Image Copyright: Lee Jin-man / AP
By Donna Cassata
Copyright: The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The U-2 spy plane outlasted the Cold War, outlived its successor and proved crucial a half-century ago when two superpowers were on the brink of nuclear war.
But U.S. defense cuts now threaten to knock the high-flying reconnaissance aircraft out of the sky.
The Air Force wants to gradually retire the fleet of 32 “Dragon Lady” planes, which can soar to an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 meters), collect intelligence on North Korea and Russia and rapidly send the data to U.S. commanders. That’s a critical capability, given North Korea’s unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un, and Russia’s emboldened president, Vladimir Putin.