With all-weather intelligence gathering capabilities for both the U.S. Air Force and the CIA, it is perhaps the most famous spy plane ever built. So without further ado, here are the Top 5 Facts about the Lockheed Martin U-2 Spy Plane, America’s secret spy plane.
The U-2’s story began during the early 1950s when the U.S. Military realized during the rise of the Cold War that their current planes are vulnerable to Soviet Air Defense. This realization created the need for an aircraft capable of flying at 70,000 feet as this altitude was the limit for Soviet fighters and their surface-to-air missiles, according to thoughtco.com.
2. FIRST FLIGHT
On August 1, 1955, a prototype of the U-2 spy plane sprinted down a runway at Groom Lake in Nevada, and its massive wings quickly lifted it into the sky. It was its first-ever flight. But according to a blog post by Christopher Woody for wearethemighty.com, it wasn’t supposed to go that way. The plane was only supposed to do a high-speed taxi test, but the prototype’s highly efficient wings pulled it into the air unexpectedly. A year later, in 1956, the U-2 Spy Plane, valued at 950,000 USD, was introduced for service.
Next on our list is the plane’s general characteristics. According to their website, this single-seated spy plane stands tall at 16.7 feet, has a wingspan of 103 feet, and is 63 feet long. This aircraft uses a single turbofan engine, and even if the U-2’s purpose is to be a surveillance plane, it can still store an armory of up to 5,000 lbs.
4. UNIQUE FEATURES
The two most notable feature the U-2 spy plane has is its high-altitude capabilities and its landing gear. According to airforce-technology.com, it uses a bicycle configuration with a forward set of main wheels located just behind the cockpit and a rear set of main wheels located behind the engine. The U-2 spy plane can also loiter at 70,000ft (21,336m) over the area of operations for several hours, and many described it as a glider due to its flight characteristics.
5. COLD WAR INCIDENT
Last on our list would be the most iconic incident the U-2 Spy Plane ever had. In May of 1960, the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet air space and captured its pilot. According to history.com, the Soviets convicted the pilot on espionage charges and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. However, after serving less than two years, he was released in exchange for a captured Soviet agent in the first-ever U.S.-USSR “spy swap.”
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