The aircraft was developed by the Advanced Development Projects Unit (also known as Lockheed Martin Skunk Works) of the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed as a strategical high altitude reconnaissance and espionage aircraft. While having a maximum flight altitude of over 20,000 metres, it was almost untouchable for all kinds of air defence weapons and interceptor aircraft, during its early years in service. This was possible through using a design, based on that of a Glider aircraft, which are able to stay in the air without use of an engine and only a small one is used for landing. The aircraft was equipped with two cameras and was upgraded with many sensors, GPS etc., later.
The U-2's development can be traced to 1952, when the USAF issued the aircraft makers Bell, Fairchild and Martin with study contracts for a high altitude photographic platform, which led to the RB-57D, despite an unsolicited bid from Lockheed for it's CL-282 design. After this was rejected by the USAF Clarence l Johnson, head of the Skunk Works, offered the design to the CIA, who issued Lockheed a contract to build 20 examples as the U-2, which is part of a secret project named Aquatone.[N 1]
As one of the driving forces for project Aquatone was the need to assess Soviet Bomber forces and ICBM development, Lockheed froze the design of CL-282 in December 1954. The completed prototype, which had been given the nickname 'Angel', was transported to the secret Groom Dry Lake test site - also known to Lockheed and CIA employees as the 'Ranch' - in late July 1955, before starting flight tests in early August.
- ↑ The U for utility designation was used to cover the true role of the aircraft. Some items, such as the J57 engine, were purchased using the USAF as cover.