Beating Gravity - Lockheed U-2 and TR-1
story of the U-2 began late in 1952 when USAF Major J. Seaberg realised that the
high-altitude performance of the latest turbojets could be exploited in a strategic
reconnaissance aircraft able to fly above any intercepting fighters. Three companies
began studying the proposal - Fiarchild (the M-165); Bell (the X-16) and Martin
(the RB-57D, a low-risk modification of the B-57, with extended wings).
Lockheed's Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson heard unofficially of the program
and began working on a design of his own, which he presented to Seaberg in May
The design, designated CL-282, was essentially a Mach-2 fighter fuselage (similar
to the F-104) with long, high aspect ratio wings. Undercarriage at that time consisted
of a skid. When its original engine was replaced by a Pratt & Whitney J57,
it looked promising. When the CL-282 was showing progress in late 1955, Bell shelved
their X-16 project. After a certain amount of political manouvering, Lockheed
was contracted to build 20 aircraft, to be designated U-2, the 'Utility' designation
clouding its actual role.
The project was allocated the codename Aquatone by its sponsors, the CIA,
and development was carried out under the utmost secrecy.
Lockheed tried to save weight on the aircraft at every point. There was no ejector
seat; the wings were fragile, and the tail was held on by only three bolts. The
company prepared for a secret test program, and their chief test pilot, assigned
to find a suitable location, recommended Groom
Dry Lake in southern Nevada. Work began on a runway and facilities, and when
the first aircraft was ready it was packed into two C-124 transports, and taken
to Groom, where it was assembled.
The prototype was named Angel; it first flew on 1st August, 1955. The CIA
discovered (according to 1978 Freedom of Information & Privacy Act releases)
that "commercial pilots and air traffic controllers began reporting a large
increase in UFO sightings".
By the end of the year four of the new aircraft resided at Groom
Dry Lake. Most of these early U-2s were not built at the Burbank "Skunk
Works", but at a small, secret factory at Oildale, disguised as a tyre
depot. These first aircraft achieved incredible altitudes in ensuing tests.
Early in 1956 the first CIA pilots arrived, disguised as Lockheed employees, ready
to put the "Angel" to use. In April 1955 two of the U-2s were
ferried to RAF Lakenheath, England. Their cover unit was WRSP-1 (1st Weather Reconnaissance
Squadron), but their flights would take them over the Soviet Union.
The two U-2s moved from Lakenheath to Wiesbaden, West Germany, and after a short
run over East Germany and Poland on 19th June, the CIA launched its first overfight
of the USSR on Independence Day, July 4th, 1956. It was a complete success, the
aircraft taking high-quality photographs as it cruised over Moscow, Leningrad
and the Baltic coast.
its position established, other U-2 units developed, the next being stationed
at Incirlik, Turkey. The USAF managed to acquire some early generation U-2s, which,
designated U-2AW, monitored fallout from Soviet nuclear tests by means of a sampler,
the scoop protruding from the under-fuselage, aft of the cockpit. The USAF's U-2s
saw active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. There, the 4080th Strategic
Reconnaissance Wing (which became 100 SRW) lost one to an SA-2 missile. From 1964
the type was in use over Vietnam.
As surface-to-air missile performance improved, the service ceiling of the U-2
unfortunately decreased, with the addition of greater loads of sensors and an
ejector seat. In 1959 the U-2B was introduced, with a more powerful J35 engine.
The exra engine and fuel weight increased the stall speed at altitude to a mere
4.6 mph (7.4 km/h) below the U-2's maximum allowable speed.
Whilst a Mach-3 capable aircraft, the A-12, was ordered
in 1959, U-2 overflights of the USSR continued. The U-2's good fortune ended when,
on 1st May 1960, a U-2B piloted by Francis Gary Powers was downed over Sverdlovsk
by a missile. In the face of opposition, overflights by American pilots were banned,
and the CIA and USAF were obliged to limit subsequent overflights to reconnaissance
of non-Soviet territory, and to an increasing ELINT and COMINT (electronic and
communications intelligence) role.
Most U-2s served with the USAF by 1964, although some operated in Chinese Nationalist
air force (RoCAF) colours. These ran joint operations with the CIA, the American-trained
Taiwanese pilots overflying the mainland, and particularly the Chinese nuclear
facilities. Four U-2s being lost over the mainland, flights were later limited
to coastal missions, using U-2Rs. These officially ended in August 1974 with improved
the original U-2 numbers were depleted by losses into the mid-1960s, so the intelligence
demand rose, and Lockheed produced an enlarged and upgraded version. The first
six new aircraft went to the CIA, and the next six to the USAF. After its first
flight in August 1967, the new U-2R version proved its all-round superiority over
the early aircraft, especially in payload, ceiling, range and landing characteristics.
CIA aircraft were once more active from world-wide bases from 1968 to 1974, when
all CIA U-2s passed to the Air Force (with some, designated ER-2, also operated
by NASA). The USAF U-2Rs continued to operated during the Vietnam War, mainly
from Thailand. They took part in the Linebacker raids and the Senior
Book covert flights over mainland China. After intensive use in Vietnam, the
U-2s moved to 95 SRW at Beale AFB, California following the fall of South Vietnam
the late 1960s, Lockheed made a number of attempts to find other uses for the
U-2 design. A maritime surveillance version for the US Navy was never taken up,
and a remotely piloted version, a little ahead of its time, was not to proceed.
In November 1969, a U-2 was tested for carrier operations. Though the tests, using
three early U-2s modified and designated U-2G, were a success, the U-2 operated
only once from a carrier. In May 1964 a single U-2 from USS Ranger was
used to gather intelligence on French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll. The U-2R
was also subsequently tested for carrier use, but no operations were flown, it
being considered as too disruptive to other carrier air wing operations. All the
same, CIA pilots remained carrier qualified for some years.
Due to operational losses, the U-2R fleet was down to ten aircraft in 1975. By
the mid-1970s a high-altitude, long endurance platform was required for the USAF's
stand-off target location systems. The pilotless designs available proved problematic,
amd in 1977 the U-2R was put forward as a substitute. In 1978-79 production of
the U-2R resumed, the 'new' aircraft being named TR-1 (TR - Tactical Reconnaissance),
supposedly to escape from its dubious past. It was a move intended largely to
appease the British government, as most of the aircraft would be British-based.
The TR-1 first flew on 1st August 1981, and the TR-1B trainer on 28 February 1983.
The TR-1s continued to operate from Britain, as had the U-2s, with a unit at Mildenhall,
Suffolk operating the TR-1 and SR-71 between 1979 and 1983. Then the 17th Reconnaissance
Wing was established at Alconbury, its TR-1 complement building from February
1983 to a total of 14 aircraft by March 1985. The last TR-1A, serial 80-1099,
was accepted by the USAF on 3rd October 1989.
played a major role in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
In October 1991 the TR-1 designation was dropped, and the fleet reverted to U-2R
or U-2RT (later, TU-2R). The fleet has undergone upgrades, including the fitting
of F118-GE-101 turbofans, to produce the U-2S or TU-2S (two-seater). The U-2S
is the last of the series to see service, most recently over Kosovo from bases
at Istres, France and Sigonella, Italy.
The U-2R/S continued in service with the 9th RW (Reconnaissance Wing) whose headquarters
are at Beal AFB, Ca., in the late 1990s. Stations have included, apart from Beale
itself, Osan AB (Korea), RAF Akrotiri (Cyprus), Taif AB (Saudi Arabia) and Istres
|Lockheed U-2R data:
One Pratt & Whitney J7S-P-138 turbojet,
17,000 lb st(75.82 kN).
MAX. TAKEOFF WEIGHT:
41,300 lb (18733 kg)
3,000 lb (1361 kg)
103 ft 0 in (31.39 m)
62 ft 9 in (19.13 m)
16 ft 0 in (4.88 m)
|MAXIMUM CRUISING SPEED:
Over 430 mph (692 km/h)
at 70,000 ft (21335 m)
MAX. CLIMB AT SEA LEVEL:
About 5,000 ft (1525 m) per minute
Estimated at 90,000 ft (27430 m)
About 6,250 miles (10060 km)
More about the U2 from the Smithsonian Air & Space magazine website.