Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, in partnership with the US Air Force, completed the first flight of the U-2 Dragon Lady's Avionics Tech Refresh (ATR) program. The first flight enhances U-2 capabilities needed for the next-generation battlespace.
The successful first flight tested the new advanced capabilities aboard the U-2 as part of the ATR contract, including:
An updated avionics suite (communications, navigation, display, etc.) that modernizes the U-2's onboard systems to readily accept and use new technology.
A new mission computer designed to the US Air Force's open mission systems (OMS) standard that enables the U-2 to integrate with systems across air, space, sea, land and cyber domains at disparate security levels.
New modern cockpit displays to make pilot tasks easier while enhancing the presentation of the data the aircraft collects to enable faster, better-informed decisions.
During this mission, the aircraft successfully performed a low-altitude functional check flight to integrate new avionics, cabling and software.
"The successful first flight of the U-2 Avionics Tech Refresh is a significant moment in our journey to rapidly and affordably field new capabilities," said Sean Thatcher, U-2 Avionics Tech Refresh program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. "Leveraging the platform's open architecture, we're expediting these capabilities needed for the future Joint All-Domain Operations battlespace."
The ATR first flight marks a milestone in the U-2's modernization efforts and its path to being the first fully OMS-compliant fleet. Further testing will solidify a mature software baseline before mission systems are introduced to ensure both functionality and interoperability to meet operational needs. The U-2 ATR contract was awarded by the U.S. Air Force in 2020 and valued at $50 million.
Lockheed originally proposed the U-2 in 1953, it was approved in 1954, and its first test flight was in 1955. It was flown during the Cold War over the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, Gary Powers was shot down in a CIA U-2C over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile. Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down in a U-2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Lockheed U-2s "Dragon Lady" have taken part in post-Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supported several multinational NATO operations. The U-2 has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, scientific research, and communications purposes. The U-2 is one of a handful of aircraft types to have served the USAF for over 50 years, along with the Boeing B-52, Boeing KC-135, Lockheed C-130 and Lockheed C-5. With the Avionics Tech Refresh the "Dragon Lady" may well be around for much longer.