U2 Spy plane takes off from Beale AFB

This image from 2003 was snagged from the Google Earth timeline feature. It shows Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, CA Lat/Lon:  39.126055° -121.433353°

Many who are in the “spook” business will recognize this silhouette and shadow:

click to enlarge

What’s even more interesting is what is parked at Beale’s tarmac, ready to roll today. A fleet of U2’s plus the Global Hawk unmanned live imaging recon plane:

  1. #1 by JoeZ on May 5, 2011 - 5:10 am

    What would have Ike done with this tech?

  2. #2 by Mike O'Kelly on May 5, 2011 - 5:58 am

  3. #3 by Steamboat Jack on May 5, 2011 - 6:35 am


  4. #4 by Jim Owen on May 5, 2011 - 7:01 am

    My, how the world has changed.

    In the 70’s I was the science ops engineer for Landsat 4 and the first Thematic Mapper photos after launch were confiscated by one of the alphabet agencies because they showed aircraft on the Detroit airport runway. Much less sensitive than these, but the fear was that the resolution would be good enough to show details of “other” secret installations. That all became moot when the French launched their SPOT spacecraft with even better resolution than Landsat.

  5. #5 by JinOH on May 5, 2011 - 7:32 am

    I have a buddy who works at Beale AFB – he sees these things all the time and says it is an awesome sight to see.

  6. #6 by Tom Bakewell on May 5, 2011 - 7:36 am

    I saw one of those beauties over Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson in the early ’70’s. I was quite surprised by how loud it was.

  7. #7 by Max Hugoson on May 5, 2011 - 7:36 am

    I think mostly used for research and weather work these days. Maybe a small amount of reconnisence. Don’t think major contributors to “spying” anymore.

  8. #8 by Phil Nizialek on May 5, 2011 - 8:01 am

    Interesting. I had thought the U2 had gone into retirement like its faster brother, the SR-71 Blackbird. A quick google search shows, however, that U2s are still being used all over the world, including to monitor the current crises in Libya and Japan.

    Gary Powers piloted a U2 shot down by the Soviets in the 1960s, so the airframes on some of these birds must be approaching 50 years old. Like B 52s, these planes are being flown by pilots who had not been born when the olane came out of the factory. The mechanics who keep these things going must be pretty talented.

  9. #9 by prijo on May 5, 2011 - 9:11 am

    yep, I worked in palmdale for a summer and saw this take off and the SR71 take off every wednesday at 10am. Very cool plane, it must travel 10 ft before it lifts off, the wings are so freaking long. It is a cool sight to see.

  10. #10 by BLOC on May 5, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    I, too, saw a U2. I was returning from Okinawa in August (?) 1966, and our plane had stopped over in Hawaii. I was standing on an observation deck watching comings and goings, when a strange looking aircraft took off and climbed steeply. The guy next to me happened to be Air Force, and I commented that that’s what I imagined a U2 would look like. He replied that that’s exactly what a U2 would look like.

  11. #11 by Marv Conn on May 5, 2011 - 3:21 pm

    I saw a U2 up close in Korea. I was in a C-131 taxiing and we taxied past a U2 that was waiting to take off. I thought that was cool.

  12. #12 by JBaloun on May 5, 2011 - 8:30 pm

    The NASA ER-2 was operational when I was working at NASA Ames in the 1990s. When you heard the roar of engines and checked the clock it was always exactly 11:00 or exactly 11:30. The U-2 does not take off so much as it launches. There are few planes cleared for takeoff (cross the threshold and line up with the runway) at the *same* time as they are cleared to Class E airspace (FL 600+). The plane punches through all the airspace Class levels in one shot. It rotates to 45 degrees and continues to climb at exactly 45 degrees until it disappears as a thin white line (ER-2 version) in the blue sky, still climbing. The reason for 11:00 exactly is the tower has to coordinate with San Jose and San Francisco approach / departure controls to open a few minutes gap in the airspace for the ER-2 to shoot through. A truly amazing aircraft. When the aft fuselage is removed for engine servicing the structure is simple and efficient. Kelly Johnson made it right. The plane is not high tech. It is simply exactly the correct design for the mission. The differences are subtle. Johnson was a great designer.

  13. #13 by joe on May 5, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    Visit the little airport in Cortez,CO some day. A U2 on a training flight with a solo Taiwanese pilot crash landed there around 1959 or 1960! The airport custodian was certainly surprised. That pilot went on to command the Republic of China Air Force and returned to visit Cortez decades later. There is a display about this at the airport.

  14. #14 by tty on May 6, 2011 - 12:52 pm

    I saw one making circuits-and-bumps at Akrotiri base on Cyprus in April last year. As someona has already said it was surprisingly noisy and it had an incredible climb performance. It seemed to go almost straight up after lift-off.

  15. #15 by TSgt (Ret) Glenn R. Chapman on December 26, 2011 - 9:30 pm

    I worked on the U-2A, U-2C, U-2E, and U-2F U-2 aircraft from 1958 to 1966. The last one of these that flew was in 1989. The few 1968 U-2R and 1980 now U-2S models still fly out of Beale. For the indiviual that wrote they they no longer do recon, he is 100% wrong! It is, to my knowledge, the ONLY USAF Manned Recon Bird. You bet it still does recon! I worked on some of the ones I talked about in the first paragraph during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. We were at McCoy AFB, Forida. Thank your God in Heaven above for this old girl! She really kept us out of WW 3! I wrote a book about my times with it called “Me and U-2: My Affair With Dragon Lady”. $20.00 including shipment. Go to if you want an autographed copy.

    Glenn Chapman

  16. #16 by Colin on April 13, 2012 - 12:55 pm

    I found another U-2! This one is parked outside a hangar at Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE. Iran is right across the Gulf, so I assume the US is keeping snooping around there. 24°14’46.06″N 54°33’37.93″E.

  17. #17 by Clayton Green on December 13, 2012 - 4:59 pm

    My son recently became a crew chief on U2’s at Beale and is heading for Korea soon. He loves crewing the bird.

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