Known as the Dragon Lady, the U-2 is a high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. First flown in 1955, the U-2 has been steadily upgraded and has been in service for over 50 years. The U-2 is designed to operate in excess of at 70,000 feet altitude. It carries a wide range of sensors and cameras to gather a multitude of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information. The U-2S version features a redesigned airframe being enlarged nearly 30%. It has increased fuel capacity and features under-wing pods.
Featuring long wings, lightweight construction, and unusual tandem landing gear, the U-2 is a difficult airplane to fly. Due to its high operating altitude, pilots must wear a fully enclosed, pressurized suit. They breath pure oxygen for one hour in preparation for a flight. Flight duration is classified but pilots spend many long hours aloft. The U-2 must maintain speed in a very specific window to remain in the thin margin between stalling and high-speed buffeting. Pilots call this margin the "coffin corner. This was very thin with the early U-2 airplanes but has been eased in later models.
The U-2 remains the most capable and reliable ISR platform flying today - manned or unmanned.