Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2

Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2
Pentagon in 2011 obliged to carry out permanent spending cuts, March 4, presented a draft defense budget for 2015 money year. Among other things, the document proposes to conduct a full write-off of strategic reconnaissance aircraft U-2 Dragon Lady and attack aircraft A-10 Thunderbolt II. And if the past within the next 2-3 years will change the new functionality of the F-35 Lightning II, then nominations U-2 does not exist yet. Partly puzzles Dragon Lady will take the strategic UAV RQ-4 Global Hawk, but according to his abilities, they are inferior reconnaissance aircraft.

The queen of dragons

History of South American strategic reconnaissance aircraft U-2 Dragon Lady (this «nickname» is synonymous Russian «Iron Lady», but practically translated as «the dragon») began almost immediately with the «Cold War.» South American intelligence services useful reconnaissance aircraft, which would be inaccessible to Russian radar stations, air defense systems and interceptors. Filled intelligence equipment bombers B-47 Stratojet and other similar aircraft just intercepted Russian aircraft and could not fully do puzzles to collect disk imaging over Soviet territory.

Vysokoletayuschimi most combat aircraft in service at the end of the Soviet Union of the 1940s were the MiG-17 — 13.7 thousand meters. Radars have been developed on the basis of the South American equipment supplied at the end of the second world war by the Lend-Lease agreement, and found aircraft at altitudes up to 19.8 thousand meters. But the most vysokoletayuschim razvedsamoletom, easily accessible to the U.S. Air Force, was an English English Electric Canberra PR3, flown at an altitude of 14.6 thousand meters.

In 1953, the U.S. Air Force announced a tender for the development of reconnaissance aircraft, which would be able to make flights at altitudes up to 21.3 thousand meters and had a combat radius of 2.8 thousand kilometers. With all of this application role in the tender accepted from small design offices, that those calculations by the military, could one hundred percent focus on the project. By role in the company was invited to Bell Aircraft, Martin Aircraft (later absorbed by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation) and Fairchild Engine and Airplane. Informal proposal beyond the command of the U.S. Air Force tender made and the company Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2
Photo: U.S. Air Force

End — to accelerate the process — lured to develop an aircraft engineer Clarence Johnson. Previously, Johnson made a heavy fighter P-38 Lightning and the first South American fighter jet F-80 Shooting Star, was also known for premature and successful completion of projects entrusted to it. Aircraft worked in the division Skunk Works of Lockheed. He proposed a lightweight version of the aircraft without the chassis, without arms and with longish wings like a glider. Model airplane CL-282 jet engine kitted J73 from the F-104 Starfighter, made the first flight in 1954 and initially was able to climb to a height of 21.3 thousand meters.

But in the midst of 1954 the U.S. Air Force announced that CL-282 military is not needed. Namely, General Curtis LeMay, head of Strategic Air Command, said he was not interested in the aircraft «without wheels and guns.» In addition, the military explained to that the single-engine plane is significantly outperformed multiengine reliability. Ultimately, the U.S. Air Force reconnaissance prefer X-16, Bell and modified bombers B-57 Canberra (the South American version of the English Electric Canberra), proposed by Martin and Fairchild. In this project CL-282 was due to finish its existence, but they suddenly became interested in the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the 1950s, the CIA actually had its own reconnaissance aircraft and was forced to negotiate with the U.S. Air Force on the use of their aircraft. At the end of 1954 Control Panel saw all aircraft projects proposed by the Air Force Command and decided to finance the CL-282. Especially enthusiastic scouts called CL-282 the opportunity to make flights at over 20 thousand meters and is small in comparison with other aircraft effective scattering area. In March 1955 the CIA Lockheed received a contract to design and build 20 reconnaissance aircraft based on the CL-282.

The deal amounted to 22.5 million dollars. First reconnaissance plane was necessary to put the CIA in July 1956, and the last — in November of the same year. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to perform the contract on time and with all this has saved 3.5 million dollars, essentially unifying the CL-282 F-104 fighter (newcomer scout from warplane went almost the entire fuselage, engine and control system). Especially for new aircraft only developed tail and wing. Its designation — U-2 — he received in July 1955.

Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2
Model Bell X-16
Photo: home.windstream.net

Bell company managed to build only one model of the new reconnaissance aircraft and no 1st layout. In 1956, the U.S. Air Force closed the aircraft project.
By building a large-format camera for reconnaissance aircraft lured astrologer and optical systems designer James Baker. Initially, he proposed the camera lens had a focal length of 240 inches (a little more than 6 thousand mm). But in order to set up the equipment for shooting in an already cramped inner compartment of the aircraft, it took another 6 inches. This Johnson replied: «Yes, I would sell my grandmother for excessive 6 inches» — then Baker has developed a camera with a lens with a focal length of 180 inches and aperture value 13.56. This camera takes pictures with a resolution of 76 cm height of 18 thousand feet.

Specifically for the aircraft has been created and a new aviation fuel. His company was engaged in the creation of Shell Oil. Fuel, designated JP-7, characterized by low volatility and low vapor pressure, in other words bad evaporated at a small atmospheric pressure at high altitude. Interestingly, the design and development of fuel unit engaged in Shell Oil, and responsible for the release of repellents. In 1955 the company produced several hundred thousand gallons (one gallon — 3.79 liters) JP-7, so focusing on its release that the U.S. formed a severe lack of repellents.

Reconnaissance flights by U-2 began producing in June 1956, and the first flight over the territory of the USSR took place in July of the same year. In May 1960, a U-2 was shot down over Soviet territory from the air defense missile system, after flying over Russian spies Union ended, although lasted along the country’s borders. In total, from 1956 to 1960 U-2 aircraft completed 24 reconnaissance flight over the USSR. In 1962, reconnaissance aircraft found under construction in Cuba starting positions Russian ballistic missiles as part of Operation «Anadyr»

Case Technology

The resulting reconnaissance aircraft had an all-metal fuselage, made with a monocoque-type bearing skin. To reduce its weight on the U-2 installed bicycle landing gear (one front with dual wheels in the fore and aft parts), the brakes were fitted with only the front desk. The aft fuselage was mounted in a special container drogue parachute. Wheel chassis equipped solid rubber tires. Before takeoff under wing U-2 installed special discharged auxiliary landing gear. Initially responsible for their dumping ground technicians who went to pick up speed for the aircraft and pulled out at a given step auxiliary wheels via a cable.

By the way, discharged underwing landing gear equipped with U-2 now. And as before for airport employees «pursue» such type of aircraft during take-off, to make sure that the landing gear disconnected. Dragon Lady design feature is the fact that due to a longish nose and pilot suit (pilots — in the coupe version) actually does not see the runway. When boarding the plane to meet all the same cars for airport employees and give the pilot by radio maneuvering instructions.

Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2
Chevrolet Camaro 4th generation pursues U-2S during takeoff
Photo: U.S. Air Force

To accompany the U-2 during takeoff and landing USAF use two or three sports cars (namely, Dodge Charger or Chevrolet Camaro), which is sometimes necessary to accelerate to 250-270 km per hour. It is also interesting that after touching the runway U-2 some time balancing on a wheeled chassis, and then based on the ending of one of the wing panels are equipped with special titanium ski.

Currently, the U.S. Air Force, who joined the U-2 project in 1956, making flights to double educational versions of TR-1B aircraft and reconnaissance U-2S. Their length is 19.2 meters, height — 4.9 meters and a wingspan — 31.4 meters. Most take-off weight of 18.6 tons. He resettled one engine General Electric F118-101, capable of developing a thrust of 85 kilonewtons. U-2S can reach speeds of up to 805 kilometers per hour and do fly at an altitude of more than 21.3 thousand meters for 12 hours. Combat range reconnaissance aircraft is 10.3 thousand kilometers.

Modern Dragon Lady navesnoymi containers equipped with digital intelligence equipment, which is capable of not only keep photos and video, but also create electronic intelligence and, when necessary, to relay signals. Currently, the U.S. Air Force are 35 reconnaissance aircraft U-2S/TR-1B, and for years of service they have undergone several modernization programs. Last significant programm ended in 2013. Aircraft have new pressure control system in the cockpit and engine bleed through which pilots become significantly less often suffer decompression illness.
On the U-2 aircraft changed regular monitoring sensors and pressure regulation system in the cockpit. In addition, the devices have been modified bleed engines during flight (air is used to increase the pressure in the cabin). Due to these changes the pressure inside the cockpit during the flight at an altitude of 21.3 thousand meters managed to increase from 4.4 pounds-force per square inch (about 0.3 atmosphere) to eight pounds-force per square inch (0.54 atmosphere). Simply put, the height of the cab dropped so makarom with everyday for U-2 8.9 thousand to 4.6 thousand meters. On the modernization of U-2S had spent 8.7 million dollars.

By the way, lowering the height of the cabin was the most important, but not the only configuration design Dragon Lady. Improvements and subjected to sanitary system of the aircraft. Namely, changed the hardware design of the urine collection, which until then from time to time gave leaking, causing corrosion of the surrounding iron parts of the aircraft structure, and in very rare cases even circuit in the equipment.


March 4, 2014 U.S. Department of Defense announced the project of the military budget for 2015 money year in what is offered to retire all reconnaissance aircraft U-2. According to the military, operation devices are expensive (32 thousand dollars per flight hour) and by aircraft already significantly outdated. Pentagon’s decision supported the U.S. Air Force, declaring that he wants to use instead of the U-2 strategic reconnaissance drones RQ-4 Global Hawk (the price of their flight hours is 24 thousand dollars).

Over time, part of the intelligence functions U-2 reconnaissance drones give the new RQ-180, flight tests which began in late 2013. In defense of the U-2 made American company Lockheed Martin, which had previously produced such aircraft, and is now engaged in their modernization and maintenance. The company refers to the data themselves, the Air Force, said earlier that the aircraft owning intelligence abilities Dragon Lady, at the disposal of the United States and not in the near term will not be. Today’s RQ-4 was measured by improvements fail to catch up with the U-2 no earlier than 2020.

Write off the legendary U.S. reconnaissance planes U-2
RQ-4 against the setting landing TR-1B
Photo: U.S. Air Force

Since 2012 the American company Northrop Grumman commissioned by the U.S. Air Force led the development of a «universal adapter payload» (UPA), which was installed on should allow Global Hawk optronic EORS-2b and equipment electronic reconnaissance aircraft ASIP U-2S. Military planning had spent on it 478 million dollars, hoping to complete the development for three years, and then for a further 2 years to equip all UPA UAV RQ-4. But in November 2013th they abandoned the project, deeming it «inappropriate.»

In light of future configurations in the military budget the U.S. Air Force returned to the idea to equip Global Hawk payload from the U-2S, but a concrete decision on the resumption of UPA project is still pending. Interestingly, the previously planned South American military completely abandon development RQ-4 drones to write off all of this type and extend the life of U-2 very little until 2023. These plans are the Air Force at the end of 2012, the U.S. Congress has blocked prescribed to the same purchase three additional reconnaissance drone.

Now the U.S. Air Force command clarifies plans cancellation U-2 and substitution of unmanned RQ-4 opportunity possible to reduce the number of losses in a possible military conflict and increment duration obtaining intelligence concept of information. Indeed, Global Hawk can stay aloft for up to 36 hours. An important factor was a significant drop in prices and the RQ-4 operation — only four years back the price-hour flight Global Hawk was about 46 thousand dollars. The U.S. Congress can still prohibit the Air Force deduct strategic reconnaissance aircraft, but the chances that the «Dragon Queen» remains in the ranks, with each becoming less funny day — in the criteria of hard cuts in military spending the Pentagon wants to focus on other, higher-priority projects.
Vasily Sychev

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