The Lockheed U-2 was initiated by a CIA covert program in the highest secrecy in the 1950s. The design was made by Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed "Skunk Works". To stay out of reach of ground-to-air missiles, the U-2 would fly at extreme high altitudes at about 70,000 ft (21.000 meters) though not very fast. First flight was in 1955 and the unique role of the U-2 meant it remained in secrecy for many years, starting to fly from the new secret CIA facility of "Area 51" in Nevada. (Later Area 51 was transferred to the USAF). Early versions of the U-2 were involved in several top secret events through the Cold War, being flown over the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, Gary Powers was shot down in a CIA U-2A over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile, causing large propaganda publicity during the Cold War. Another U-2 was lost in a similar fashion during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The type was also later seen in Europe at air shows and the J73 engine provided a unique "howl noise" during its steep take-off.

Using the basic design of the U-2, much more modernized versions for reconnaissance were the TR-1, U-2R and U-2S (of the 1990s!). These often carried additional pods on the wing and were significantly larger.


u 2 profile


This U-2C "66-680" has a special grey pattern and flew its first operational spy mission over the USSR on 4 July 1956 (so before Gary Powers was shot down). It is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Photographed 2016 by Cees Hendriks (C) Copyright IPMS Nederland

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Quite some plastic scale models exist(ed) of the U-2 in various and odd scales. In 1/48 Hawk had an odd kit as well as Italeri and later HobbyBoss. In 1/72 Airfix came with a good kit after an earlier Rareplanes vacuform. ID models had a rudimentary vacu 1/32 kit. 

Of the later TR-1  Special Hobby has a good 1/72 kit and Testors a 1/48 kit.


This walk around page was first created May 2017 by M. de Vreeze