Military Aviation

Dragon Lady retirement moves forward: USAF retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight

Beale retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight

On Apr. 5, 2024, Beale Air Force Base (AFB) said goodbye to U-2 Dragon Lady Tail 80-1085 as she completed her final “fini” flight after nearly 40 years with the US Air Force (USAF).

The base said in a post appeared on its social media;

‘U-2 Dragon Lady Tail 80-1085 completed her final flight on April 5, retiring after a successful career of soaring through the sky for nearly 38 years!

‘After reaching a final flight hour count of 17,882.3 hours, It’s time for this to get some rest.

‘(Fun fact, her fini flight pilot’s solo number is also 1085!)’

Noteworthy as noted by KTXL Fox 40, the post implies that the flight was made extra special as the 80-1085’s pilot was conducting their 1,085 solo flight.

This is the second U-2 to retire from Beale AFB in 2024: as already reported in fact tail TU-2S 1065 retired on Jan. 11 after arriving at Beale in 1983 and completing 24,042 flight hours over 11,450 missions.

However, as we have already explained not all of Beale’s U-2 fleet is on their way out though as TU-2S Dragon Lady 1078 returned to service after a multi-year rehabilitation and catching a new black paint job from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

USAF to retire the iconic Dragon Lady in 2026

The USAF will retire the iconic U-2 spy plane in 2026. But until then, besides being used for ISR missions, the Dragon Lady will be used to test out technology that may be used on future aircraft.

The retirement of the U-2 was first announced by Aviation Week and Air Force Times that cited Air Force budget documents saying that “expectations are for protective NDAA language to be waived … allowing the USAF to move forward with U-2 divestment in FY 2026.”

As Air & Space Forces Magazine reported on Aug.2, 2023 Col. William Collins, senior materiel leader for high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, confirmed the plan to reporters at the Life Cycle Industry Days conference on Aug. 1—the first official Air Force comment on the future of the U-2 since the plan emerged.

“Our focus right now is working with [Air Combat Command] to maintain full viability of the plane through the service life, maintaining as much trade space for senior leaders. We are working toward the Air Force’s position to the best of our ability. But what we’re doing predominantly is focusing on how we ensure that we don’t create a scenario in which we’re not able to meet mission need because of things like obsolescence,” Collins told Air & Space Forces Magazine.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. U-2S Dragon Lady “Senior Span”, 9th RW, 99th RS, 80-329

The U-2

Built in complete secrecy by Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works, the original U-2A first flew in August 1955.

The U-2R, first flown in 1967, was 40 percent larger and more capable than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the TR-1A, first flew in August 1981 and was structurally identical to the U-2R. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered in October 1989; in 1992 all TR-1s and U-2s were designated as U-2Rs. Since 1994, $1.7 billion has been invested to modernize the U-2 airframe and sensors. These upgrades also included the transition to the GE F118-101 engine which resulted in the re-designation of all Air Force U-2 aircraft to the U-2S.

Early flights over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s provided the president and other US decision makers with key intelligence on Soviet military capability. In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis. In more recent times, the U-2 has provided intelligence during operations in Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The Dragon Lady gained the headlines again earlier this year when one flew over the Chinese surveillance balloon transiting the continental US. The Pentagon subsequently released an image from the U-2 cockpit showing the balloon.

When requested, the U-2 also provides peacetime reconnaissance in support of disaster relief from floods, earthquakes, and forest fires as well as search and rescue operations.

But the USAF faces diminishing manufacturing sources for key parts because the fleet’s average age is now nearly 40 years old.

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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