Lockheed Martin’s U-2 “Dragon Lady” high-altitude intelligence vehicle has been an icon in airborne ISR since the 1950s. The U-2 has been upgraded numerous times since The Cold War era and is now equipped with advanced sensors and high-resolution cameras.
Today, the U-2 plays a key role in U.S. military efforts to combat ISIS as it snaps images from the stratosphere. This data helps pinpoint airstrikes on senior ISIS leaders, safe houses, weapons caches, and strongholds on the ground in places such as Mosul. The more accurate the intelligence, the less likely an airstrike is to cause collateral damage or civilian casualties.
CNN was recently given rare access to join a U-2 crew as it launched a surveillance mission from a classified location in the Middle East. According to the article, the U-2 operates at well above 70,000 feet—almost double the altitude of most commercial flights. For their own safety, pilots wear a compression suit similar to those worn for space expeditions. These suits must be continuously connected to a mobile cooling unit so the pilot doesn’t overheat in the extreme conditions—U-2 missions can be more than 10 hours.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force