When 'Dragon Lady' dropped into Cortez

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When 'Dragon Lady' dropped into Cortez

Anniversary of U-2 plane's 1959
emergency landing is Saturday
GERALD VINCENT discusses the 'Black Cat' display at the Cortez Airport.
Officials look over the U-2 that landed unexpectedly in Cortez on Aug. 3, 1959.
TAIWANESE PILOT Hsichan "Mike" Hua piloted the U-2 to a safe landing at the Cortez Airport in 1959.
Maj. Hua in his flight suit in 1959.
The U-2 at a glance

The Cold War was escalating when the U-2 was developed.

'In the middle '50s, the United States, an open society, was faced by a closed communist empire, which had lost none of its ambitions for world conquest, but which now possessed, in airplanes and guided missiles armed with nuclear weapons, an ever-growing capacity for launching a surprise attack against the United States,' President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his autobiography about the decision to build the U-2.

The U.S. needed a way to find out what was happening, and they needed it quickly. After requests for proposals, they commissioned the U-2 from Lockheed, and it went from drawing board to runway in just eight months. According to Lt. Col. Charles Wilson, who has written about what it's like to fly a U-2, it is still considered the most difficult plane to land because 'it wants to keep flying, even at a stall.'

The U-2 has been upgraded and modified several times since it first flew in 1955. Since 1994, $1.7 billion has been spent to modernize the airframe, sensors and engine. Its current designation is U-2S.

The U-2 has a wingspan of 105 feet and is 63 feet long, according to the Air Force's fact sheet on the aircraft. It typically flies at about 70,000 feet (more than 13 miles above the earth), but crews have gone as high as 87,000 feet. It cannot go into space because the engines require oxygen to burn fuel. The recommended top speed is Mach 3.2 - about 2,435 mph.

The Air Force currently has 33 U-2s in its inventory, including five two-seat trainers and two operated by NASA.

The plane has been a valuable asset in Korea, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as providing peacetime reconnaissance during natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

In 2011, The New York Times reported the U-2 would be phased out by 2015. But budget cuts and military realities have changed those plans.

'It's still flying and still useful to the Air Force,' said Kelly Sanders, Air Combat Command spokesperson. 'The odds are, it will still be flying in the 2030s and 2040s.'

To learn more, visit the U-2 Dragon Lady Association at www.U-2dla.org or www.blackbirds.net, including 'Flying the U-2.'

When 'Dragon Lady' dropped into Cortez

GERALD VINCENT discusses the 'Black Cat' display at the Cortez Airport.
Officials look over the U-2 that landed unexpectedly in Cortez on Aug. 3, 1959.
TAIWANESE PILOT Hsichan "Mike" Hua piloted the U-2 to a safe landing at the Cortez Airport in 1959.
Maj. Hua in his flight suit in 1959.
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