I’ve just returned from the biggest UK airshow of the year: the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford. Last Weds and Thurs next to the runway for the arriving aircraft, and Fri-Sun watching the aircraft performing.
The thing about RIAT is that it attracts contributions form around the world. The presence of rare (or rarely seen in the UK) aircraft attracts huge numbers of enthusiasts to see types they would otherwise never get to see. This blog is about one of them.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the USAF. The USAF always supports RIAT, but this year they really went to town. All the big B-s of the USAF attended (B-52, B-1 and B-2), as well most of the notable F-s (F-15, F-16, F-22), although a notorious absentee was the continuingly troubled F-35.
For me, though, the aircraft I really wanted to see was the U-2.
I’ve seen examples of the U-2 hanging in museums before, but never actually flying. It has been on my “lifetime list” to see since I was very young, so finally, I got to see it last Weds and Thurs. You wait a lifetime to see something, and three come along at once. The USAF routed three different aircraft into Fairford over those two days. The U-2 occasionally operates out of Fairford, so I imagine that these three routeings were well-timed with operational requirements. There seems to be plenty going on at present for the U-2s to continue to observe and monitor.
It is the aircraft that was famously built in the cold war for very high altitude reconnaissance over the Soviet Union. In 1960, pilot Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 over Soviet territory, leading to a big diplomatic row: recently this episode was revisited in the movie Bridge of Spies. Wikipedia has an excellent article about the U-2, so I’ll refer you to that if you want to know more. The three aircraft all have serial numbers from the fiscal year 1980, so although they are not as old as the original planes, they are still old enough to be flown by the children (or even grandchildren) of the original pilots.
Anyhow, here are some pictures of the U-2.