U-2 aircraft from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, have spent almost 40 years delivering vital imagery and signals intelligence to command leaders throughout the Korean Peninsula.
The U-2 Dragon Lady is an important part of the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission enterprise, and provides high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance in direct support of U.S. and allied forces.
“We’re proud to celebrate our squadron’s 40 years of heritage this year,” said Maj. James Bartran, the 5th RS director of operations. “The U-2 provides the only multi-disciplined, high-altitude ISR capability across a wide array of mission sets and adversaries. Its unique flexibility, endurance, and reliability provide these capabilities near real-time and on demand to military and policy-level decision makers on a greater than 95 percent success rate.”
Bartran, a U-2 pilot with 10 years of experience, explained how the U-2 has assisted with almost every phase of conflict during the past years, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.
“It brings us all great pride to know that our squadron’s capabilities have consistently proven their importance,” he said.
Flying at 70,000 feet on a combat mission at an altitude equivalent to approximately 13 miles, the U-2’s many systems must work perfectly every time despite the age of these aircraft.
“I am responsible for the guidance, flight control, communication, and navigation systems on the U-2 aircraft functioning at 100 percent,” said SSgt. Kellan Hawks, a 5th RS avionics systems craftsman. “Making sure the aircraft is ready to fly, performing preflight inspections and system tests, and loading information into various systems so they sync up with their respective counterparts is vital to mission success.”
Pilots are required to wear full pressure suits during flight, similar to those astronauts wear.
“They fly at the edge of space,” Hawks said. “Solving pilot-reported discrepancies whenever they occur is one of the things that my crew and I do every day.”
The ISR capability is one of the Air Force’s enduring core missions and is integral to global vigilance — it’s foundational to global reach and global power.