U-2 planes are still flying high, after being introduced nearly six decades ago.
The original U-2A first took flight in August of 1955 and later provided key intelligence on the Soviet military during the 1960s, according to a U.S. Air Force U-2 fact sheet. The U-2 was also used to provide intelligence during more recent operations including in Korea and Afghanistan. The planes have also been used to provide disaster relief and for search and rescue operations and forest fires.
Air Force officials confirmed one pilot is dead and another one is injured after a plane crash today, Sept. 20, in Sutter County. The two pilots onboard were part of a training exercise.
The plane that crashed was a U-2 Dragon Lady based out of Beale Air Force Base in Marysville.
Although the cause of the crash is still under investigation, there are other questions that could be answered about the U-2-- such as how are U-2 planes being used today? And who is flying these spy planes?
Today, the U-2 serves to provide high-altitude surveillance for the U.S. Air Force. The models used today are not the same ones used in the past, but a more modern version.
There are 33 active U-2 planes in the U.S. today, according to the U.S. Air Force website. Out of the 33 planes, five are two-seat trainers and two are ER-2s, operated by NASA.
All of the U.S. military's U-2 planes are stationed at Beale Air Force Base. Not only are the planes still active, but the Air Force website still actively accepts applications.
Pilots who fly U-2 planes have a challenging task since they have to wear a full-pressure suit, similar to those astronauts wear, while managing the aircraft due to being in altitudes of more than 70,000 feet.
That's more than 13 miles above ground!
The U-2 fact sheet doesn't specify how many pilots are currently flying U-2 planes, but the application does state, candidates only get one shot at becoming a U-2 pilot. If a candidate doesn't pass the interview, they won't get another chance.
U-2 planes will eventually be replaced by a pilotless drone called the RQ-4 Global Hawk, according to USA Today. But according to the U-2 fact sheet, the plane was funded through 2016 and could continue through 2025 or longer. The airframe will last until approximately 2050.
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