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Spy Plane in the Desert: U-2 Dragon Lady in UAE

Watching over Iran and Syria, the U-2 Dragon Lady flies day and night in any weather to keep a vigilant eye on America’s adversaries

A 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady prepares for a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 15, 2019. Commonly referred to as the most difficult aircraft to fly in the world, the U-2 Dragon Lady has been host to less than fifteen-hundred pilots since the first flight in 1955. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
A 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady pilot drives a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 performing a low-flight touch and go at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 15, 2019. While driving the chase cars, U-2 pilots aid the pilot flying the U-2 by radioing altitude and runway alignments during take-offs and landings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

U-2 Maximum Altitude

To decrease the risk of developing decompression sickness, pilots breathe 100% oxygen for an hour prior to take off to remove nitrogen from the blood.

The U-2 can routinely operate at altitudes greater than 70,000 feet. The extreme temperatures and presures at those heights bring very unique challenges to overcome.

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Maj. “Gobi” Gobrecht, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Detachment One U-2 Dragon Lady pilot, gives a thumb up to his chase car driver July 9, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Since U-2s are extremely lightweight and feature detachable landing gears making it difficult to take off and land, another pilot follows in a chase car to provide feedback. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Airmen remove the pins from pogo gear attached to a U-2 Dragon Lady, Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 15, 2019. Pogo gear is used to assist the U-2 while the aircraft taxis, but is removed before take-off in order to ease some of the weight on the wings, (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

Dragon Lady Lair

Maintaining and operating a spy plane in remote locations isn’t easy. U-2s in the UAE are stored and maintained in temporary hangers set up by the USAF.

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99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron maintainers prepare a U-2 Dragon Lady pilot for a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 15, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Airmen prepare a U-2 Dragon Lady pilot for a mission at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Mar. 13, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)