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Monday, May 17, 2021

What was U-2 spy plane doing flying over England?

What was U-2 spy plane doing flying over England?

A U-2 spy plane has been spotted flying over a swathe of England on a sortie from an airbase in Gloucestershire.

The latest generation of the US Lockheed jet was seen by a military aviation enthusiast cruising into and out of RAF Fairford yesterday.

On the same day, an identical make of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft was photographed flying over the West Midlands.

The jet spotted near Birmingham had the registration number 80-1083 but no flight number, according to a flight-tracking website.

The single-engine aircraft, of a design nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’ after its original CIA codename, is owned by the United States Air Force (USAF) and is the latest ‘S’ model, the listing on Plane Finder states.

The spotter near RAF Fairford, which is owned by the Ministry of Defence, speculated that the journey time and altitude of the surveillance plane, which can fly to 80,000ft, fitted a mission to Syria.

The military history writer said: ‘A U-2 just cruised out of RAF Fairford this morning at 10:15, then returned at 16:20. Assuming it was the same plane and not a second one arriving, then that would take it out to about 2,000km and back at average cruising speed. That would likely be Syria.

‘Now what would the Biden administration be wanting with detailed battlefield reconnaissance of Syria at this moment in time?’

The US Air Force U-2 spy plane flying near Birmingham as photographed by an aviation enthusiast

Aviation enthusiasts spotted the same make of Lockheed Martin jet flying over the West Midlands on Tuesday.

James Harrison grabbed his Nikon P1000 to take a picture as the eavesdropping aircraft flew over Shirley near Solihull after tracking data showed it coming back from the direction of Sweden.

He previously took a picture of the same type of aircraft in December.

Lee Sharples then photographed the U-2 while it flew at 8,000ft over his house in Gloucestershire at 4.10pm yesterday as it headed for the airbase.

Lee managed a quick shot after being alerted by open source data and the distinctive ‘hump’ on the aircraft’s fuselage.

The U-2S spy plan as it comes in to land at RAF Fairford which is the UK base for the next-generation of the Cold War-era jets

RAF Fairford has the longest runway in the UK, which stretches 3,046m and can accommodate a range of military aircraft, also including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

The sprawling facility is the base for U2 aircraft on routine deployments to the UK, which includes operations in domestic and international airspace in concert with NATO allies.

The airbase has a long association with the USAF, and is currently expanding to accommodate more than 2,000 American personnel and their families over the next two years.

The U-2 dates back to the 1950s but has been upgraded for a new era of operations

They are relocating from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk along with the RC-135 mission, another reconnaissance aircraft which has supported the US, UK and their allies on operations in Kosovo and Libya.

US-backed forces are currently stepping up their campaign against the remnants of ISIS in the east of the country near the Iraq border, which has involved capturing dozens of the terror group’s members.

Aviation enthusiasts were able to monitor the U-2’s journey via plane-tracking websites before taking pictures as it passed overhead

U-2 maker Lockheed Martin said last year that it had secured a $50million (£36million) USAF contract to update the Cold War-era spy plane.

Avionics suites, mission computers and cockpit displays are due to undergo upgrades from the middle of this year until 2022..

At the time, Lockheed described the jet ‘as a proven, agile and reliable aircraft’ and ‘the most capable high-altitude ISR [intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] system in the fleet today’.

The revamp is expected to keep the fleet in service fo another three decades.

America’s fleet of 31 operational U2 jets fly around the clock on every day of the year. The USAF has confirmed they are based at Fairford for ‘routine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance missions’ coordinated with the British Government. The American military has said it is not at liberty to divulge the details of specific missions.


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