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Spiros Pendedekas
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Italeri 1/48 U-2R

April 21, 2022 · in Aviation · · 36 · 2K

Hi everyone!

This is my U-2R, finished as an operational bird.
With the rise of the Cold War, the US military recognized that strategic reconnaissance could not be carried out by the then converted bombers and similar aircraft, as they were extremely vulnerable to Soviet air defense assets. A dedicated aircraft, capable of flying at 70,000 feet (a height then considered “safe” in regards to the then Soviet defense technology…) was visualized and sought after.

Whereas Bell, Fairchild and Martin received relevant USAF contracts, , despite not receiving any, decided to nevertheless engage their top engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson in such a project.

What his “Skunk Works” unit came up with, was to essentially mount two sailplane wings onto an F-104 fuselage. Named CL-282, the project had a dodgy start, being initially rejected by the USAF. Time proved to be this project's ally, though: having already changed its name to , it ended up beιng wholeheartedly accepted and funded by the CIA. The rest is history…

Nicknamed "Dragon Lady", production U-2 provided day and night, high-altitude, all-weather intelligence.

Essentially a jet powered glider, it was a very difficult aircraft to fly and, because of a high stall speed relative to its maximum speed, a handful to land, requiring a chase car with another U-2 pilot to help talk the aircraft down!

Initially conceived to take off from a dolly and land on a skid, designers came to their senses and a bicycle configuration landing gear was finally adopted, with the wheels located behind the cockpit and engine.

To maintain balance during takeoff, auxiliary wheels, known as “pogos”, were installed under each wing, dropping away upon takeoff. The fact that pilots wore space-like suits, in order to maintain proper oxygen and pressure levels at those high altitudes, only contributed to boosting the myth surrounding this exotic aircraft, especially in its early years.

Apart from their active role during the Cold War (the Gary Powers infamous incident included…), U-2s have not only taken part in post-Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but have also supported several multinational NATO operations.

The type has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, scientific research, and communications purposes.

It is an ageless aircraft, proudly serving the USAF for over 50 years, together with B-52, KC-135, and C-130, with its newest models (TR-1, U-2R and U-2S) entering service in the 80s and the latest version undergoing a technical upgrade in 2012. A total of 104 have been built between 1955 and 1989.

This is the venerable 1988 mold Italeri kit, regularly reboxed ever since. It was more or less a simple, straightforward build, the only "real" problem being finding a big enough space to place the quite big model. Should you wish to read the full build review, you may do so by visiting my beloved site Modelingmadness:

Happy modeling!
Reader reactions:
10  Awesome

36 responses

  1. Nice! The black looks superb. Well done, Spiros

  2. Nice build Spiros !
    We saw a dragon Lady at The 4 th of July open house at Fairfield AFB a few years ago.
    Any features open to prying eyes was covered with canvas and an armed guard was standing by. This plane Still holds a few secrets after all these years of service !
    Your model will need a lot of room for display with those long wings !

  3. This turned out very nice brother I love the sinister flat black finish. I'd thought of doing one of these 'cause I like unusual aircraft but the fact that it's a great big giant thing kind of stays my hand

  4. Great bird. I have the same kit in my stash, but have resisted starting it due tot he storage problem you mentioned - not really sure what to do with it if I build it!
    I have a practical question: how did you decide the level of glossiness (or thereof) of the black? Yours look very matte, but photos of other builds of the U-2 have it a bit more satin, or even glossy. What varnish did you use for the top coat?

  5. Also: this kit has raised panel lines, doesn't it? Did you have to sand a lot near the junction of the fuselage halves, and was this a problem to preserve the panel lines?

    • Thanks my friend @marcellorosa1!

      I decided to depict my model matt, based on actual pics, like this one from the Lockheed Martin site...

      ...where the finish seems quite matt. It has been stated that freshly painted U-2s were "very black and very matt, fading unevenly into dark gray with time". I sprayed the whole model with Hu33 Matt Black, which actually dried unevenly, with the observable result varying from pure matt black to "almost black" (what Revell calls "anthrazite")...

      Honestly, I did not mind at all with this unevenness, in fact used it to my benefit, as unevenness is also observed in real pics 🙂 I did not spray any final coat, just spot applied matt varnish over the minimal decals.

      Yes, the lines are raised, disappearing where sanding had to be done, but I left them "as is", as I thought they would not show too much.

      • Thanks for the answer and the reference. Maybe this will help move my U-2 closer to the front of the queue. I have this idea of representing it in flight so I can mount it on the wall instead of taking a lot of shelf space.

  6. Have you watched the Top Gear Programme where Matt Le Blanc drove the chase car.

  7. Well done, Spiros. You managed to break up the monochrome black scheme without overdoing it. Very realistic.

  8. Spiros- I think you really nailed the black paint. Looks just like the Dragon Lady I saw do a fly over at an airshow about 5 years ago.

  9. Man , this is awesome ,I want one!, never seen this kit built before ,you did an amazing job Spiros well done.

  10. Nice work on this cold war icon!

  11. This is a TRUE BEAUTY. Well done Spiros. You have motivated me to get mine out of the stash.

  12. A very sinister looking bird. This all black spy really stand out Spiros. Good work my friend!

  13. An absolute black beauty, Spiros @fiveten
    Painting this big bird must have taken quite a while.
    Especially in the quality paint result you achieved.
    A true gem.

  14. YES the awesome Lockheed U-2R ! Beautiful finish on one of thr best planes ever desiogned by Kelly Johnson . Looks really great 🙂

  15. Excellent work. I figure the seamwork on the wings must have been a pain considering how much flex they would have.

  16. I've had this kit since the 90's half built on the shelf of doom. There are a couple of wonky seams on it and you've tackled them brilliantly! The paint is also top notch Spiros.

    Just a correction on your text though. The portion of flight where the stall speed and VNE speed were within a few MPH of each other happened at altitude. Fly too fast and you'd break the plane, to slow and it'll stall. The difficulty landing would probably be due to its tendency to float in ground effect if the approach speed was any kind of too fast. (And then fighting any crosswinds or gusts on top of that!) Footage of severely botched U-2 landings can be found on YouTube. Now imagine trying to land one on a carrier! (Trials actually happened between Nov 21-23 1969 and you can find footage of this on YouTube as well.) I don't know which was crazier, landing a U-2 or a C-130 on a carrier!

    • Thanks for liking and for clarification, my friend @jpatt1000!
      Have seen the Herc carrier landing video, which was awesome and crazy together! Will have a look for the U-2...
      Oh, my! Even the thought of it wobling upon approaching the deck...

  17. Great work once again Spiros, wow the black on there looks awesome, and you can still pull out all the details on it. Such a cool plane and you've represented it perfectly.

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