U-2 Pilot Dies in Southwest Asia Crash

U.S. Spy Plane Pilot Dies in Asia Crash (AP)

A U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane involved in a mission in Afghanistan crashed while returning to its base in the United Arab Emirates, killing the pilot, the military said Wednesday. U.S. Central Command said the crash occurred in “southwest Asia,” a term that can be a substitute for the Middle East.

The fact that CENTCOM is reporting this would also serve as a major clue that this occured in the Middle East. For that matter, it’s unclear what else “Southwest Asia” would refer to, since most of the Middle East is in the southwestern part of Asia.

In Washington, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the plane had completed a mission related to Operation Enduring Freedom and crashed while returning to its base. A U.S. security team was at the site of the crash, he said.

The U-2 operates at an altitude of more than 70,000 feet, beyond the range of most surface-to-air missiles. It has been used by American forces for decades. In January 2003, a U-2 crashed in South Korea. The pilot ejected to safety, but four Koreans on the ground were injured.

A U-2 was shot down May 1, 1960, over Soviet territory while photographing Soviet missile installations. After parachuting to safety, pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured and later convicted as a spy. He was held for almost two years before being traded for a KGB captive.

A sad loss. It’s amazing that the U-2 still remains in the inventory, given that it’s first pilots are now grandfathers, even great-grandfathers.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, Middle East, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent says:

    Whenever I get feeling old, I remind myself that a very good chunk of our military inventory is older than I am.

    It doesn’t make me feel any better about my age, but it does get me wringing my hands over something else.

  2. I wonder if it was really a TR-1. That was an updated version of the U-2 built in the late 70s. In that case, it would be only 30 years old.

  3. The interesting thing, though, is that as old as some of this equipment is, it’s still pretty amazing stuff. There’s really only one aircraft (publicly acknowledged, at least) that ever really surpassed the U-2 for spying purposes (the SR-71 Blackbird), and the thing (for all its engineering marvel) was a hideously expensive thing to run, and really only needed against the Soviets.

    The fact that the U2 still flies outside the range of most SAMs decades after it’s design is nothing short of amazing.

  4. SFC SKI says:

    Air frames can last a long time, and avionics are constantly upgraded.
    I just wish I could pick up (and maintain and fuel) an F-4 Phantom as easily as I could a car from that era.

  5. Freedebate says:

    The “new” U-2 is quite a different aircraft than the original.

    It’s 40 percent larger, has modern avionics, improved data-links, better fiber-optic electronics, and new General Electric F-118-101 engine, with all-glass cockpit slated for installation on the entire fleet.” Today’s U-2 also has improved electro-optical, infrared and radar sensors, Chang said.

  6. DC Loser says:

    The B-52s were flying before the U-2s, and they’re still in the active inventory.

  7. Richard Wheide says:

    The U-2 “S” model being flown today bears little resemblance to the aircraft flown in the Gary Powers and Cuban Missle crisis days. Upgraded engine, navigation, and recon systems and the ability to loiter for long periods in areas of interest make the U-2 a viable national reconnaissance asset for many years to come. It’s interesting to note that if the U-2 had been designed today the Air Force wouldn’t buy it due to it’s difficult low speed handling. My deepest condolences and gratitude goes out to the family of the pilot and thanks to Kelly Johnson (U-2 Designer)

    -Been There