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The Dragon Lady quietly comes

8 August 2012

The Dragon Lady quietly comes — L0ckheed’s U-2A

Lockheed’s titan of aeronautical design Lawrence “Kelly” Johnson’s team at the secretive Skunk Works developed the U-2 in a fantastically short time. The U.S. Air Force required a new reconnaissance aircraft which used height and speed as its main defence against interception by fighter or missile — and in a hurry. Cold War Bloc and USSR military bases, missile installations and deployments had to constantly monitored, especially urgent given the invasions Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Johnson’s team produced the U-2, informally known as the “Dragon Lady”, essentially a high and fast flying powered sailplane. Although subsonic the single person aircraft flew high enough and fast enough to defeat anti-aircraft defenses for quite a long time. Piloting was no easy task since the aircraft was flown in a “coffin corner” of its flight envelope where a sudden slight increase or decrease of airspeed would load the U-2 beyond its structural limits.

Lockheed U-2A in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo by Joseph May

The U-2 in this posts’ images is suspended in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force which provides this fact sheet — and the Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine has these several links related to Lockheed’s U-2. Perhaps the most significant sign of the U-2’s success is that she is flying today, five decades after the Dragon Lady’s first flight.

A closer view, note the jet oil cooler air scoop underneath the right wing root — photo by Joseph May

Overflights over countries by reconnaissance aircraft are now considered illegal in times of peace, largely as a result of the Gary Powers incident where his U-2 was shot down over the USSR’s sovereign air space. Oddly, Russia later overflew the USA with its Sputnik satellite, thus setting the precedence of overflying another country’s air space with no need for prior authorization.

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