Cold War classic U-2 hits milestone on ISIS-intel mission

A 48-year-old U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane reached a milestone — 30,000 hours of flight time — while flying a mission to gather intelligence on ISIS, U.S. Central Command said Thursday.

A release from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing said that a U-2 flown by a pilot identified only as “Maj. Ryan” hit the 30,000-hour mark while “collecting critical, real-time information to give commanders the decisional advantage” against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

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The high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance plane flew out of a base in Southwest Asia, the report said.

U-2 pilot Maj. Ryan enters into a cockpit before flying a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 2, 2017. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward

The Lockheed U-2 is only the second of the unique aircraft to reach the 30,000-hour mark. In 2016, a U-2 with the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron at Osan Air Base in South Korea completed 30,000 flight hours as the first-ever in the U.S. fleet.

“It takes a lot of people to launch and recover a jet and to keep this going,” said Ryan, of the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. “Today, we hit 30,000 hours. I hope it gets 30,000 more.”

USAF Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady | U.S. Air Force photo

USAF Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady | U.S. Air Force photo

An assistant maintenance operations officer identified as Capt. Lacey said, “The mere fact alone that we’re able to continue flying this aircraft to this day is an achievement in itself, let alone fly 30,000 hours on one aircraft.”

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A maintenance superintendent was quoted as saying, “The accomplishment of the U-2 flying 30,000 hours is extraordinary because the airframe itself is 48 years old, and it is flying with the most technologically advanced ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance] systems available today.”

These guys are clearly stoked.

With a thin fuselage and 80-foot wings, the U-2 was developed during the Cold War for photo reconnaissance against the Soviet Union. The aircraft were first flown by decommissioned Air Force pilots for the CIA but later became Air Force assets.

The service has plans in the works eventually to replace the U-2s with unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawks but, in the meantime, the aircraft remain a vital intelligence tool.