Despite first flying over 50 years ago, the U-2 continues to serve in the USAF, having outlasted its Mach 3 replacement, the SR-71 (also from Lockheed).

The only people to have gone gone higher on any sort of regular basis were SR-71 pilots.
Astronautics have, of course, gone higher still, but certainly not on a regular basis.

  1. Somebody_Else says:

    “having outlasted its Mach 3 replacement”

    As far as we know, anyway. These are spy planes we’re talking about.

  2. I love watching James May in settings like this. He’s unassuming and genuinely expresses wonderment at the way things are. (BTW the clip is probably from James May’s 20th Century)

  3. rudedog says:

    Simply amazing, Discovery needs to do this but in HD.

  4. lemonademaker says:

    Clint kicks a$$!

  5. George says:

    James May did two shows that aired in June on BBC about the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. One is “James May on the Moon” and “James May at the Edge of Space”. The second show was an extended documentary about this U2 ride.

    Great television. I’d also recommend finding a copy of “Being Neil Armstrong” that was on BBC4 although James May was not involved.

  6. jbellies says:

    Aaaah, the U2. Thomas M. Disch, in his book “The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of”, gives 1960 as a watershed year, when President Eisenhower told a real whopper (that the U2 shot down over the Soviet Union was not involved in spying), immediately refuted when it turned out that pilot Francis Gary Powers was alive. Not the first Presidential lie. Disch noted that it was the beginning of a downward spiral of loss of confidence by Americans in their leaders, but maybe it was really an upward spiral in their ability to love a liar.

    That was followed by whoppers about Vietnam, and later by non-Presidential but extensive whopping by Oliver North. The book was written before the Invasion of Iraq, which intensified the new tradition in most consequential fashion. This is all in the first chapter, “The Right to Lie” of Disch’s book, which is about Science Fiction literature.

    It’s reassuring, in that light, to see the U2 still around. In the F—— state, all those administrations would blame their lying on it!

  7. Guyver says:

    1. EXACTLY! The comment implies our government is somehow forthcoming and transparent on the mere existence of cutting-edge aircraft to make such a statement. That being said, I was in Puerto Rico once sharing a hangar bay with AF personnel who were guarding a U2 parked inside the hangar bay. Got to watch it eventually take off. Fairly underwhelming, but still cool to see an aircraft like that take off.

    3. It’ll go something like this. You’ll see lots of shots of space, pictures of the pilots’ faces, and some Earth landscapes. You’re not going to see the really interesting stuff in the cockpit nor are you going to get to know what the U2 is truly capable of. The fact that this guy was able to get a ride in one and take a camera with him is VERY exceptional. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

  8. sargasso says:

    The early U2 test pilots first learned to fly when planes still had wooden propellors and canvas beach chairs as seats. The momentum, initiative and daring was such that today, we look back in awe.

  9. Global Hawk does everything that the U-2 does and a lot more. The USAF is hanging on to manned aircraft like a drunk hangs on to his whisky bottle.

  10. Lowfreq says:

    ‘…having outlasted its Mach 3 replacement, the SR-71…’

    The SR-71, a strat. rec. plane, was never meant to replace the U2, a tactical recon. plane. Besides the U2 has far less up keep than the mighty Blackbird.

  11. Phydeau says:

    I’m surprised they let people with glasses pilot those things. What if his glasses slid down his nose? Or if he sneezed and they came off? He couldn’t very well open his helmet to adjust them, could he?

  12. Moi says:

    @ #7 Underwhelming? While stationed at Moffet Field in Mt. View Ca. Used to watch the NASA Ames Facility U2 depart on a regular basis. I wouldnt exactly call the U2 takeoff underwhelming. Probably one of the loudest planes I have ever heard at full power, coupled with such a amazingly short take off roll and insane angle of climb, it never got old to watch one depart.

  13. derspankster says:

    #6 – Ahh, we have a resident curmudgeon! Leave it to somebody to make a political statement about just about anything!

  14. hhopper says:

    This video of the training he went through to take that flight is pretty good too:

  15. BubbaRay says:

    Ah, the glory and beauty of low space, where the curvature of the earth is apparent and the sky is black. What a lucky man to have taken such a ride.

  16. steve says:

    very cool-what a wonder thanks john dv for such a great website

  17. deowll says:

    The replacement will fly higher and longer because it will leave the meat on the ground.

    Enjoy it fly boys while it lasts.

  18. Steve S says:

    From the book: Secret Empire (by Philip Taubman):

    Martin Knutson’s account of taking off in the U-2.

    “Almost as soon as you put it at full throttle it was ready to come off the ground,” Knutson said. “Keep in mind that this aircraft will come apart if it goes over 240 knots at lower elevations. To keep the airspeed down after takeoff, you had to bring up her nose. Almost instantly you get into a 60-degree climb or pull back on the power. Nobody liked to pull the power back; they liked to experience that eye-watering takeoff”

  19. Uncle Patso says:


    Thanks, Uncle Dave, that was great.

    We’ll never run out of people willing, even eager to do this.

  20. Zybch says:

    #9 stop fooling yourself. The GH is a collosal waste of money, time and effort. The other countries that helped fund its development all now realize the mistake they made spending billions on the GH white elephant.

    And as much as I don’t want to condone piracy (mininova) has the full show the clip was from (plus extra stuff too), not that anyone should pirate stuff of course….

  21. ridin the short bus says:

    I used to watch these Aircraft..U2/TR1 take off on almost a daily basis from an disclosed place in the Middle East. I eas interesting and Loud.

    What I found more intersting was everyday you would see a differnt Tail ID on the Aircraft and Some days the tail would be Black with no Identifiers…

    We had Flight Line passes to go anywhere.. “except” the U2 Hanger… it was a heavily guarded/restricted hanger…

    The Climb rate was interesting to watch.

  22. jbellies says:

    Political? OK, here’s a political question: how does the ride in a U2 compare with the ride in an Avro Arrow?

  23. FRAGaLOT says:

    What’s stopping a craft like this from just taking off into space?

  24. The Avro Arrow was Canadian junk and we forced them to cance it. Bwahahaha….


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