What’s this new camera installed on a U-2 spyplane spotted at Palmdale?

Sep 17 2015 - 6 Comments

While Lockheed Martin works on its  stealthy replacement, looks like the U-2 is still being modified.

Lockheed Martin has just revelead the “TR-X” a Skunk Works proposal for the next generation, all-new stealthy spyplane to replace the iconic U-2 Dragon Lady.

The new aircraft will combine the features of the U-2 and those of the RQ-4B Global Hawk UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) into a new ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform capable to operate at very high altitude and to penetrate contested airspace.

For the moment, the Air Force is not committed to the new design or any other U-2 replacement concept: addressing reporters earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR, said the U.S. Air Force can’t simply afford its two high-altitude ISR platforms (U-2 and RQ-4) as well as develop the new aircraft.

Indeed, even though it could continue to operate for other two or three decades, the U-2 is slated to be withdrawn from use in 2019 and when the upgraded Global Hawk will take over all the high-altitude ISR tasks.

Nevertheless, even the Dragon Lady is constantly being upgraded with new sensor packages, as the images in this post seem to suggest.

Taken by Kevin Joyce from Sidewinder Aviation Photography at Palmdale, California, widely known as “Skunk Works” LM’s Advanced Development Program Facility (that is to say, where some of the most futuristic “black projects” are developed), the photos show a new, big camera installed underneath the nose section of a Dragon Lady landing at Air Force Plant 42.

Any idea what it can be? Just a new wide-angle hi-rez camera?

U-2 Palmdale large

Image credit: Kevin Joyce / Sidewinder Aviation Photography  (H/T Matt Hartmann for the heads-up)


  • InklingBooks

    Here’s the source of that photo and a host of other marvelous aviation photos. Maybe they know about that U-2 camera.



    Lockheed Martin has a marvelous opportunity that it should take care not to lose. It can develop a lighter weight, carbon-fiber replacement for the U2 reconnaissance aircraft that’s also a passenger-carrying ‘edge of space’ tourist aircraft. The latter would replace the heavy weight of cameras and other spy gear with a longer fuselage.

    If you follow the science news, there is a market for the latter. It’s a not a largel one, but we’re talking about custom aircraft anyway, not mass production 787s. Going to the edge of space with a conventional air-breathing aircraft will also be simpler, safer and cheaper than the more complex hybrid rocket schemes that others are trying to build. The view from 70,000 feet is as marvelous as that from 70 miles and far easier to achieve.

    Exports are also an option. Hopefully, the U.S. will be reasonable about this as an exportable technology. A U-2 platform dates back to the late-1950s. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t sell it to friendly countries. It’d be useful not only for military reconnaissance, but for a host of other purposes from weather tracking and disaster relief to maritime patrols. Drones require a complex and costly, satellite-based infrastructure. This new U-2 would only need a pilot. Quite a few countries would find that they need only one or two to serve all their needs.

    That’s an idea for Lockheed-Martin to consider. I know I’d love to take a flight in one that’d take me up to 70,000 feet or so. They can feel free to contact me about riding along in a test flight. I’d even supply my own lunch.

    –Mike Perry

  • Rusty Shackleford


  • Jan Schmidt

    The U-2 will be in service longer than 2019… because sensor migration to RQ-4 Global Hawk takes longer than anticipated

    Also the Open Mission System “plug and play” modules are being tested now:

    For the sensorpackage in the Q-Bay behind the cockpit i have to guess… new OBC sensor package?



    thanks to tyler rogoway and his very detailed article on u-2:

    sensor packages on SR-71:

  • JEFFofTX

    Would we need this if we have the RQ-180?

    • sferrin


  • billy graham

    it’s probably the new iphone 6s in ruby gold color.