Today I’m answering one of the most common airshow questions a U-2 pilot ever gets. Several of you, including @vasiliybaraniuk asked:
“Why are U2s still in use if we have satellites?
Note: the following is entirely my opinion/viewpoint/soapbox/rant.
The easy answers are something about multi-layered approaches to intelligence, from satellites to U-2s, to reapers to eyes on the ground, etc. U-2s can be persistent over a battlefield while satellites are mostly locked into the laws of physics and orbital mechanics. But that doesn’t explain why, specifically, the “U-2” is still around. After all, there are other drones that are out there, that have good sensors and great capabilities, why keep the U-2?
I think the answer lies in this picture. It’s me…just kidding. No it’s a human, with all of it’s goofy imperfections and flaws; but also its amazing ability to adapt, intuit, and synthesize a picture of the situation from many disjointed and hidden pieces of a puzzle. Working to put that puzzle together, with all the players on the ground and those working the sensors is what the U-2 is about.
The equipment on the U-2 is great…but could be put on something else. The capabilities of the aircraft are great…but can be replicated elsewhere. What can’t be replicated is the guy in the seat, actually there. That is what the battlefield commanders who have kept the U-2 from the chopping block really fought to keep.
I’m proud to have flown this and proud of the all those who still do. –Last U-2 flight March 21st, 2019