Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

U.S. Air Force considers pilotless U-2

By Aussiegirl

Glad to see the U-2's are still being flown. I'm sure they provide on-the-spot intelligence that is superior in many ways to the regular overflights of satellites. It's also good not to have to rely totally on the satellites in the event that a hostile power manages to use space weapons to disable our spy satellites. Nothing like a flexible machine that provides timely information when and where you need it. Here's a bit of information about the plane from Epoch Times:


The Central Intelligence Agency commissioned and operated the plane and ran its missions until the air force took over in 1974. Its first official flight was on Aug. 8, 1955, although it got airborne briefly during runway trials on Aug. 1. The plane has been used to gather intelligence on every major conflict and period of tension involving the United States. It first hit the headlines when the Soviet Union brought down a U-2 piloted by Gary Powers in May 1960.


The U-2 uses a wide range of cutting-edge sensors to collect information ranging from air samples to aerial photographs for the U.S. military and intelligence. It can relay much of the information immediately by digital satellite links. Details are classified, but past operations in Iraq, for example, have involved targeting and post-bombing assessments. One defence expert says the plane is still valuable because it can peer into territory otherwise off-limits -- such as Iran, North Korea or China -- and stay overhead longer than satellites. The plane can be deployed anywhere from bases in the United States, the Middle East and South Korea, or from other temporary bases. The U-2 has been used to help assess disasters as well as to spy.

Vital Statistics

Single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft known as the "Dragon Lady" and widely recognised as one of the world's most difficult aircraft to fly. One pilot says it is like ballet-dancing with a rhinoceros.

Resembles glider with bulbous nose and wing pods. No weapons.

U.S. Air Force considers pilotless U-2

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The civilian chief of the U.S. Air Force says the retirement of the storied U-2 spy plane is on hold until the Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft can be an effective substitute.

The Air Force in late December 2005 got permission to retire the fleet of 33 U-2 'Dragonlady' spy planes by 2011. The retirement would save the Air Force about $1 billion, money that would be redirected into the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle built by Northrop Grumman.

The problem is the Global Hawk, as currently configured, can`t do everything for which combatant commanders have come to rely on the U-2.

'Right now the U-2, in fact, collects some material that the current Global Hawk can`t. So I`ve been asked to slow that down and prove to the combatant commanders that we intend to do that. I think it`s going to take us a little time but, frankly, it was -- it was a mission area that we felt like had -- would diminish a little bit faster than the combatant commanders thought it would diminish,' said Michael Wynne, in an interview on C-SPAN`s 'Newsmakers' slated to air Oct. 15.

The U-2 is a temperamental plane that pilots fly at the edge of the space to take wide area pictures of regions over which other aircraft cannot fly. But that extreme environment limits how long and how often pilots can fly the aircraft.

Wynne said the Air Force is looking for ways to extend the time in the cockpit, or automate the U-2.

'One of the things that we find and we`re finding is we`re actually constrained on the human side. When we put a U-2 up, the airplane can outlast the pilot,' Wynne said. 'We`re doing a lot of work to try to figure out how to use the pilot longer in that situation or to do away with the pilot when we want the observance or the reconnaissance to go longer than we had expected.'

According to briefing charts compiled by an airborne reconnaissance office in the Air Force, the Global Hawk does not provide the broad area synoptic imagery of the U-2 -- that is, a static shot of an enormous area, the dimensions of which are classified. Such imagery is used both for treaty verification and also in preparation for battles; a single shot can show how an entire enemy force is arrayed on the battlefield. Follow up shots can then track movements. Satellites do not provide those broad pictures but rather create less accurate 'mosaics' through smaller area pictures taken over different times that must then be pieced togetheimagery, synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and infrared capabilities of Global Hawk would fall short of the U-2 at least through 2012 in every area.

The Global Hawk is being upgraded with a new, larger airframe to carry a heavier payload to bring it more in line with U-2 capabilities, including a signals intelligence and imagery suite. However, it will not be flight tested until 2007.

The Congressional Research Service reported the U-2 fleet should be capable of flying until 2050 because of engine and cockpit upgrades done in the last 10 years.

'Right now ... the replacement to the U-2 is a little bit on hold until we can get the Global Hawk group to where the Global Hawk can be, if you will, an effective substitute. And we have to prove that to the combatant commanders,' Wynne said.

Congress prohibited the retirement of any U-2s in the fiscal year 2007 defense authorization report until the Defense Department certifies that support to the warfighter will not be degraded.


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