Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady with chase car, positioning for take off.
The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is a single-engine, very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, very high-altitude (70,000 feet / 21,000 meters), all-weather intelligence gathering. The aircraft is also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.
Upgrades late in the War in Afghanistan gave the U-2 greater reconnaissance and threat-detection capability. As of early 2010, U-2s from the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron have flown over 200 missions in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom; as well as Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
A U-2 was stationed in Cyprus in March 2011 to help in the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya,[and a U-2 stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea was used to provide imagery of the Japanese nuclear reactor damaged by the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In March 2011, it was projected that the US's fleet of 32 U-2s would be operated until 2015. The Obama administration requested $91 million to maintain the U-2 program. The Air Force will replace the U-2s with RQ-4s before fiscal year 2015. Proposed legislation would require that its replacement be a cost-savings over the U-2 before replacement could occur.
Canadian Aviation Blog
Photo credit: US Air Force