Current models are derived from the original version that made its first flight in August 1955. On Oct. 14, 1962, it was the U-2 that photographed the Soviet military installing offensive missiles in Cuba.
The U-2R, first flown in 1967, is significantly larger and more capable than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the TR-1A, first flew in August 1981 and was delivered to the Air Force the next month. Designed for stand-off tactical reconnaissance in Europe, the TR-1 was structurally identical to the U-2R. Operational TR-1a's were used by the 17th Reconnaissance Wing, Royal Air Force Station Alconbury, England, starting in February 1983. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered to the Air Force in October 1989. In 1992 all TR-1s and U-2s were redesignated U-2R. Current U-2R models are being reengined and will be designated as a U-2S/ST. The Air Force accepted the first U-2S in October, 1994.
When requested, the U-2 also has provided photographs to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of disaster relief.
U-2s are based at Beale Air Force Base, CA and support national and tactical requirements from four operational detachments located throughout the world. U-2R/U-2S crew members are trained at Beale using three U-2ST aircraft. The last R model trainer will be converted to an S model trainer in 1999.
The U-2 provides continuous day or night, high-altitude, all-weather, stand-off surveillance of an area in direct support of U.S. and allied ground and air forces. It provides critical intelligence to decision makers through all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, crises, low-intensity conflict and large-scale hostilities.
The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft. Long, wide, straight wings give the U-2 glider-like characteristics. It can carry a variety of sensors and cameras, is an extremely reliable reconnaissance aircraft, and enjoys a high mission completion rate.
Because of its high altitude mission, the pilot must wear a full pressure suit. The U-2 is capable of collecting multi-sensor photo, electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery, as well as performing other types of reconnaissance functions. However, the aircraft can be a difficult aircraft to fly due to its unusual landing characteristics.
The aircraft is being upgraded with a lighter engine (General Electric F-118-101) that burns less fuel, cuts weight and increases power. The entire fleet should be reengined by 1998. Other upgrades are to the sensors and adding the Global Positioning System that will superimpose geo-coordinates directly on collected images.