End of an era: U-2 flies last Optical Bar Camera mission, but Dragon Lady pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor

U-2 flies last Optical Bar Camera mission, but Dragon Lady pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor

By Dario Leone
Jul 15 2022
Share this article

The Optical Bar Camera mission, which captures daylight acquisition of high-altitude photographs, will transition to forward operating locations supported by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The Air Force’s high-altitude, all-weather reconnaissance aircraft, the U-2 Dragon Lady, recently flew Beale Air Force Base’s last Optical Bar Camera mission.

As explained by 2nd. Lt. Hailey M. Toledo, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs, in the article End of an era: U-2 flies last OBC mission, the OBC mission, which captures daylight acquisition of high-altitude photographs, will transition to forward operating locations supported by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. This move allows processors to consolidate film closer to mission-required reconnaissance collection.

“This event closes a decades-long chapter for Beale AFB and film processing, and it opens another chapter into the digital world,” said Adam Marigliani, Collins Aerospace engineering support specialist.

End of an era: U-2 flies last Optical Bar Camera mission, but Dragon Lady pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor
The U-2 dragon lady takes off for the Optical Bar Camera’s final flight out of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Jun. 24, 2022, at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. The OBC mission operated out of Beale AFB for close to 52 years, with the first OBC deploying from Beale AFB in 1974.

Collins Aerospace works alongside Beale AFB’s 9th Intelligence Squadron to download OBC imagery from global U-2 missions in support of Air Force objectives.

The OBC mission operated out of Beale AFB for close to 52 years, with the first U-2 OBC deploying from Beale AFB in 1974. Pulled from the SR-71, the OBC was modified and flight-tested to support the U-2 platform, replacing the long-standing IRIS sensor. While the IRIS’s 24-inch focal length provided widespread coverage, the OBC’s 30-inch focal length allowed for significantly greater resolution.

“The U-2 retains the capability to fly the OBC mission worldwide and, if called upon, to execute in a dynamic force employment capacity,” said Lt. Col. James Gaiser, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander.

The OBC deployed to support various missions, including Hurricane Katrina relief, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station incident, as well as operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

When operating over Afghanistan, the U-2 imaged the entire country every 90 days and units across the Department of Defense used the OBC’s imagery to plan operations.

End of an era: U-2 flies last Optical Bar Camera mission, but Dragon Lady pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor
Lt. Col. James Gaiser and Lt. Col. Ralph Shoukry greet after the Optical Bar Camera’s final flight out of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Jun. 24, 2022 at Beale Air Force Base, California. Although the OBC will no longer reside at Beale, U-2 pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor through a variety of mission sets and operation locations around the world. 

“All U-2 pilots will retain the knowledge and skills to employ the sensor through a variety of mission sets and operation locations to meet priority intelligence collection needs of the geographic combatant commanders as tasked,” Gaiser said. “With a growing need for more diverse collection requirements, the U-2 program will evolve to maintain combat relevance with a variety of C5ISR-T capabilities and combat air forces integration roles.”

The end of the OBC at Beale AFB allows for mission units and partners to focus a greater weight of effort on emergent capabilities, tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as concepts of employment directly supporting pacing threat problem sets to advance the overall mission of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

The U-2 provides high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance, day or night, in direct support of US and allied forces. It delivers critical imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.

The U-2 is capable of gathering a variety of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products which can be stored or sent to ground exploitation centers. In addition, it also supports high-resolution, broad-area synoptic coverage provided by the optical bar camera producing traditional film products which are developed and analyzed after landing.

U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Hailey M. Toledo

U-2 print
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

Share this article

Dario Leone

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.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this article


Share this article
Share this article

Always up to date! News and offers delivered directly to you!

Get the best aviation news, stories and features from The Aviation Geek Club in our newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox.



    Share this article
    Back to top
    This website uses technical and profiling cookies. Clicking on "Accept" authorises all profiling cookies. Clicking on "Refuse" or the X will refuse all profiling cookies. By clicking on "Customise" you can select which profiling cookies to activate.
    Warning: some page functionalities could not work due to your privacy choices