In complete secrecy, a team headed by Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson at Lockheed's "Skunk Works" in Burbank, Calif., designed and built the U-2 to fly surveillance missions. With sailplane-like wings suited for the thin atmosphere above 55,000 feet (over 70,000 feet for later models), this single-engine aircraft made its first flight in August 1955. Entering operational service in 1956, its use remained secret until May 1, 1960, when a surface-to-air missile shot down a civilian-piloted U-2 on a reconnaissance flight over Soviet territory.
One of the most important U-2 missions took place on Oct. 14, 1962, when a U-2 piloted by Maj. Richard S. Heyser obtained the first photographs of Soviet offensive missile sites in Cuba. Eight days later, Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was killed on a similar mission when his U-2 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. U-2s also have been used for programs as diverse as mapping studies, atmospheric sampling and collecting crop and land management photographic data for the Department of Energy.
The aircraft on display is the last U-2A built. During the 1960s, it made 285 flights to gather data on high-altitude, clear-air turbulence, and in the 1970s it flight tested reconnaissance systems. Delivered to the museum in May 1980, it is painted as a typical reconnaissance U-2.
TECHNICAL NOTES: Armament: None Engine:Pratt & Whitney J57-P-37A of 11,000 lbs. thrust (J75-P-13 of 17,000 lbs. thrust for later models) Maximum speed: 494 mph Range: 2,220 miles (over 3,000 miles for later models) Span: 80 ft. Length: 49 ft. 7 in. Height: 13 ft. Weight: 15,850 lbs. (17,270 lbs. with external fuel tanks)