The history of the strategic reconnaissance aircraft U-2, which also received the nickname Dragon Lady (synonymous with the Russian "iron lady" if literally translated - "dragon"), begins its report almost simultaneously with the beginning of the Cold War. After the famous speech in Fulton, the appearance of the term “iron curtain” of the United States simply needed an aircraft that could conduct reconnaissance on the other side of this curtain, while remaining inaccessible to Soviet radars, fighter-interceptors and air defense systems. In 1953, the command of the American Air Force announced a tender for the design and construction of a reconnaissance aircraft that could fly at altitudes up to 21,3 thousands of meters and had a combat radius of at least 2,8 thousand kilometers. The height of the flight was taken by chance, at that time the most high-altitude aircraft in the composition of the Soviet Air Force was the MiG-17 fighter, which could rise to an altitude of 13,7 thousands of meters.
It is curious to note that applications for participation in this tender were received from small design bureaus, which, according to calculations of the US military, could fully concentrate on working on a reconnaissance aircraft project. It is also curious that the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation made the US military an unofficial proposal outside the scope of the announced tender. In a short time, the company was able to present the CL-282 aircraft - it was a lightweight version of the aircraft without arms, the landing gear, which has a long wing, like a glider. The aircraft received a J73 jet engine, which he got from the F-104 Starfighter fighter. The car first took to the air at the start of the 1954 of the year and showed everyone that it can reach a height of thousands of meters in the 21,3.
And although the company Lockheed presented a very interesting concept with an eye to the future (the company's specialists were not mistaken, their plane turned out to be a long-liver), the military met him without much enthusiasm. The project of a single-engine aircraft that did not have armor and weapons did not inspire them. Help unexpectedly came from the CIA, which in 1954 supported the project by believing in it. At that time, the CIA did not have its own reconnaissance aircraft, agents were forced to seek help from the US Air Force.
As early as March of 1955, Lockheed received a contract from the CIA for the creation and production of 20 reconnaissance aircraft, which were to be created on the basis of CL-282. It should also be noted that President Eisenhower gave the project the green light, knowing full well the delicacy of the tasks performed by the aircraft. The President of the United States did not want American military aircraft to invade Soviet airspace; this could have caused the outbreak of a major war, which most likely would have been the last in human history. At the same time, according to American law, the CIA was considered a civilian, not a military organization.
Design Features of Lockheed U-2
The U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft was created to carry out deep penetration into the territory of a potential enemy in order to collect various reconnaissance information. The prototype U-2 made its first flight in August of the 1955 of the year, and already in the 1956 of the year, deliveries of production aircraft began. The aircraft was distinguished by a magnificent set of technical characteristics and an excellent layout, which allowed the car to fly at high altitude, ensured a long range and became the guarantor of its durability.
The Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was designed according to the normal aerodynamic design and had a mid-range trapezoid wing of high elongation. He was equipped with a fuselage, made by the type of monococcus with a bearing skin. The scout fuselage was all-metal. To reduce the mass of the aircraft, it was decided to equip the tandem bicycle-type chassis (one landing gear with twin wheels in the nose and tail of the car). In this case, the brakes were only on the nose of the chassis. Chassis equipped with solid tires. Immediately before taking off the plane, special auxiliary drop wing landing gear were installed. Also in the tail of the fuselage in a special compartment hinged brake parachute.
On the sides behind the wing of the aircraft were located brake air flaps that opened forward. The steering surfaces of the reconnaissance aircraft were equipped with trimmers. The tail plumage was also all-metal and was made free-carrying. On some airplanes the ventral keels were installed. Each of their consoles of the wing of the reconnaissance aircraft was turned into a two-section tank in which the fuel was stored, the reserve stock was located in the forward part of the U-2 fuselage. Subsequently, already in 1957, the aircraft acquired additional fuel tanks, which were secured under its wing.
An interesting fact is that Shell Oil has developed special fuel for this aircraft. The company's engineers created a fuel mixture that was characterized by a high boiling point, which made it possible to apply it at very high flight altitudes. This fuel received the official designation of JP-7. JP-7 fuel was characterized by low vapor pressure and low volatility, that is, it evaporates badly during high-altitude flights at low atmospheric pressure. A curious detail is that the development of fuel for U-2 Dragon Lady was carried out by a division of Shell Oil, which was responsible for the production of repellents. In 1955, the company's capacity released several hundred thousand gallons of this fuel (1 gallon - 3,79 liters), so focused on the production of JP-7, that at this point in the United States there was a significant shortage of repellents.
The reconnaissance plane made a “bicycle-like” landing, balancing with its long wings almost until the moment of a complete stop, especially since its landing speed was rather small. After that, the plane touched the runway with one of its wings, thus finding the third point of support. In order to prevent the wings of the aircraft from being damaged during the landing, their ends were made in the form of special sleighs or sleds, as they were also called, made of titanium alloy.
For the sake of reducing take-off weight, the designers of the aircraft seriously sacrificed the structural strength of the machine. The reconnaissance aircraft was designed only for small loads - up to 2,5 g. This was significantly lower than the requirements for military aircraft. In order to successfully withstand strong gusts of wind when flying at an altitude of about 10 thousands of meters, the aircraft needed to fly with a small cabrirovanie, that is, slightly raising his nose. In addition, having sacrificed the durability of the fuselage machine, the designers had to abandon the acceptable for the pilot level of pressure in the cockpit when flying at high altitudes.
Pilot U-2 was forced to make his flight, dressed in a special high-altitude suit, which is connected to the life support system. The development of this space suit involved the company David Clark Company. It was at this time in the US that the technologies that were used in the future in the space program were worked out in practice. Engineers needed to think not only about how to protect the pilot at a high altitude, at which nothing alive can exist, but also about how to give the pilot the opportunity to eat, drink, and also to cope with his natural needs. One of the finds, which was invented at this moment were the "space" tubes of food.
Debris shot down U-2, exhibited in the Central Museum of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
There were other difficulties. Due to the fact that the plane had an elongated nasal shape and the spacesuit in which the flight was during the flight, at the time of take-off and landing, he could not fully see the runway. To solve this problem, U-2 Dragon Lady was constantly accompanied by a special car of the airport service. For these purposes, used sports models that could reach speeds of 250-270 km / h. From the cabin of the car, the co-pilot gave instructions to the U-2 take-off pilot.
In addition, the constructive advantages of the aircraft turned for pilots difficulties with its control. For example, between cruising speed at maximum altitude and stall speed there was only a very small “gap”, pilots called it “grave angle”. During the tests of the aircraft, the 3 pilot was killed because of him, with many other air incidents ended without casualties. A number of similar exotic features of the design was the price paid for the unique characteristics that the high-altitude reconnaissance had.
By unveiling the 4 in March of the military budget project for the 2015 fiscal year, the United States also presented the option of replacing U-2 aircraft with unmanned aerial vehicles of the same purpose. According to published information, the operation of a Lockheed U-2 aircraft flight hour costs the US budget thousands of dollars in 32, while the aircraft themselves, developed as early as the 50 years of the last century, are already outdated. At present, the Pentagon is planning to use the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV for reconnaissance purposes, the cost of one flight hour which costs the budget less than 24 thousands of dollars.
The latest version of the aircraft - U-2S
It is curious that earlier the military was in no hurry to part with the Dragon Lady, they wanted to extend the life of the 32 aircraft in service at least until the 2023 year. However, these plans were blocked by Congress in 2012. At the same time, it was decided to purchase another Global Hawk 3-drones. The creator company, Lockheed Martin, also acts in defense of its aircraft, and is still engaged in their maintenance and modernization. According to the company's specialists, in the near future, the US Air Force will not have an adequate replacement for these aircraft, since the RQ-4 UAV, after all the modifications, will be able to match Lockheed U-2 no earlier than the 2020 year. At the same time, the company is developing a new reconnaissance UAV, which has the designation RQ-180. Tests of this drone began last year.
In addition to the purely financial aspects, which, apparently, play a major role in the decision to write off all U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft from the service, there are other reasons. So the command of the US Air Force states that the use of drone RQ-4 will help reduce the potential number of losses in possible military conflicts. During the Cold War, a number of U-2 aircraft were shot down, which sometimes resulted in the death of a pilot. In addition, in favor of the drone says an increase in the duration of obtaining intelligence information, in other words, the duration of the flight. The U-2 reconnaissance aircraft is able to be airborne for up to 12 hours, while the RQ-4 can spend up to 36 hours in the sky. At the moment, there is still the possibility that the US Congress will not decide to write off reconnaissance planes from the service, but the chances of this are becoming more and more slim every day. In the face of fairly tough (by American standards) cuts in military spending, the Pentagon hopes to focus its attention on higher-priority defense projects.
Flight performance of the U-2S (still in service):
First flight - 1954 year.
Dimensions: wingspan - 31,4 m, length - 19,2 m, height - 4,9 m, wing area - 92,9 square. m
Dry weight - 7260 kg, maximum take-off weight - 18 600 kg.
Powerplant - 1 GE F-118-101, 86 kN.
Maximum speed - 805 km / h.
Flight range - 9600 km.
Flight duration - about 12 hours.
Practical ceiling - 21 336 m.
Crew - 1 people.