Lockheed Martin is developing a successor to the U.S. military’s legendary U-2 surveillance plane, according to a media report.
Flightglobal reports that Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs, better known as Skunk Works, is planning a new version of the U-2.
“Think of a low-observable U-2,” Lockheed’s U-2 strategic development manager Scott Winstead told Flightglobal. “It’s pretty much where the U-2 is today, but add a low-observable body and more endurance.”
"Skunk Works has a long tradition of thinking ahead and coming up with solutions to challenges; this is how the U-2 was originally conceived," added a Skunk Works spokeswoman, in an e-mail to FoxNews.com, noting that the U-2 is set to retire in 2019. "While we have not been asked to create a concept, we are looking at design options for a true next-gen ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] platform, keeping with the tradition of thinking ahead."
Nicknamed the Dragon Lady, the U-2 is one of the longest serving aircraft in the U.S. Air Force. Like the B-52 bomber, the U-2 first took the skies for the U.S. military in the 1950s. Ever since then, the plane has played a crucial role.
A high-altitude manned surveillance plane, it can fly twice the altitude of a commercial plane flying for 12 hours above 70,000 feet. The U-2 can also reach speeds of more than 475 mph.
Flying 13 miles above the earth’s surface, it can carry two and a half tons of the most advanced sensors and communications equipment in the world.
Reaching such high altitudes helps to make it an extremely effective reconnaissance platform. In fact, the U-2 flies so high that pilots wear spacesuits and have to breathe from an oxygen tank.
It was designed in secret at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works during the Cold War for important tasks like locating missile threats in Russia.
The aircraft’s design was so extraordinary that it has remained an invaluable military platform for six decades. The U-2 is on duty almost every hour of every day, the company says.
According to Lockheed, the U-2 has a highly consistent mission success rate of over 95% across all Combatant Commands.
The 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California is home to the aircraft, but there are also detachments all over the world.