Together with an older type of spy-plane, the RB-29, the U-2 was developed by the CIA and became a major instrument for gathering intelligence.
Built by Lockheed Aircraft, the U-2 was little short of 50ft in overall length. With its disproportionate wing area (600 squareft), the unarmed, one-engine plane, packed up with sophisticated cameras and electronic signal detectors, had an operational ceiling of over 70,000ft and a maximum speed of over 430 mph.
The first official flight took place on 4 August 1955.
Operational missions began in July 1956. 17 more missions were carried out over the Soviet Union until 1 May 1960, when pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down, captured and tried for espionage. The incident caused the Quadripartite Paris Conference on Berlin to be cancelled. Mr. Powers was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Two years later he was exchanged for a Soviet KGB agent who had been caught in the USA. Mr. Powers resumed his employment with the CIA and with Lockheed, and died in 1977 in a helicopter crash.
Overflights of Cuba were suspended as of 10 September 1962, following a series of incidents implying other spy-planes in the Far East; bad weather conditions prevented flights over the western part of Cuba until 14 October.
Also, Robert McNamara insisted that further U-2 flights be manned by US Air Force officers and no longer by civilian CIA agents, so as to avoid awkward situations of the type caused by Gary Powers' capture.
General configuration U-2
enlarged 750 x 1026 px (95 kO)