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19th of December 1956

Lockheed U-2, 56-6690 was lost on this day in aviation history in 1956, she was the 17th Dragon Lady built (Artikel number or s/n 357). She was built as a U-2A, as part of the first production run of 48 U-2 spy planes being built powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-37A engine.

The first picture that was released of U-2A 56-6690

This Dragon lady was delivered to the CIA 0n the 21st o CIA project was to reduce the radar cross-section of the U-2 aircraft. She was delivered to the CIA 0n the 21st of September 1956. One of the projects she was used for was as test aircraft for “Project RAINBOW” The purpose of this CIA project was to reduce the radar cross-section of the U-2 aircraft, so they would be more difficult to pick up by Soviet radars. Different methods were being tested by the CIA varying one of them was having radar-absorbent materials being applied to the skin of the aircraft.

It was during a test flight for this project that the CIA pilot Bob Ericson (who was a member of the second class of U-2 pilots to become operational in August 1956) was flying the aircraft at an altitude of 35.000 feet (10.600 meters) when is oxygen system failed. This caused Bob Ericson to suffer from Hypoxia. (Hypoxia is a state in which oxygen is not available in sufficient amounts at the tissue level to maintain adequate homeostasis; this can result from inadequate oxygen delivery to the tissues either due to low blood supply or low oxygen content in the blood)

The aircraft went out of control as the Hypoxia affected Ericson, resulting in the aircraft plummeting out of the sky. Luckily Ericson regained consciousness when the aircraft reached lower altitudes. He managed to open the canopy of the aircraft and parachute to safety,

He would land safely in the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. (Early U-2 aircraft did not have an ejection seat. And in some U-2 the ejection seats were removed for specific missions. It was said that every pound saved in weight meant an altitude gain of 1 foot!)

Some specifications of a U-2A;

  • Construction: Conventional aluminium monocoque

  • Length: 49.7 feet (15.15 meters)

  • Wingspan: 80 feet, 2 inches (24.43 meters)

  • Wing Area: 600 square feet (55.74 square meters)

  • Height: 15 feet, 2 inches (4.62 meters) at the tail

  • Empty Weight: 14,250 pounds (6464 kilogram)

  • MTOW: 24,150 pounds (10954 kilogram)

  • Maximum Speed: > 373.66 (430 mph / 692 kph)

  • Operational Ceiling: > 70,000 feet (21336 meters)

  • Maximum 3,000 nautical miles

  • Armament: none

  • Powerplant Data: P & W J57-P-37(A) with 10,500 lbs of thrust

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