The U-2 used a variety of cameras. The advanced “B camera” wound dual reels of film in opposite directions to maintain the U-2’s delicate balance. Each film roll is up to 6,500 feet long. This camera had a single lens that pivoted to seven different positions. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force jointly managed U-2 development, testing and missions with the CIA from the start. Pilots for overflights of the USSR, though, were civilians working for the CIA. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed sending military pilots over the USSR would be perceived as an act of war, so USAF Reserve fighter pilots voluntarily quit the service and went to work as CIA pilots. Officially, they were Lockheed test pilots.
The first U-2 flight over the USSR took place on July 4, 1956, and it brought back photos of Leningrad's shipyards. Several more flights followed, and the photos they produced helped the U.S. conclude that there was no "bomber gap" or "missile gap" in favor of the Soviets, as many feared. Eventually the CIA flew 24 U-2 missions over the USSR, and numerous flights over other communist nations.
The Soviets knew U-2s were flying over their territory, and they complained privately to U.S. diplomats. U-2 flights halted temporarily, but information on Soviet military operations was too important to stop the reconnaissance flights. The Soviets could detect the high-flying U-2 on radar, but were unable to shoot it down, and immediately began developing high-altitude air defense missiles.