The Air Force has dispatched the last of the Block 10 U-2 high-flying reconnaissance airplanes to be made over into the Block 20 configuration. Technicians at Lockheed Martin’s Palmdale facility will transform the U-2, tearing it down to “its ribs and basic frame,” says 2nd Lt. Carlos Reyes, 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant officer in charge at Beale AFB, Calif., by replacing its round-dial cockpit with a new digital “glass” cockpit. SSgt. Zachary Wilson reports that the revamped U-2 will return to the fleet sometime next year. The Air Force has retirement in mind for the entire U-2 fleet, but it pursued the upgrade to keep the fleet viable until at least 2011. Some lawmakers and the head of US Strategic Command, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, question whether U-2 retirement will create an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance gap.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.