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The U-2 From Francis Gary Powers to Kosovo

The U-2 From Francis Gary Powers to Kosovo

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Published by: TDRSS on Jul 29, 2010
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We have reached a period in historywhen our peacetime knowledge of thecapabilities, activities and dispositionsof a potentially hostile nation is suchas to demand that we supplement itwith the maximum amount of information obtainable through aerialreconnaissance. To avoid politicalinvolvements, such aerialreconnaissance must be conductedeither from vehicles flying in friendlyairspace, or . . . from vehicles whose performance is such that they canoperate in Soviet airspace with greatlyreduced chances of detection or interception.BEACON HILL Report, 1952
IntroductionOn July 4, 1956 Hervey Stockmantook off from Wiesbaden, Germany in a U-2A-model, specifically designed to overfly theSoviet Union and gather intelligenceinformation. After crossing East Germanyand Poland, Stockman photographed severalSoviet bomber bases and the naval shipyardsat Leningrad. The next day, Carmine Vitocaptured more bomber bases on film, plus pictures of Moscow itself. After the CentralIntelligence Agency developed the film fromthese flights, Director of Central IntelligenceAllen Dulles shared samples with PresidentEisenhower. Dulles later related the presidentspread them out on the floor of the OvalOffice and “We viewed the photos like twokids running a model train.”
The picturesdisproved the so-called “bomber gap” between the Soviet Union and the UnitedStates. Four years later, on May 1, 1960,Frank Powers was trying to bring back  pictures to dispel the rumored “missile gap.”But the U-2 program did not die whena volley of Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles brought down Powers’ airplane. Thirty-nineyears later, in August 1999, Major GeneralWilliam Hobbins, Director of Operations for United States Air Forces in Europe, wrote:The U-2 was the backbone of our airborne Intelligence, Surveillance,and Reconnaissance architectureduring Operation ALLIED FORCE[the airwar over the former Republicof Yugoslavia]. The Dragonlady provided our only 24 hour, all-weather, multi-intelligence capabilityin the theater. . . . The U-2 collectedover 80% of the total imagery for Operation ALLIED FORCE . . . . Wenever dropped a bomb on a targetwithout having the U-2 take a look atit.
 So the question I would like to addresstoday is: How did an airplane, specificallydesigned to overfly the Soviet Union, with alife expectancy of 2-5 years, survive for morethan 45 years and continue to fulfill such animportant role, not only for the United Statesmilitary, but for the entire Americanintelligence community and the NationalCommand Authority? I think there are three primary reasons for the U-2’s endurance: itsoriginal design and the constant updating of  both the platform and its sensors; the evolvingmission of the U-2; and, the many benefits, both tangible and intangible, of a small,specialized program.The airplaneI could have entitled this paper “FromFrank Powers to Gary Powers.” On May 1,2000, the 40
anniversary of Frank Powers’shootdown, his son Powers flew the U-2S-model in commemoration of the event.Following the flight, General Kevin Chiltonsaid, “Gary, this is not your father’s U-2.”That certainly was a true statement. Althoughtoday’s airplane looks very similar to the1
original, it is larger, carries a bigger payload,and is safer and more comfortable to fly thanthe early models. Starting as a revolutionaryairplane in 1955, the U-2 has continuallyevolved ever since.The Need for a New AirplaneBy 1949 the Soviet Union and itsEastern Bloc allies had effectively shieldedthemselves from the West’s prying eyes. TheSoviet military conducted its tests andexercises in utmost secrecy. The UnitedStates lacked information about Soviet bombers, missiles, submarines and nuclear weapons. Traditional intelligence-gatheringmethods, such as wiretaps, eavesdropping,secret agents, etc., dried up.At first, conventional Americanaircraft, usually bombers converted for reconnaissance, gathered signals intelligencealong the Soviet borders. Occasionally, theywould take advantage of gaps in radar coverage to overfly and photograph Sovietcities. But the Soviets became moreaggressive in defending their borders. Thecost for continuing intelligence-gatheringoperations against the Soviet Union withcontemporary aircraft was becoming toohigh.
In the early 1950s both RichardLeghorn and John Seaberg, of the Air Force’sAir Development Command, advocated building a specially designed reconnaissance plane with a new turbojet engine and long,high-efficiency wings. They believed such anairplane could fly at 65-70,000 feet, where itwould be safe from Soviet fighters andinvisible to Soviet radar. Unfortunately, for Francis Gary Powers, Soviet radar was moreadvanced than the Americans realized. InJuly 1953 Air Development Command agreedwith Leghorn and Seaberg’s assessments andinvited Bell Aircraft Corporation and theFairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation tosubmit proposals for building a new high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
Although Lockheed received noinvitation to bid on the new airplane, Jack Carter, an employee who had recently retiredfrom the Air Force, heard of the competitionfrom a friend at the Pentagon. Carter suggested to his boss that Lockheed could build an extremely light-weight aircraft, of nonstandard design that could fly at 70,000feet at 600 miles per hour. He believedSoviet air defenses would not be able tocounter such an airplane until about 1960. “Inorder that this special aircraft can have areasonably long and useful life, it is obviousthat its development must be greatlyaccelerated beyond that considered normal.”
Carter’s airplane would have no landing gear,would not be built to military specifications,and would have very low load factors. Sincethe contract would only be for about 20airplanes, Lockheed would contract to build,maintain, and operate the platform. Thiswould allow the company to make a profit onsuch a small number of airplanes.The DesignLockheed officials agreed with Carter and passed his suggestions on to Clarence“Kelly” Johnson, the company’s best aircraftdesigner. By adding long wings to thefuselage of Lockheed’s supersonic F-104,Johnson created the CL-282. He stressed theairframe to only +2.5/-1.0g instead of themilitary specification of +7.33/-5.0g. Like aglider, the wings and tail were detachable(only three 5/8” bolts held on the tail section).There would be no landing gear. The planewould takeoff from a wheeled dolly and landon two skis. The CL-282 would have thesame engine as the F-104, the GeneralElectric J73/GE-3. This would be a jet- powered glider able to fly above 70,000 feetfor over 2,000 miles.
The Air Force rejected the CL-282 inJune 1954. Engineers felt the G.E. enginewas unproven and most believed an aircraftdesigned for long overflights should have twoengines, in case one failed. In November 2
1954, however, Din Land and James Killian,members of President Dwight Eisenhower’sTechnological Capabilities Panel, convincedthe president this was the airplane to satisfythe need delineated in the Beacon Hill Report.After Kelly Johnson allayed any remainingdoubts by agreeing to re-engine the CL-282with Pratt & Whitney’s J57 engine and addinga landing gear, President Eisenhower gavefinal approval on November 24. OnDecember 9, Lockheed signed the contract todeliver 20 aircraft for $22 million. A year later the Air Force would order 30 more for $32. [ASIDE: Lockheed would later return$8 million for cost UNDERRUNS and buildfive extra airplanes from spare parts].According to Killian, “Eisenhower approvedthe development of the system, but hestipulated that it should be handled in anunconventional way so that it would not become entangled in the bureaucracy of theDefense Department or troubled by rivalriesamong the services.”
The CIA wouldestablish and run a new reconnaissanceoverflight program using the CL-282.
A-ModelTo achieve the altitude and rangenecessary for overflying the Soviet Union, theCL-282 must be as light as possible and itsengine must provide high thrust, especially ataltitude. Johnson visited the Pratt & Whitneyfacility to learn more about the J57 engine.He told the designers the J57 needed to belighter, for increased range, and to have morethrust at altitude, for improved performance.Pratt & Whitney promised to deliver animproved, high-altitude version of the enginethat would meet Johnson’s needs. The ShellOil Company, meanwhile, developed aspecial low vapor pressure kerosene fuel thatwould not freeze and congeal at the extremelycold temperatures of high altitude.
[ASIDE:The formula for jet petroleum/thermallystable fuel used by the U-2 was very similar to Shell’s “Flit” insecticide. During thesummer of 1955, there was a shortage of “Flit” while Shell directed its efforts towardcreating a supply of fuel for the U-2].The new engine forced Johnson toenlarge the fuselage to almost 50 feet. Hewould also add ten feet to the wingspanmaking it just over 80 feet. Aluminumtubing, in a lattice work configuration,replaced conventional wing ribs. The long,thin, narrow wings were unique in jet aircraftdesign. The wings’ high camber, set tooptimize lift at altitude, left the aircraftsusceptible to wind gusts at low altitude andamplified the pitching moment at higher airspeeds, making the fragile airframevulnerable to disintegration. Johnson deviseda “gust control” that set the ailerons andhorizontal stabilizers so as to keep theairplane in a slightly nose-up attitude. Thiscompensated for the high camber, withoutincreasing weight.
The wings also contained four integralfuel tanks that fed into a fuselage sump tank.The 1,345-gallon capacity meant the aircraftcould fly for 10 hours and over 4,000 nauticalmiles. Outrigger “pogo” landing struts thatdropped away during liftoff kept the long,fuel laden wings from dragging the ground ontakeoff.
For maximum air intake at altitude, bifurcated inlets (located at the wing mid-chord for balance) directed airflow to theengine. The intake location dictated placingthe landing gear farther forward than wasideal. This would make landing moredifficult. Sensors, mounted oninterchangeable hatches, would fit in the pressurized equipment bay, just in front of thelanding gear .
The redesigned model retained thecramped F-104 cockpit and featured atransport aircraft’s yoke, for control, insteadof the fighter’s stick. An unusual cockpitfeature was the six-inch, hooded drift-sight/sextant. The pilot could rotate the scope360 degrees in azimuth and elevate it to anearly horizontal position. This gave him33

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