U-2 Training Flight offers a unique glimpse of the spy plane in the skies of Santa Barbara County | Local News
Some Santa Barbara County residents got a rare sight of a U-2 spy plane last month.
A Dragon Lady made low-level passes over Santa Barbara and Santa Maria airports on July 27, exciting and intriguing residents curious about these visits.
Observers said the plane flew at low speed and low altitude at the Santa Barbara airport.
“The reason the U-2 was flying in the area was a training sortie,” said Kathryn Miller, spokeswoman for Beale Air Force Base near Marysville in Yuba City.
Even before official word, that’s what aviation experts, including Chris Kunkle of the Santa Maria-based Central Coast Jet Center, figured out as the reason for the theft. He added that pilots often trained in the area flying T-38s.
Their training often includes various flight profiles — different heights and lengths — so pilots can hone their skills and stay qualified to fly the plane, Kunkle said.
Whatever the reason, the rare chance to see the spy plane flying was welcomed even by those who spend their time in airports.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Chris Hastert, general manager of Santa Maria Public Airport.
He saw the end of the flight and then followed it as it traveled south to Santa Barbara.
The U-2 spy plane is a high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near-space aircraft can gather various types of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
Its long, narrow wings—the wingspan spans 105 feet—give the U-2 glider-like characteristics.
The plane is built by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and has unique capabilities and features, including unique landing gear and requirements, according to the Air Force.
Many of these reasons led to the U-2 spy plane being designated with the title of most difficult aircraft to fly.
The fleet has more than 30 planes, including two-seat trainers as well as NASA’s two ER-2s, a variant of the U-2 used as flying laboratories by the space agency.