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Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady - United States, 1955

Detailing the development and operational history of the Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady High-Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft / Spyplane.

 Entry last updated on 10/23/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady  
Picture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady
Picture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady Picture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon LadyPicture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon LadyPicture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon LadyPicture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon LadyPicture of Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady

The Lockheed U-2 Dragonlady spyplane series is set to be replaced by the Global Hawk UAV in the coming years.

The U-2 spyplane was a pivotal player during the peak years of the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, charged with photographing key installations for the safety of the American homeland and interests abroad. The U-2 system was largely responsible for the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles on the Cuban mainland during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is well known for the downing of one particular system and pilot Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in April of 1960. The wide and sleek design of the U-2 provides the US military with a high-level reconnaissance performer that is proven to produce targeted results in all-weather situations. Additionally, the system has been used to track hurricanes, forest fires and other global disasters for the sake of research and tactical responses.

The U-2 was designed to the highest degree of secrecy by famed Lockheed Aviator Kelly Johnson and his "Skunkworks" bureau. The initial system was airborne by 1955 with reconnaissance flights high above the Soviet Union beginning shortly thereafter. Now in the form of the U-2S model, the U-2 system can produce a large amount of photographic data with its highly capable intelligence-gathering suite in real-time. The aircraft traditionally flies above its 70,000 foot listed ceiling requiring the pilot to don a spacesuit-like outfit. The design is centered around the wide glider-like wingspan that is attached to the pencil-like fuselage. The cockpit offered up a less-than stellar field of vision, requiring the system to be guided to a landing by another airborne pilot trained in U-2 capabilities.

Since its inception, the U-2 has constantly been upgraded to improve performance and mission times. The system now sports a more friendly powerplant provided by General Electric that is efficient and lighter than previous systems. Avionics and other systems have been modernized to extend the life of the aircraft as well coming with the "Block 10" electrical systems upgrade. Additionally, the "Block 20" upgrade provided the U-2 system with a more modernized cockpit. More modifications are planned.

From 1992 onwards, all TR-1 and U-2 systems were designated under the single umbrella of "U-2". The United States Air Force maintains a contingent of 36 active U-2 systems including five two seat trainer types. Additionally, NASA operates two more U-2 units in the form of ER-2 for high-level research purposes. The U-2 system will most likely be retained for some more years (marked in some sources up to the year 2020) of service even though the initial U-2 was fielded in the 1950's.

In August of 2011, it was announced that the Global Hawk UAV will formally replace the aged U-2 systems in USAF service beginning in 2016, bringing an end to the tenure of the decades-old, long-winged "Dragon Lady". There have been some complaints by political forces indicating that it is still more cost-effective to field the U-2 over the Global Hawk and the U-2 still represents greater inherent capabilities over that of the UAV.

In January of 2015, it was announced that the U-2 will be retained for ongoing service in the high-altitude reconnaissance role and paired with an upgraded radar system. The decision to initially mothball the storied Cold War aircraft proved highly unpopular in many circles though it appears that the Global Hawk initiative for the USAF will still stay on pace thanks to improvements made to the system. As such, the U-2 fleet will function a bit while longer than originally anticipated.

June 2017 - The USAF announced that its aging U-2 line, which expects to see service into the 2020s, has been linked to the F-35 aircraft series via the Lockheed's "Einstein Box", a special communications fit that allows the generations-apart military platforms to talk to one another.

Lockheed Martin U-2S Dragon Lady Specifications

Service Year: 1955
Status: Active, Limited Service
Type: High-Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft / Spyplane
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Martin Aeronatics - USA
Total Production: 104

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 62.99 feet (19.2 meters)
Overall Width: 104.99 feet (32.00 meters)
Overall Height: 15.75 feet (4.80 meters)

Weight (Empty): 14,991 lb (6,800 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 41,006 lb (18,600 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

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

Maximum Speed: 413 knots (475 mph; 764 kph)
Maximum Range: 6,083 nautical miles (7,000 miles; 11,265 km)
Service Ceiling: 84,974 feet (25,900 meters; 16.09 miles)

Armament / Mission Payload


Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Taiwan; United Kingdom; United States

Model Variants

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)

Images Gallery


Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady Cockpit