U-2 Dragon Lady

Product Type:

High-altitude aerial reconnaissance aircraft "Spy plane"

Service (US):

Air Force (USAF)

Program Status:

Operations & Sustainment (O&S) Phase

Prime Contractors:

Lockheed Martin Corp.

Specifications Armament DoD Spending FY2015 Budget

The U-2 Dragon Lady

About the U-2 Dragon Lady:

The Lockheed Martin U-2S Dragon Lady is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near space reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. The aircraft provides signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and electronic measurements and signature intelligence (MASINT). Long and narrow wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics and allow it to quickly lift heavy sensor payloads to unmatched altitudes.

The U-2S is powered by a lightweight (and fuel efficient) General Electric F118-GE-101 turbofan engine (with 17,000 pounds of thrust), which eliminates/reduces the need for aerial refueling on long duration missions. The engine is a less powerful version of the F118-GE-100 used on the B-2A Spirit. The first variants of the U-2 were powered by the Pratt & Whitney (PW) J57 turbojet engine, while the U-2C/TR-1A were powered by the PW J75 turbojet.

The aircraft is equipped with the following sensor packages: the Raytheon ASARS-2 advanced synthetic aperture radar; electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) camera; optical bar camera; signals intelligence (SIGINT); and network-centric communication.

The original U-2A was built in absolute secrecy by aeronautical engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works and first flew in August 1955. Early flights over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s provided the President and other U.S. decision makers with key intelligence on Soviet military capability. The U-2 was the famed spy plane that, in October 1962, photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, which touched off the Cuban Missile Crisis. More recently, the U-2 has provided intelligence during operations in Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When requested, the U-2 also provides peacetime reconnaissance in support of disaster relief from floods, earthquakes, and forest fires as well as search and rescue operations.

The U-2 is capable of gathering a variety of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products which can be stored or sent to ground exploitation centers. In addition, it also supports high-resolution, broad-area synoptic coverage provided by the optical bar camera producing traditional film products which are developed and analyzed after landing.

The U-2 also carries a signals intelligence (SIGINT) payload. All intelligence products except for wet film can be transmitted in near real-time anywhere in the world via air-to-ground or air-to-satellite data links, rapidly providing critical information to combatant commanders.

Routinely flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet (21,300 meters), the U-2 pilot must wear a full pressure body-suit similar to those worn by astronauts. The U-2 Dragon Lady is widely regarded as the most difficult aircraft in the world to fly. The low-altitude handling characteristics of the aircraft and bicycle-type landing gear require precise control inputs during landing and, at the same time, forward visibility is limited due to the long aircraft nose. According to the Air Force, a second U-2 pilot normally "chases" each landing in a high-performance vehicle and assists the pilot by providing radio inputs for altitude and runway alignment.

The U-2 Dragon Lady has undergone multiple modifications and upgrades over the years. The U-2R (first flight in 1967) was 40% larger than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the TR-1A, first flew in August 1981 and was structurally identical to the U-2R. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered to the Air Force in October 1989 and, in 1992, all TR-1s and U-2s were designated as U-2Rs. Since 1994, about $2 billion has been invested to modernize the U-2 airframe and sensors. These upgrades also included a re-engining program, which would replace the old Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet with a new General Electric F118-GE-101 turbofan engine. With the re-engining, all Air Force U-2 aircraft had their designation changed to U-2S.

All U-2s are based at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base (AFB) in California, but are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. U-2 pilots train at Beale AFB using two-seat trainer aircraft (designated as TU-2S) before deploying for operational missions.

As of April 2014, there are 27 U-2S operational/mission capable aircraft in the Air Force inventory as well as five TU-2S trainer aircraft. In service for more than 50 years, the U-2 has even outlasted its intended replacement aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird. The U-2's planned service life ends in 2025.

In its FY 2015 budget, the Air Force has moved to cut the U-2 Dragon Lady (aircraft retirements commencing in FY 2016) in favor of the RQ-4 Global Hawk. This decision has faced resistance from Congress. In FY 2012, the RQ-4's cost per flying hour was $32,000, comparable to the U-2, however, in fiscal 2013, the Global Hawk's cost dropped to $24,000.



Price/Unit Cost:

The U-2 is no longer in production. The unit cost is unknown.


The U-2 provides high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance, day or night, in direct support of U.S. and allied forces. It delivers critical imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.

FY 2014 DoD Program:

FY 14 provides funds in the amount of $55.3M for U-2 aircraft modifications and spare parts. FY 14 also provides $13.7M in RDT&E funds.

FY 2015 DoD Program:

No FY 2015 procurement funds requested. FY 15 provides $5.5M in RDT&E funds. In FY 2016, the Air Force may start divesting the U-2.

For more information, click to see the FY 2015 DoD U-2 Dragon Lady Budget.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Last Update: June 17, 2014.

By Joakim Kasper Oestergaard /// (jkasper@bga-aeroweb.com)

External Resources:

Lockheed Martin: U-2 Dragon Lady

Radar: Raytheon ASARS-2

YouTube: U-2 Dragon Lady | YouTube Videos

Fact Sheet: Lockheed Martin | U-2 Dragon Lady

U-2S U.S. Defense Budget Charts:

DoD Spending on the U-2 Dragon Lady in FY 2011, FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014 and FY 2015
DoD Purchases of U-2 Dragon Lady aircraft in FY 2011, FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014 and FY 2015
Defense Budget Data

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DoD Spending, Procurement and RDT&E: FY 2011/12/13 + Budget for FYs 2014 + 2015

DoD Defense Spending, Procurement, Modifications, Spares, and RDT&E for the U-2 Dragon Lady

Download Official DoD Budget Documentation:

Modification of U-2 Aircraft (USAF) Spares & Parts (USAF)

Aircraft Specifications: U-2S Dragon Lady

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Primary Function: High-altitude reconnaissance - SIGINT, IMINT, and MASINT
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin Corp.
Power Plant: 1x General Electric F118-GE-101 turbofan engine
Thrust: 17,000 pounds
Wingspan: 105 ft (32.0 m)
Length: 63 ft (19.2 m)
Height: 16.7 ft (5.1 m)
Weight (Empty): 16,000 lbs (7,260 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 40,000 lbs (18,140 kg)
Fuel Capacity: 2,950 gallons
Payload: 5,000 lbs (2,270 kg)
Sensors: Raytheon ASARS-2 advanced synthetic aperture radar,
Electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) camera, optical bar camera,
signals intelligence (SIGINT), and network-centric communication.
Speed: 413 kts/475 mph (764 km/h)
Rate of Climb: ft/min ( m/s)
Service Ceiling: 70,000+ ft (21,340 m)
Range: 6,080 nm/7,000+ miles (11,270 km)
Crew: One (two in trainer models)
Price/Unit Cost: Unknown
First Flight: August 1, 1955 (U-2A)
Deployed: 1956 (U-2A)
Inventory: 27x U-2S and 5x TU-2S (as of April 2014)

Defense Program

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