Does the USA still fly U-2s?

Here is a link saying that U-2s flew from an RAF airbase to Turkey, presumably to take pictures in Syria.
I thought they were retired after Gary Powers was shot down over the USSR.

Nope. U-2s are still very much active, though not flown in such high-risk areas.

They were never retired, just not needed much during the life time of the SR-70s. Even now their planned retirement is stalled while waiting for a replacement.

ETA: And satellites provided a lot of reconnaissance capability also.

Then why retire the SR-71?
Or did they, really? :dubious:

I believed that all was done by satellite.

The SR-71 was a really expensive plane to fly and maintain in a time of satellites. I read that it will never be brought beck because much of the items necessary to keep it flying were unique to the Blackbird.

The US never flew the SR-71 over Russia or China, but all other countries were fair game. They relied on Satellites for overflights of those two countries. There are some interesting YouTube videos interviewing the handful of people lucky enough to fly one.

This is the potential replacement for the U-2. Unmanned TR-X. Still at the concept stage:

Various aviation forums state the SR-71 overflew China and the Soviet Union, until the MiG-31 became operational.

Probably also important that many of the 30-some current U-2s are the type built with side-scanning radar, making it possible for them to collect information without overflying their targets, and potentially without violating the airspace of an adversary.

Although it seems like a lot of the publicly-known deployments are in areas with little in the way of antiaircraft defenses.

One surprising (at least to me) fact w/regard to the U2 is that all included tail hooks for carrier landings. Considering their wingspan, landing them on carriers had to have been a chore. Searching YouTube you’ll find a couple of videos.

RQ-4’s have replaced U2’s at some jobs, RQ 170 at others.

Lockheed is arguing that the U2 is not redundant… they now receive the same engine as the B2 stealth bomber, a regular turbofan, and that keeps the costs down. There is no efficiency and reliability improvement for the SR71 engines ; Mach 3 engines are reusable, long lasting machines like the space shuttle, technically yet, in cost… may as well buy a new one more often. (but for the time delay between order and delivery of a debugged build …)

SR71’s were redundant as they could only do long range at high altitude, the engines would not be efficient at low altitude, and that made them as difficult as satellites… lower res pictures, often failing to get a picture at scheduled time… having to come back, worse than a satellite, the element of surprise is blown.

Then there’s this thing.

It’s about cost vs capability. Satellites with good camera/spy equipment and real time transmission can be very costly to launch, but once launched, are pretty cheap to operate. However their orbit times/location are known, which means that folks can work around them (covering things up or brushing traces away when overhead). When a hotspot arises, there may be no satellite to cover it, or to cover it only at inopportune times. You can work around this a bit by burning propellant to change orbits, but this is limited, becomes expensive and shortens the life of the satellite. The us therefore has been interested in quicker and cheaper launching fleets of spy satellites, but the last known attempt was an expensive boondoggle.

Planes can provide shorter range tactical inputs also, with short reaction times.

The SR71 was flown from bases farther away (due to sensitivity) and needed more experienced pilots and maintenance personnel, more maintenance and tanker aircraft to top up, which wasn’t cheaper. It also needed an expensive avionics/sensor upgrade for real time high quality output. Soviet plane/missile tech meant it was not invulnerable, though it could be used without overflying the country, or in less sensitive places. Ultimately it didn’t have a strong enough advocate for spending the cash.

The U-2 flew from more places, was cheaper and got the sensor upgrades. A couple of the programs to replace it with drones fell through. The RQ4 did succeed, but the cost curves didn’t always pan out. This might change, especially if they are allowed to cannibalize the sensor package from the U2. Though at this time, costs are comparable, and may be cheaper for each one depending on the model etc.
UAVs are less robust - they can’t handle weather fronts and things like that as well. But they have made great strides and are clearly going to improve in future as well.

So at current point, both the U2 and drones are used (as well as satellites and the x37 space plane). Lockheed has proposed new/upgraded models of the U2 under the new moniker TR-2, they may just continue on…

I remarked when the shuttle deployed a satellite for the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein’s generals should have pointed out, “Sir, we have twenty year old Russian tanks. They have spaceships”.

So you’re saying that in the time of chimpanzees it was a monkey?

Gary Power’s U-2 crashed because he exrienced an engine flameout…and to restart the engine, he had to descend into denser air (about 30,000 feet). This made him vulnerable to Russian SAMs. I have read that the SAM that brought him down also destroyed a Russian jet that was intercepting him-did that pilot survive?

Even while the SR71s were flying, NASA still had a few U2s that they used for research purposes (investigating the ozone hole, for instance).

Bolding mine. Just to be explicit …

The only thing that changed after that shootdown was the US no longer overflew Soviet territory using U-2s. U-2 flights along the borders continued until the end of the SU.

The SR-71 was an enormous resource even during the early days of spy satellites. Satellites had limited coverage for the first few decades in terms of ‘real time’ crises. During one of the Mid-East conflicts, the Suez Crisis I think, Brezhnev reportedly (and drunkenly) telexed Nixon telling him that if the US were to intervene he would have no choice but to start WWIII. The Nixon administration used nearly real time, reliable intel (photographs from SR-71 flyovers) to prove that the US was not preparing to invade, and that in fact the Arabs & Israelis were winding down their engagements.

However, SR-71s were several orders of magnitude more expensive to maintain and operate than U2s. And U2s fly high enough that they are still effective against third world military defenses. And when the SR-71s were finally retired, it was because spy satellites had increased their coverage to the point that the ‘back-up’ capability that the Blackbirds provided was no longer cost effective.

Still wish they were flying, if for no other reason than, “Cause they look so damn cool!!” :smiley:

Huh? That’s what it was for.

Perhaps that is what they want us (and the Press, and the Russians and the Chinese) to believe. :slight_smile: