Beale AFB Retires Another U-2 As Dragon Lady’s Phase Out Moves Forward

U-2 retirement

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U-2 retirement
A U-2 touchdown at Beale AFB (Picture credit score: USAF)

Dragon Woman Tail 80-1085 accomplished her closing flight just lately because the fleet prepares for retirement.

The U.S. Air Pressure is transferring ahead with its plan to retire the enduring U-2 Dragon Lady intelligence gathering plane.

Regardless of the latest Elephant Stroll, when eight U-2s of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (together with two twin-seat TU-2s) lined up on Beale’s runway, each accompanied by a chase car, along with 9 T-38s of the first Reconnaissance Squadron and two KC-135s of the 940th Air Refueling Wing, until the choice is reverted, the service has the truth is plans to start out in 2025 the retirement of the kind and expects to finish it by 2026.

By the point it’s phased out, the U-2 will have achieved 70 years of operational service, fairly spectacular.

Curiously, whereas no divestments had been anticipated in 2024, a single seater U-2S, tail quantity 80-1085, accomplished her closing flight from Beale Air Pressure Base just lately. The plane carried out its final mission on Apr. 5 and was retired after 38 years of service.

The present fleet

Official paperwork listing a complete of 27 U-2 aircraft nonetheless in service with USAF at the start of 2024; whereas not confirmed (as some imagine which may be the variety of the one seaters solely), the fleet ought to embody 24 single seater U-2S and and three TU-2S trainers: one TU-2S two-seater, Dragon Woman 1078, has just lately returned to service after 1,030 days: the plane had been concerned in a flightline accident that left her wing broken and unable to be moved on Apr. 21, 2021.

“Its restoration returns a invaluable asset again to the first RS permitting entry to 3 two-seat trainers. This offers higher plane availability to the most recent class of U-2 pilots, particularly after the retirement of TU-2S 1065 in 2023 and the tragic lack of plane 1068 in 2016, Initially, solely 5 TU-2’s had been ever constructed.” Lt. Col. Joshua, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron pupil flight commander stated.

A U-2 takes off from MCAS Miramar throughout an airshow in 2022 (Picture credit score: Tom Demerly)

NASA additionally function two ER-2 however their future has not been clarified but they usually could proceed to function for some years.

U-2s are house based mostly on the ninth Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Pressure Base, California, however are rotated to operational detachments worldwide, including RAF Fairford, UK; RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus; Osan Air Base South Korea.

Northern Edge 21
A view from the cockpit of the U-2 Dragon Woman because it flies over the united statesRoosevelt throughout Northern Edge 21. (Picture: U.S. Air Pressure/Beale AFB)

Historical past

Flying for the primary time in 1955, a mere 104 airframes of the U-2 plane had been manufactured. The plane was secretly developed and flown out of Area 51 and practically 70 years later, after an extended collection of upgrades and a few fairly fascinating and futuristic tests supported, the remaining plane predominantly fulfil their preliminary intelligence gathering mission. It’s price noting that Taiwan briefly utilized a small variety of these planes, however the major customers have persistently been the U.S. Air Pressure and NASA. Moreover, the Central Intelligence Company had a hand in using the U-2 for spying functions.

U-2
U-2A (Picture credit score: USAF)

Whereas each facet of the U-2, together with its mission, operation, and capabilities, is noteworthy, undoubtedly probably the most notable episode in its historical past is the Francis Gary Powers incident.

On Might 1, 1960, the CIA launched Operation Grand Slam, which concerned sending a U-2 spy airplane piloted by Captain Francis Gary Powers on a mission over the Soviet Union. Powers’ goal was to seize aerial pictures of Soviet ICBM installations and a plutonium manufacturing facility. Conscious of the U-2’s strategy, the Soviets mobilized their air protection items. Regardless of a number of makes an attempt by Soviet fighter plane to intercept the U-2, its excessive altitude rendered them ineffective.

Finally, a barrage of three SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles efficiently downed Powers’ U-2. Tragically, this missile salvo additionally unintentionally destroyed a Soviet MiG-19 fighter jet pursuing Powers’ plane. Whereas Powers managed to eject and survive the incident, the Soviet pilot, Senior Lieutenant Sergei Ivanovich Safronov, misplaced his life within the unintended fratricide.

If individuals hadn’t identified about probably the most secret spy airplane within the U.S. arsenal earlier than the Gary Powers incident, that quickly modified when the Soviets paraded the captured Capt. Powers in entrance of newsreel cameras and displayed the wreckage of his U-2 spy airplane. In a single day the U-2 went from nationwide safety secret to probably the most well-known airplane on this planet on the time.

Flight swimsuit and helmet belonging to Francis Gary Powers on show in Russia throughout his 1960 trial for espionage. (Picture: Russian Central Armed Forces Museum)

What’s subsequent

Initially anticipated to get replaced by the RQ-4 International Hawk, which can also be being retired by 2027, the U-2 is outwardly now being changed by the highly classified RQ-180, which has by no means been formally acknowledged regardless of being most likely noticed a number of instances. Many think about the RQ-180 to be already operational due to the discount within the variety of RQ-4s, with the newer, extra succesful RQ-180 presumably taking up missions beforehand assigned to RQ-4s.

David Cenciotti is a journalist based mostly in Rome, Italy. He’s the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of many world’s most well-known and skim navy aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for main worldwide magazines, together with Air Forces Month-to-month, Fight Plane, and lots of others, overlaying aviation, protection, warfare, business, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown a number of fight planes with totally different air forces. He’s a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Pressure, a personal pilot and a graduate in Laptop Engineering. He has written 5 books and contributed to many extra ones.

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