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U-2s Around the World in the Cold War

A USAF U-2 equipped for High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP) missions. The aircraft lands and characteristically falls to one side on its wing skids as it slows. A ground crewman runs to collect the braking parachute. Others inserted “pogo” wheels in the wings to right the aircraft and allow it to maneuver on the ground. The U-2 in this picture is on Fiji Island en route to Australia in 1961. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A USAF U-2 equipped for High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP) missions. The aircraft lands and characteristically falls to one side on its wing skids as it slows. A ground crewman runs to collect the braking parachute. Others inserted “pogo” wheels in the wings to right the aircraft and allow it to maneuver on the ground. The U-2 in this picture is on Fiji Island en route to Australia in 1961. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The air sampling intake on the lower left fuselage trapped upper atmosphere particles that gave scientists detailed knowledge of nuclear weapons tests conducted by various nations. The U-2 in this picture is on Fiji Island en route to Australia in 1961. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The air sampling intake on the lower left fuselage trapped upper atmosphere particles that gave scientists detailed knowledge of nuclear weapons tests conducted by various nations. The U-2 in this picture is on Fiji Island en route to Australia in 1961. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A USAF U-2D at Edwards AFB, Calif., around 1960. The devices above and behind the cockpit include an infrared sensor installed to test the Missile Detection and Alarm System (MIDAS). This technology supported development of satellites to detect Soviet ballistic missile launches. The upper part of the aircraft is painted black to avoid confusing the sensor in the white dome above the cockpit. A second crewman behind the pilot operated the MIDAS instruments. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A USAF U-2D at Edwards AFB, Calif., around 1960. The devices above and behind the cockpit include an infrared sensor installed to test the Missile Detection and Alarm System (MIDAS). This technology supported development of satellites to detect Soviet ballistic missile launches. The upper part of the aircraft is painted black to avoid confusing the sensor in the white dome above the cockpit. A second crewman behind the pilot operated the MIDAS instruments. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Members of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing deployed to Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone, in 1962. Their deployment was part of the High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP), known as OPERATION CROW FLIGHT. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Members of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing deployed to Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone, in 1962. Their deployment was part of the High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP), known as OPERATION CROW FLIGHT. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U-2C painted in a gray camouflage pattern called the “Sabre” scheme in 1975. The camouflage replaced the usual black finish to ease British concerns about “spy planes” operating from the UK. In Europe, this U-2 tested equipment to locate and suppress enemy surface-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U-2C painted in a gray camouflage pattern called the “Sabre” scheme in 1975. The camouflage replaced the usual black finish to ease British concerns about “spy planes” operating from the UK. In Europe, this U-2 tested equipment to locate and suppress enemy surface-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The U-2 flew from bases around the world during the Cold War, including West Germany, England, France, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Pakistan, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Thailand and South Korea. The USAF called its U-2 operators "Air Weather Squadrons," while the CIA called the same units "detachments." Both the USAF and the CIA flew U-2s until 1974, when the USAF took over U-2 operations from the CIA.

Over the years, the USAF has performed a variety of missions using the U-2, including gathering electronic and photo intelligence near the borders of unfriendly nations. U-2s also performed High Altitude Sampling Program (HASP) flights providing precise information about atmospheric nuclear testing. In addition, U-2s tested missile warning and other electronic systems. In Southeast Asia in the late 1960s, U-2s increasingly performed electronic intelligence missions near the Chinese border as the threat of North Vietnamese antiaircraft missiles grew. They also brought back photographic bomb damage assessments from the Linebacker bombing campaigns in North Vietnam.

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