A U-2 plane at an airbase in South Korea. Reuters
Audra Wolf, The Atlantic: Why the U.S. Military Still Flies Cold-War Era Planes
The U-2 shows how old technologies die hard.
On the morning on Tuesday, September 20, just after 9:01 a.m. local time, two pilots ejected from a U.S. Air Force training flight above California’s Sutter Buttes, just north of Sacramento. One of them, Lt. Col. Ira S. Eadie, died; the other, whose name has not been released, is recovering. Though tragic, crashes during training flights are perhaps unavoidable. What’s more surprising is that these pilots were flying a U-2 spy plane, an iconic aircraft first built in 1955.
Most civilians associate the U-2 with the Cold War, not the War on Terror. Designed to fly at 70,000 feet, the glider-like U-2 allowed the United States to conduct aerial reconnaissance of the Soviet Union even before the satellite era. Its most famous moments came in 1960, when Soviet authorities downed and captured pilot Francis Gary Powers—a story Hollywood dramatized in last year’s Bridge of Spies—and in 1962, when the images it collected over Cuba set off the Cuban Missile Crisis. Why, in an era of drones and reconnaissance satellites, is the U.S. Air Force still using Eisenhower-era planes?
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