The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed “Dragon Lady”, is an American single-jet engine, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, high-altitude (70,000 feet, 21,300 meters), all-weather intelligence gathering.
America’s fleet of U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy planes have flown reconnaissance missions near (and sometimes over) enemy territory for more than six decades. Despite such a long career, only 1,500 pilots have ever qualified to fly the U-2. Now, that number includes one reservist.
According to Washington Headquarters Services, For the first time in Air Force history and the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, reservist Maj. Jeffrey Anderson, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron pilot, qualified to fly the U-2 Dragon Lady.
The U-2 Dragon Lady is known as the hardest aircraft to fly in the world, it has been a host to less than fifteen-hundred pilots since the first flight in 1955 and 65 years later the first reserve pilot makes history.
“I applied for the U-2 program while in active duty, and then switched to the reserves,” said Maj. Jeffrey Anderson, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron pilot. “The last two years I’ve been flying for delta airlines and then I took a two year break and now I’m back flying the U-2 as a reservist.”
Coming back to active duty from the reserves is no easy task. Anderson was able to come back to flying the U-2 through commander directed requalification program.
“It’s really exciting to have the first qualified reserve pilot in U-2 and Air Force history pave the way for other reservist to fly,” said Lt. Col. Chris Mundy, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander.
The average training program takes months to complete the U-2 and T-38 Talon flights, various simulators, survival training and other operations.
“I have been activated for 183 days and my qualifications and training allow me to support the mission,” Anderson said. “In order to make sure I was able to come back, I had to do rigorous training and to make sure I was able to fly.”
By having a reservist that’s qualified in the aircraft it gives the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron more flexibility for the U-2 program into the future. It allows for more experience where there is a manning crisis for the pilots in the Air Force.
“A lot of pilots in the U-2 community got out and continued flying careers and what we have here is a chance to get the experience from those reserve pilots down range.“ Mundy said.
The U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft which delivers critical imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.
“Two and a half years ago when I flew my last mission, it was sad,” Anderson said. “I’ve flown so long and reflected back on my time flying. It was the right decision for my family to commit to the reserves and didn’t have a slight thought of being back here. Now, I get the chance to support this impressive mission and this is truly amazing.”