Video: U-2 Carrier Ops

With all the talk this week about unmanned spy planes, we thought we’d visit the aircraft that has defined the genre for more than half a century now; the Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady. U-2s have been shot down plenty of times all over the world while flying some of the most important intel missions ever (Cuban missile crisis, anyone?). More than 50 years after they entered service, the U-2 continues to provide valuable intel over the battlefields of Afghanistan.

What many people don’t realize is that U-2s were actually flown off aircraft carriers in the 1960s. Yup, modified U-2s took off and landed from the carriers USS Ranger and USS America between 1964 and 1969. These weren’t just test flights to see if you could land a jet the size of a U-2 on a ship. U-2Gs and U-2Rs flew actual recon missions from the two carriers.

Click through the jump to see wild footage of a U-2G taking off and landing aboard the Ranger in in 1964. Notice how the Dragon Lady doesn’t use a catapult to take off from the ship, it simply uses most of the flight deck as its runway, similar to the way this KC-130 did aboard the USS Forrestal in 1963. I’ve got to say, the bicycle-wheeled Dragon Lady’s landings look even hairier than regular carrier traps.

  • Morty

    Awsome lets spy on china see what we can find

  • Michael

    Amazing. Full flaps down? Steady take-offs and landings in spite of the obvious wind. Impressive.

  • mhmm…

    Just curious but it says U2s were shot down plenty of times all over the world.
    I have only ever heard of the Gary Powers incident. What type of numbers are you talking about?

  • Lance

    Need to use the SR-71 and retire the U2 nothing in the Chinese or Russian arsenal can shoot one down still.

    • Agreed, bring the sr-71 back. 1000 missiles shot it with no losses is a pretty impressive record.

    • tiger

      We have drones now. The need for manned air recon is gone.

  • Darren

    Where did they hangar the U-2? On deck?

    • blight

      It shows that aerospace hasn’t pushed the boundaries in the armchair categories of speed and max altitude. Instead, aerospace has focused on maneuverability, avionics, more efficient engines…less spiffy to the outsider.

      • tiger

        Not bad for guys with paper & slide rules.

    • Anonynous

      I think they would have to. Would it even fit on the elevator?

    • Val

      U2’s werent kept on the ship(s); once their pics/data were down loaded the aircraft were turned around and re-launched. Pilots didnt egress the aircraft and engines werent shut down due to special fuel used by them in those days…..

  • $20mike

    notice guys holding their ears on takeoff,W/Ocatapult!lotsa smoke,too!saw a few at monthan,had their own sound..escorted by smaller jet,supposedly as a spotter,way cool!!

  • Roland

    I believe U-2G can still be very effective if they use cruise missiles over a distance drop instead of bombs when it comes to the country’s self defense. Romanian air force are already using this methods on their war planes.

    • blight

      U-2’s aren’t meant to carry ALCMs. We have strategic bombers for this kind of thing (though many of our ALCMs are now in storage or have nuclear payloads removed).

  • Jeff W

    This is one aviation story I did not know about. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Justin

    Wow, that is definitely something I’ve never seen, nor would I ever think I’d see. Gotta make Hornet pilots who complain about trapping feel a little bit like babies. (Obvious sarcasm, as trapping on a deck is never easy.) The acceleration with no catapult aid is impressive to say the least. That must have been one skilled pilot. This was probably towards the end of an era of adventurous flying, dating back to the dawn of flight. Undoubtedly a lot less lives lost since, though.

    • Val

      it was n o big deal, the aircaft was nothing more than a highly powered glider. Early models used the J-57 engine, later ones wit the enlarged intakes were powered by the J-75……

  • ken kriner

    wWe have a U-2 under restoration here at the Moffett Field Museum. When we searched for info on the history of our U-2 we found it had in fact been used for the carrier landing/takeoff tests. The Air Wing of the Moffett recently aquired and restored the tail hook that was on our U-2 which is being restored in NASA colors as they had it last, but the tail hook will be installed as part of it’s history. When restoration is complete it will be displayed at the Moffett Museum Air Park. We are restoring the U-2 inside and out and slowly finiding as much of the cockpit components as possible.

  • S. Pyle USAF RET

    We have to be careful what we use today, look what happened over Iran, now those a–h—- and the Chicoms and Russians have our latest technology. Because our new government was afraid to self destruct the bird, OH we don’t want to hurt some bad guy on the ground, maybe they will just give it back, or maybe we can trade some candy for it.

  • Bob Storck

    Only 2 US pilots lost in actual recon, many in training, etc. During ‘Nam, about a dozen “surogate” ROC pilots flying missions over politically sensitive areas lost, at least 6 over China itself.

  • howard

    i guess if the deck guys stabilizing the winds held on they could
    get a dip in the ocean out of it… very impressive.
    me being the Comm of the carrier?
    i’d want to observe from my below deck bunker.
    hard to believe they really did this let alone found
    a jet jockey to pilot them.
    hats off fly boys!~

  • Steve Dixon

    You guys have gotta be kidding! Landing a U2 on an “ISLAND” the size of Tasmania at a speed of around 60 knots would be a piece of cake compared to a proper jet. The absolute best pilots I ever saw were the Australian’s who operated A4’s and S2’s off the old HMAS Melbourne – a WWII Modified Majestic Class that was operated until 1983. The S2’s had a starboard wingtip clearance of around 8 feet when landed exactly on the centreline – yep — 8 FEET

  • J. Davis

    I have never seen another Navy aircraft climb like that even after a catapult boost!!!

  • gt350

    I just don’t understand if the SR-71 still kick but on any plane we have now, and the cost amortized since it was built can be more expense then a F-35 or a F-22. I know they have different Job’s ,but it shouldn’t be hard to add bombs to it –or even make it better with modern tech?

  • Charles Christian

    That Ranger flight of the U-2G in May 1964 took off from North Base, at Edwards AFB. It was a small compound with a building big enough to hold that bird and some offices. Lockheed CIA pilot Bob Schmacher? was the driver. I stood next to the left wing tip as it was rolled quickly out of the building with a short run way directly in front. It then quickly started it’s TO roll and was up in a few hundred feet, dropped pogo sticks, got on it’s tail and went almost straight up so that it was visable from roads a mile away only a short time. It had the new J75 engine and little fuel so was not heavy for the short flight out beyond the horizon to the Ranger. I was there to replace the man who went out to the Ranger to do communications for the mission in the S. Pacific. Mission was to monitor French atomic tests there and gather air samples, etc. I was a CIA Communicator doing two years in S.Calif supporting the U-2, A-12, development of the SR-71 and the Corona satellite project. I did U-2 overseas for three year tour before and did communications support for the last two U-2 overflights of the USSR

  • Michael in SJ

    I was on board the Connie, CVA-64 (65-67) and we caught and launched a U-2 off San Diego. I watched from the island and it was treat to see it come in, barely pull the wire and then launch without catapult.

    I am not sure of the time frame, but I believe we did this during quals in early 1967, as I got out in April of that year.

    I had a Project Manager working for me (2009-2011) whose father flew B-52s during ‘Nam and then later flew U-2s out of Beale AFB in NorCal. His father knew some of the pilots who did the carrier ops.

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