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