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The U-2 and Aircraft Carrier Deployment

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Center for the Study of Intelligence (Central Intelligence Agency)

In the early 1950s, because of the poor quality of intelligence estimates on Soviet strategic capabilities, American political and military leaders searched for new ways to collect intelligence on the communist bloc countries. One answer was to design a platform capable of providing strategic overhead intelligence. In 1954-55, the Central Intelligence Agency and Lockheed Corporation jointly developed a high-altitude single-engine reconnaissance aircraft called the CL-282, more famously known as the U-2.

In addition to gathering strategic intelligence, the U-2 also provided up-to-date information on crisis situations all around the world. The first use of the U-2 to gather tactical intelligence occurred during the 1956 Suez Crisis. U-2 flights also supported the US intervention in Lebanon in 1958 and provided photographic intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Such intelligence proved crucial for American political and naval planners alike.

Source for the following text: Pendlow, Gregory W. and Donald E. Welzenbach. The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974. Central Intelligence Agency, 1988. pp. 247-49. [This publication can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161. Telephone (703) 605-6000 or 1-800-553-NTIS].

Modification of U-2s for Aircraft Carrier Deployment

In mid-1963, the Office of Special Activities set in motion Project WHALE TALE to examine the possibility of adapting the U-2 aircraft for operations from an aircraft carrier [sentence deleted by CIA]

CIA planners believed that, if U-2s could be modified to operate from aircraft carriers, the United States could avoid the political problems involved in seeking permission to base U-2s in other nations. Kelly Johnson [lead Lockheed designer] began working on changes to the aircraft, and Office of Special Activities Deputy Director James A. Cunningham, Jr., a former Marine Corps aviator, asked the Navy for assistance.

The first test of the U-2s capability for carrier operations took place in August 1963 from the USS Kitty Hawk operating in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, California. A U-2C, which had been loaded aboard the carrier at North Island Naval Base, took off from the flight deck with a full load of fuel and was airborne within 321 feet. No assistance from catapults was necessary. Although the takeoff was very successful, the attempted landing was not. The aircraft bounced, hit hard on one wing tip, and then just barely managed to become airborne again before reaching the end of the deck. Kelly Johnson realized that the airframe would have to be altered in order to make carrier landings possible. These alterations involved strengthening the landing gear, installing an arresting hook at the rear of the fuselage, and fitting "spoilers" on the wings to cancel the aerodynamic lift once the aircraft was over the flight deck. Aircraft thus modified were designated U-2G. While several aircraft underwent these modifications, [several words deleted by CIA] pilots began undergoing training in landing on aircraft carriers. The first successful carrier landing took place on 2 March 1964.

22 September 1998

Published: Fri Dec 09 11:54:30 EST 2022