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Dragon Lady: A Portrait Gallery

Once a top secret, the U-2 is one photogenic spyplane.

First flown in August 1955, the Lockheed U-2 has an endurance record few aircraft can match: It’s still in service today with the U.S. Air Force on high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan. The storied Dragon Lady is expected to continue flying until about 2023.

Initial testing of the classified aircraft was done at Groom Lake (pictured above), a remote dry lake in Nevada nicknamed “The Ranch” and now known as Area 51. The aircraft were airlifted in pieces from Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant to Groom Lake and assembled there. These CIA aircraft carry fictional National Advisory Council for Aeronautics insignia and numbers.

High Altitude

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Because the U-2 flew at altitudes of 70,000 feet or more, its pilots had to wear pressurized suits for safety. Even so, U-2 pilots run the risk of getting high-altitude induced compression sickness on missions lasting up to 10 hours.

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