U-2 SPYPLANES : What You Didn't Know About Them !
by David Reade - P-3 Publications

AFCRL U-2 Projects

As the U-2 continued their covert reconnaissance missions with the CIA and operational Air Force strategic reconnaissance squadrons, a number of early U-2A aircraft were utilized in various atmospheric and meteorological research projects under the control of the Air Force's Cambridge Research Laboratory or AFCRL. AFCRL was located at L.G. Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts and operated in cooperation with the Air Force's Geophysical Research Directorate or GRD.

Some of the early AFCRL U-2 science projects encompassed high-altitude atmospheric pressure and air gasses sampling measurements, moisture studies, Ozone concentration research, electrical field measurements and severe thunderstorms research as well as clear air turbulence research.

AFCRL / Edwards AFB special scientific research U-2 aircraft - U.S. Air Force photo via Edwards AFB
This aircraft (#56-6701) was one of the first U-2As built for and operated by the CIA in 1956. It later came under the control of the AFCRL and utilized in various scientific research projects throughout the world. U-2 #56-6701 is currently on display at the US Air Force's SAC Museum at Offutt AFB, Nebraska - U.S. Air Force photo

These AFCRL scientific research U-2 were flown by flight test crews from the Special Projects Branch (the 6512th Test Squadron) of the Air Force's Flight Test Center located at Edwards AFB.

A group of early (ex-CIA) U-2As were permanently assigned to the test center at Edwards specifically for atmospheric systems testing and scientific research projects.

One of the Edwards research U-2As was utilized in an AFCRL project called "Rough Rider" (1960-68). The Rough Rider project was a continuation of previous severe thunderstorm (Tornado) research projects under the direction of the US Weather Bureau - since 1946.

Like the previous thunderstorm research projects, the Rough Rider missions were to collect comprehensive atmospherics and cloud dynamics data of severe thunderstorms (and their surrounding environments) to better advance our knowledge of these powerful storms and develop improved forecasting techniques.

AFCRL research U-2 aircraft aircrews - U.S. Air Force photo via Edwards AFB
AFCRL U-2 aircraft used in meteorological research projects, Rough Rider, Lightning Research Project and Jet Stream Cirrus Research Project - AFCRL photo, courtesy the Robert Rados Family collection

Project Rough Rider was (at the time) a new Tornado research project of the US Weather Bureau's National Severe Storms Project (NSSP), in cooperation with, and coordination from the Weather Bureau's Research Flight Facility (RFF), the Air Force's AFCRL, GRD and Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) laboratories as well as NASA and the FAA. Additional support was provided by area Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units and facilities.

Under this project, AFCRL U-2 flew in, around and over severe, tornado-producing, thunderstorms to collect vital high-altitude meteorological research data and take panoramic cloud photography at levels near the tops of the storm clouds.

Simultaneously, in a related project called the Lightning Research Project (1964-66), sponsored by the AFCRL's Cloud Physics Division, in cooperation with the Aeronautical Systems Division of the Air Force's Sandia Corporation laboratory (also in association with the US Federal Aviation Administration) AFCRL utilized a specially equipped U-2 aircraft to fly in and around severe thunderstorms to study and measure their "electrification" dynamics and intensity.

These Rough Rider U-2s captured impressive lightning photography of these powerful storms.

AFCRL Research U-2 Photo of High-Altitude Lightning - Flown in conjunction with the "Rough Rider" severe storms (tornado) research project, the AFCRL controlled research U-2 also flew lightning research flights and took photos of high-altitude lightning in 1965 - NASA Photos

Another AFCRL U-2 atmospheric research project, conducted in 1961, in support of the Dudley (space) Observatory (in up-state New York) flew space particle sampling missions for the collection of "micrometeorites" at high-altitudes. The AFCRL U-2 were equipped with collection scoops, similar to the HASP program, that pushed air through very fine mesh filter materials to collect microscopic meteorites that constantly penetrate the earths atmosphere.

Between 1962-1967, AFCRL used a specially equipped U-2 aircraft to verify the heights of cloud tops during the development of the US Weather Bureau's WSR-57 Weather Radar Network. The U-2s verified the heights of clouds relative to the heights being reported by the prototype radar units.

This type of proof-of-concept verification still goes on today with NASA ER-2 and NOAA aircraft verifying data provided by space-based satellites.

Also during this period (1964-66) the Jet Stream Cirrus (Cloud) Research Project was conducted by the AFCRL in support of Sandia Labs. The AFCRL controlled U-2 aircraft investigated the radiative characteristics of high-altitude jet stream Cirrus clouds.

In this project, a research U-2 was equipped with three different airborne thermal radiation thermometers or "Radiometers" and a Rosemont temperature probe. The aircraft was also equipped with various reconnaissance-type camera systems.

The U-2 flew above, in and below Cirrus cloud formations to take thermal temperature measurements and aerial cloud formation photographs.

Between April 1964 and Feb 1966, 23 U-2 Jet Stream Cirrus cloud flights were conducted at altitudes over 65,000 feet.

Micrometeorite Collected by Research U-2 - Flown in conjunction with the Dudley (space) Observatory, an AFCRL controlled research U-2 collected micrometeorites on high-altitude atmospheric sampling flights in support of the Observatory's space research - NASA Photos

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