts of a sunken ship and the survivors could be rescued in the Pacific Ocean. During some earthquakes, they have acted to gauge the real damage suffered in infrastructure and buildings. Currently the only ER-2 is based at the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The U-2‘s excellent ability to perform reconnaissance missions is undeniable, but so is the fact that it is a true “widowmaker.” The accident rate is unusually high, and it is due to the demand of the plane, which does not forgive the slightest mistake and demands attention at all times if it is not flown with the automatic pilot. In addition to the danger of accidents, pilots must be very careful with the so-called decompression sickness that can cause brain damage and even death if this happens in flight.
With the arrival of new equipment, pilots are even more stressed by having to do more work in the cockpit. And also the type of missions has changed, even carrying out combat support missions in which they must even communicate in real time with ground troops. All this workload can favor the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood, since an increase in activity requires an extra supplement of oxygen for the body. Since 2012, an attempt has been made to solve this problem by increasing the cabin pressure and facilitating certain tasks through a program called Cockpit Altitude Reduction Effort (CARE).
(U-2S image). Although a replacement was created for them, the SR-71 Blackbird, paradoxically the U-2 has outlived it, as the last SR-71s were retired in 1998. The USAF has long needed a replacement for the U-2, but it is not yet owned and the old aircraft could not be removed in 2012, as intended. The arrival of the RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance UAV, has not served at the moment to definitively retire the Dragon Lady. According to a report by Lockheed Martin in 2014, the fleet of U-2S in service had only consumed around a fifth of the total hours of its design service life, so they could continue in service for many more years.
(U-2S image). Currently the use of the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV is much more expensive than the U-2, so it does not comply with one of the new regulations in which it is requested that any replacement must have lower operating costs. Currently, the RQ-4 is less efficient in operational terms and according to a USAF high commander, the Global Hawk would take 8 years to reach the same operational capacity as the U-2 fleet. With this panorama, all the projects to retire the U-2S have been parked without date, and more when Lockheed Martin declared in 2019 that the plane could continue in service without problems until 2050!
(U-2S image). However, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has been working on a replacement for the U-2 under the “UQ-2” or “RQ-X” program for several years. According to the company, the future aircraft may be a mix of the U-2 and the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, preserving the airframe, sensors, cockpit and engine of the U-2 with the option to perform unmanned flights and stealth characteristics. An artistic sketch has recently been presented of how the new plane can be, now designated as “TR-X” (tactical reconnaissance) to differentiate it from the future strategic, penetrating platforms such as the SR-72 with higher performance. It is estimated that the prototype may be available by 2025 with a view to replacing some 40 U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

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