AR48112 1/48 U-2A Dragon Lady

At the end of WWII, large areas of Europe were annexed or occupied by the Soviet Union. Soviet governing policies restricted the movement of civilians and communication networks in these areas. The Soviet Unions’ aggressive stance and expansionist policies moved toward Latin America and the Far East. Prime Minister Churchill described the division of the world into two major, opposing, forces in terms of political and economic differences, as “The Iron Curtain” during a speech in 1946. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully conducted its first nuclear weapons test demonstrating its grasp of nuclear technology and ending the monopoly on such technology by the United States. Due to the devastating nature of nuclear warfare, the collection of intelligence became imperative to both sides: the “West” and the Soviet Union. One form of intelligence, aerial reconnaissance, started to be conducted prior to the start of any conflict, not just during wartime. In 1953 the United States Air Force proposed a design competition among three aircraft companies for a new reconnaissance aircraft. The RB-57, derived from the B-57 produced by the Glenn L. Martin Company, won the competition entering service in 1956. The RB-57 could cruise at altitudes beyond the capability of the MiG-17, the best Soviet interceptor at the time. This fact, combined with the false belief that the Soviet radar equipment then in use was antiquated technology produced by the United States during WWII, convinced the West that aircraft penetrating into Soviet airspace wouldn’t be detected. In December of the same year, a diplomat objection was raised by the Soviet Union regarding reconnaissance flights into the Far East Soviet zone. This proved that Western reconnaissance aircraft, as well as bombers, were no longer able to evade Soviet radar systems. The Lockheed Corporation, which was not included in the initial design competition, took the initiative of developing a design that they proposed to the USAF. The design, called the CL-282, was comprised of a fuselage adopted from the F-104 Star Fighter (then in the experimental stage) and a pair of high aspect ratio wings. In order to cruise at or above 70000ft and penetrate deep into Soviet airspace, much of the structural strength had to be sacrificed to weight reduction measures. The resulting airframe had a maximum G-load less than desired by military standards being essentially a single seat, single engine, jet-powered glider. The U.S. Air Force showed little interest in the CL-282 however the design attracted the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Due to the focus on reconnaissance (as opposed to military) the CIA deemed that an unarmed reconnaissance plane penetrating into enemy territory would be less provocative than an armed, military aircraft. This was prudent considering such an incident, occurring at the height of the Cold War, could have instigated a nuclear exchange between the opposing nations. In November of 1954, construction of the CL-282 prototype was begun with the approval of President Eisenhower. The final version of the CL-282 utilized the Pratt & Whitney J57 engine (due to its excellent high altitude performance) and a wing with higher aspect ratio than was originally planned. In addition, the design allowed for more fuel capacity and incorporated a conventional empennage. The twin-wheel, tandem landing gear were situated under the fuselage center line with two detachable “pogo” gears fitted under each wing that detached upon takeoff. In July of 1955 the designation U-2 was officially assigned to the CL-282 with the nickname “Dragon Lady”. The prefix “U”(utility) was used to disguise the planes actual purpose. Inaugural test flights were conducted in August of the same year. Due to its normal operational environment of 70,000ft, pilots were required to wear a partial pressure suit. In January of 1956, United States Air Force pilots began transitioning into the U-2. By May, the U-2 was unveiled as a new, high altitude weather observation aircraft as a cover for its intended mission. AT the same time, deployment to bases in Europe commenced. The U-2s were also deployed to bases in Turkey and Japan: all targeted at gathering intelligence on the Soviet Union. A total of 55 U-2A airframes were produced. Airframes retained after losses through training and combat were subsequently converted into different variants according to operational requirements and served well into the mid sixties

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