Lockheed U-2

Line up of U-2s at Area 51 The history of the Lockheed U-2 has been extensively covered on numerous websites, as shown in the Links, therefore it would be pointless to go over at length the history of this remarkable aircraft. Instead, I will simply cover some of the highlights of its history and concentrate on the Russia overflight programme – the time when the U-2 completed the mission it was originally designed to accomplish.

The CIA funded U-2 programme was finally authorised in late 1954 and U-2’s continued operating with the Agency until 1974 when the remaining Agency U-2’s were transferred to USAF.

Early U-2 with black paint

On 29 Apr 56 CIA Detachment A deployed four aircraft to Lakenheath in England, a move completed by 4 May 56. On the 11th Jun 56, following the refusal of the British government to allow U-2 operations to be mounted from Britain, all the aircraft were moved to Wiesbaden in West Germany. In the longer term Giebelstadt was their intended base, (in Jan 56 this base was a the launch sites for the Project GENETRIX spy balloons) but was still being prepared. Early U-2 models used P& W J57/P37 engine, although fuel efficient, this engine was difficult to re-light if it flamed out at high altitude.

A-2 camera being loaded into the payload bay

Detachment A eventually moved to Giebelstadt in Oct 56. A number of operational missions were flown over Eastern Europe after 10 Jul 56 from Giebelstadt, but none were over Russia. Det A was stood down during Nov 57. In 17 months seven pilots had flown 23 missions, six over USSR, five over Eastern Europe and most of remainder over the Mediterranean.

Mission 2003 Eastern Europe
On Wed 20th Jun 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Carl Overstreet. Flew north and west to gain altitude then looped back over the base and turned east. Entered hostile territory where the borders of West Germany, East Germany and Czechoslovakia met. Flew across northern Czechoslovakia, then turned north passing east of Dresden and into Poland. Flew over every major Polish city, then back to Wiesbaden the way it came in via Prague.

Mission 2009 Eastern Europe
On 2nd Jul 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Jake Kratt. Flew south across Austria then into Hungary. After Budapest, turned south flying along the Yugoslav border, all the way across Bulgaria to the Black Sea then back to Wiesbaden. A seven hour sortie

Leningrad from a U-2

Mission 2010 Eastern Europe
On 2nd Jul 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Glen Dunaway. Headed north over East Germany, southern Poland, eastern Czechoslovakia, Hungary then Romania before turning around at the Black Sea and returning to Wiesbaden. A seven hour sortie.

1st Soviet Overflight Mission 2013
On 4th Jul 56 flown by Hervey Stockman in Article 347 marked as NACA 187. The first flight over the Soviet Union. From Wiesbaden over East Germany and Poland, before crossing the Soviet border near Grodno in Belorus. Over various bomber bases around Minsk, then north to the naval shipyards and bomber bases at Leningrad. Then west over more bomber bases in the Baltic States and finally back to Wiesbaden. An 8hr 45min flight. This mission was tracked by Soviet radar and a number of MiG fighters unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the U-2. This aircraft (Article 347) is now on display at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington DC.

Fili airframe plant in Moscow from a U-2

2nd Soviet Overflight - Mission 2014
On 5th Jul 56 flown by Carmine Vito in Article 347 marked as NACA 187. Flew a similar route to Mission 2013 but further south. Over Kracow in Poland, then into the Ukraine over Brest and Baranovici. Then towards Moscow virtually following the railway from Minsk to the Soviet capital. Over the Fili airframe plant in Moscow, then northwest to Kaliningrad and the main Soviet flight test and research centre at Ramenskoye. Then back to Wiesbaden via the Baltic States. This overflight was again tracked by Soviet radars and MiG-17s.

3rd Soviet Overflight - Mission 2020
On 9th Jul 56 flown by Marty Knutson from Wiesbaden. North over Berlin, East Germany and the Baltic States to Riga. Then east and south covering targets around Kaunas, Vilnius and Minsk before returning via Warsaw to Wiesbaden.

A2 camera

4th Soviet Overflight - Mission 2021
On 9th Jul 56 flown by Carl Overstreet from Wiesbaden. South into Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Then northeast into the Ukraine as far as Kiev and over various bomber bases. Back to Wiesbaden via Poland.

5th Soviet Overflight - Mission 2024
On 10th Jul 56 flown by Glen Dunaway from Wiesbaden. Over East Germany, Poland, Ukraine to Kerch on the eastern tip of the Crimean Peninsula. Back via Sevastopol, Simferopol, Odessa, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Wiesbaden. Tracked by radar and fighter aircraft near Odessa.

10th Jul 56 protest note delivered by USSR over Missions 2020/2021. All overflights of Russia suspended by President Eisenhower.

Suez Crises - Missions 1104 and 1105
On 29th Aug 56 two U-2s flew from Wiesbaden to the Suez area where they photographed preparations for the Suez landings. This mission then landed at Incirlik in Turkey. On 30th Aug 56 the two U-2s at Incirlik retraced the previous days sortie, flying over the Suez area than landing back at Wiesbaden.


Detachment B began moving to Incerlik near Adana in Turkey in late August early September 56.

Nine sorties were flown over various Middle Eastern countries involved in the Suez crisis. Build-up to the 10 day Suez conflict began on 29 Oct 56. Det B flew daily sorties over the Suez area during the build-up to the conflict. Troops landed at Suez on 6 Nov 56. A total of 14 sorties were flown over Syria between 7 Nov and 18 Dec 56.

Poisoned Needle On 20th Nov 56 flown by Frank Powers from Incirlik. Flew north over Syria and Iraq. Over Bagdhad then into Iran before turning north towards the Caspian Sea. Crossing the Soviet border flew over Baku before turning west to overfly Yerevan. From here the flight was supposed to head for Tbilisi, but electrical problems forced an early return to Incirlik. This was the first flight to use the B-Camera. Tracked by radar and fighters.

Mission 4018 Eastern Europe
On 10th Dec 56 from Incirlik over Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and back to Incirlik.

Mission 2029 Eastern Europe
On 10th Dec 56 from Wiesbaden over Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and back to Wiesbaden. On this sortie the pilot, Carmen Vito, known as the Lemon Drop Kid, nearly bit on the suicide L-pill, mistaking it for one of his favourite sweets. The L-pill was available until Jan 60 when it was replaced by a poisoned needle.

Det C moved to Eielson AFB in Alaska during the summer of 1957. First mission over Russia planned for 7/8 Jun 57 flown by Jim Barnes out of Atsugi in Japan, but spoilt by bad weather over the ICBM impact area near Klyuchi on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Aircraft stayed offshore and landed at Eielson.

7th Soviet Overflight
On 18th Jun 57 flown by Al Rand from Eielson over the Kamchatka Peninsula and back to Eielson.

Ports underneath the U-2 for the B Camera

Operation Soft Touch missions during 4-27 Aug 57 over Russia and China.

8th Soviet Overflight Mission 4035
On 5 Aug 57 flown by Eugene ‘Buster’ Edens from Det B deployment at Lahore in Patistan and returning. The Soviet missile test facility at Tyuratam first found and photographed at a distance on this mission.

9th Soviet Overflight
On 12th Aug 57 from Lahore and returning no details

10th & 11th Soviet Overflights
On 21st Aug 57 from Lahore over Semipalatinsk Novokuznetsk Tomsk Berezovskiy and back to Lahore.

12th & 13th Soviet Overflights
On 22nd Aug 57 from Lahore and returning. Mission 4050, flown by Jim Cherbonneaux discovered the nuclear weapons testing facility at Semipalatinsk. The photographs showed many of the ground zeros from previous nuclear tests. The other sortie discovered Saryshagan (Used to test radars against missiles fired from Kapustin Yar and later a centre for Soviet ABM development). Another sortie flown by Bill Hall mapped the whole of Tibet.


14th Soviet Overflight Mission 4058
On 28th Aug 57 flown by EK Jones from Lahore - Tyuratam overflown and photographed.

15th Soviet Overflight Mission 4059
On 10th Sep 57 flown by Bill Hall from Incirlik overflew and photographed the Soviet missile test centre at Kapustin Yar. An R-12 missile was photographed on the launch pad. This flight was intended to continue north towards Moscow, but Bill Hall saw so many MiG’s trying to intercept him he turned south to cross the Ukraine. Near Kiev the Soviets fired a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery at the aircraft without success.

16th Soviet Overflight Mission 6008
On 16th Sep 57 flown by Barry Baker from Eielson over Klyuchi on the Kamchatka Peninsula and back to Eielson. This mission was flown using radar-evading ‘Dirty-Bird’ but was detected and trailed by 5 MiG’s. Because of the extra equipment the aircraft carried it was limited to 59,000 ft, looking down through the driftsight Baker could make out the ‘bonedome’ of one Sovier fighter pilot only a few thousand feet below the U-2.

U-2 cockpit

17th Soviet Overflight Mission 2040
On 13th Oct 57 flown by Hervey Stockman from Giebelstadt. North to the northern tip of Norway, then east parallel to the Soviet coast then south towards the Kola Fjord. Over Polyarnyy, Severomorsk and Murmansk. On south as far as Monechegorsk before leaving Soviet territory at northern Norway. Landed back at Giebelstadt after more then nine hours in the air.

In Nov 57 Det A was disbanded and returned to the USA. From this point on Giebelstadt was only used to refuel U-2’s en-route to and from Det B.

18th Soviet Overflight Mission 6011
On 2nd Mar 58 flown by Tom Crull from Eielson. Over the Soviet Far East naval aviation bases at Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk. Then south following the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Chinese border and back to Eielson. Again despite the use of a ‘Dirty Bird’ this flight was tracked by radar and interceptors.

Late ’58 to early ’59 Lockheed began a re-engine programme for the remaining 13 CIA U-2’s installing the more powerful P&W J75-P13. These aircraft were known as U-2C’s.

U-2C on finals

Project Rainbow to reduce radar-cross section by using radar-absorbing materials and techniques. Not really successful, blue-black paint known as ‘Sea Blue’ was eventually adopted.

Op Congo Maiden
Towards the end of March 57 seven U-2s staged from Eielson and returned. Flown by ‘Buzz’ Curry, Rudy Anderson, Bobby Gardiner and ‘Snake’ Bedford. These flight investigated activity along the extreme eastern and northern coastlines of Siberia.

19th Soviet Overflight
On 15 May 59 flown by Lyle Rudd from NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. Flew north over Mongolia and actually crossed into the USSR, flying as far as Lake Baikal. Then Rudd turned south, crossed over the Chinese steppes, overflew Lhasa and finally landed at Dhaka after 9hr 40min in the air. This was the longest operational U-2 mission to date covering 4,200 miles.

9 & 18 Jun 59 Operation Hot Shop U-2 and EB-47TT Tell-Two on a border flight obtained the first telemetry ever of a Soviet R-7 ICBM during the first stage burn – 80 seconds after launch.


20th Soviet Overflight Mission 4125 - Operation Touchdown
On 9th Jul 59 flown by Marty Knutson from Peshawar in northern Pakistan. North over Saryshagan test range and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site followed by the nearby Dolon airfield. Then over the Urals to Sverdlovsk and over Tyuratam before landing at Zahedan in Iran. The sortie lasted 9hrs 10 mins and only 20 gallons of fuel remained when the aircraft landed.

Aug 59
Det C deployed U-2’s to the new Thai airbase of Takhli and three flights over China and Tibet were mounted in early September. Det B overflights of Israel discover the Dimona nuclear reactor and processing facility under construction.

Article 360 in a paddy field

24 Sep 59
Whilst conducting a test flight in Article 360 from Det C in Atsugi in Japan, Tom Crull encountered problems on a test flight and eventually ran out of fuel. With great skill Tom Crull managed to dead-stick the aircraft onto a small civilian airfield at Fujisawa, where it was promptly surrounded and photographed by curious Japanese civilians. The damaged U-2C aircraft was shipped back to Lockheed in the USA for repairs. Article 360 was then returned to Detachment B at Adana in Turkey where it gained a reputation as a 'Hanger Queen'. For a variety of reasons Article 360 ended up being flown by Gary Powers on Mission 4154, Operation Grand Slam, when he was shot down.

Engels Airfield

21st Soviet Overflight Mission 8005, the first mission flown by the RAF. On 6th Dec 59 flown by Sqn Ldr Robbie Robinson out of Peshawar. North over Tyuratam, Kyshtym, Engels airfield near Saratov, Kapustin Yar and the bomber factory at Kuybyshev. Exited Soviet airspace over the Black Sea and recovered to Incirlik. The codename for the RAF participation in the U-2 programme was JACKSON.

22nd Soviet Overflight Mission 8009, the second mission flown by the RAF. On 5th Feb 60 flown by Flt Lt John MacArthur out of Peshawar. Headed northwest over the Aral Sea looking for missile sites, but discovered a new Soviet Bomber at Kazan. Eight Tu-22 BLINDER aircraft captured on film. Then south down the Volga over the missile factory at Dnepropetrovsk. After leaving Soviet airspace at Sevastopol, MacArthur landed at Incirlik.

23nd Soviet Overflight Mission 4155 - Operation Square Deal
On 9th Apr 60 flown by Bob Ericson out of Peshawar. North over Saryshagan, the strategic bomber base Dolon, then Semipalatinsk, Saryshagan and Tyuratam before landing at Zahedan in Iran. This flight was tracked virtually the whole time by the Soviet Air Defence organisation and a number of MiG-19’s made unsuccessful attempts to shoot down the aircraft.

Frank Powers

24th Soviet Overflight - Mission 4154 - Operation Grand Slam
On 1 May 60 flown by Frank Powers from Peshawar. Article 360 used for this ultra long-range sortie, the first ever completely across the USSR, despite previously being involved in the crash landing at Fujisawa on 24 Sep 59 and renown among the pilots as a ‘Hanger Queen’. Planned route was north over Tyuratam, Chelyabinsk just south of Sverdlovsk, Kirov – Plesetsk – Severodvinsk – Kandalksha – Murmansk – then Bodo. Shot down near at 70,500ft near Sverdlovsk by a salvo of three SA-2 Guideline missiles which also shot down Soviet fighter.

From 1956-60 U-2 aircraft flew 24 missions over the USSR. 6 by Det A, 4 by Det C and 14 by Det B including Power’s flight.


From Oct 60 onwards SAC U-2 ops over Cuba firstly in build-up to Bay of Pigs then the aftermath. During summer ’61 the six CIA U-2s modified to allow in-flight re-fuelling – these aircraft known as U-2F. During late summer / autumn flights over Cuba discovered SAM sites. In Oct 62 they discovered the IRBM sites. In 1963 ‘several’ aircraft modified for carrier operations – called U-2G. In 1966 order placed for eight new re-designed aircraft known as U-2R. Fitted with P&W J75/P-13B engine. Capable of flying above 75,000ft. Last aircraft delivered on 11 Dec 68. Six more ordered 23 Nov 66. New camera, modified version of that developed for A-12, known as the H-camera.

During Vietnam War U-2’s conducted operations to gather intelligence on North Vietnam – initially known as 'Lucky Dragon' this project was renamed ‘Trojan Horse’, then ‘Olympic Torch’, 'Senior Book' and finally 'Giant Dragon'. The sorties involved flying along North Vietnam and Chinese borders, generally gathering SIGINT.

  • 1 May 60 - Gary Powers over Russia.
  • 27 Oct 62 - Maj Rudolph Anderson over Cuba by SA-2 on 28 Oct 62.
  • 9 Sep 62 near Nanchang
  • 1 Nov 63 near Shanghi
  • 7 Jul 64
  • 10 Jan 65 downed by SA-2 serial 3512
  • 8 Sep 67 downed by SA-2
  • Taiwan U-2 overflights ended in Oct 74