April 12, 1955: Teams Began Aerial Surveys of Remote Landing Sites to be Used for Flight Testing the U-2 Dragonlady

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Squadron

A team of Air Force, Lockheed and Central Intelligence Agency personnel (Col Osmond Ritland, Tony LeVier, Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and Richard M. Bissell, Jr.) began an aerial survey of remote landing sites to be used for flight testing the highly classified U-2 reconnaissance plane. The site selected was an abandoned wartime airstrip (Nellis Auxiliary Field No. 1) near Groom Lake, Nevada.

The U-2 Dragonlady was a single-seat, high-altitude jet aircraft flown by the United States for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Perhaps the most famous spy plane ever built, the U-2, also known as the Dragon Lady, has been in service since 1956. A prototype flew in 1955, and the last plane in the series was built in 1989.  At first the plane was used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to monitor electronic emissions, to sample the upper atmosphere for evidence of nuclear weapons tests, and to photograph sites deep within the territory of the Soviet Union, China, and other Cold War enemies. On May 1, 1960, a U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union, precipitating the U-2 Affair, and in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, a U-2 took photographs that confirmed the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. Strategic intelligence-gathering missions have continued, but the U-2 also has been used for battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance in numerous conflicts and tension spots where the United States has been engaged since the Vietnam War in the 1960s.  Over its long service life the U-2 has periodically faced competition from other intelligence-gathering systems—for instance, Earth-orbiting satellites or the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird spy plane—but intelligence and military services consistently have found it useful because of its operational flexibility, excellent aerodynamic design, and adaptable airframe. In 2011 the USAF indicated that the U-2 was scheduled for retirement from service sometime after 2015, with many of its functions to be adopted by high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles. With the expansion of the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in 2014, however, the retirement of the U-2 was pushed back indefinitely..

News Search