Special Report

High Spy: The Amazing U-2

Who would have thought that the Lockheed U-2, Kelly Johnson’s late, uninvited, and losing entry into a 1950s Air Force competition for a reconnaissance aircraft, would still be flying intelligence-gathering missions 60 years after its first flight? Challenged for its role as the sultan of surveillance by reconnaissance satellites, by Lockheed’s Mach 3 glamour puss, the SR-71 Blackbird (retired in 1999), and most recently, by the big Northrop Grumman surveillance UAV, Global Hawk, the U-2 flies on—above 70,000 feet, for as long as 12 hours at a time.

In this special section, we report on the hazards faced by the pilots who fly the U-2 today, the experience of one of the test pilots who flew for Lockheed in the 1960s, the special requirements of handling this unique aircraft, and its 57-year history. We also offer a pair of stories about two Chinese encounters with the U-2: one from a MiG pilot who tried to shoot it down; one from a Chinese American who knows more about the images held in the National Archives than anyone else in the world.

The Editors


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