TU-2S Dragon Lady 1078’s Resurrection: Rebirth of the “Silver Dragon”

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Frederick Brown
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

TU-2S Dragon Lady 1078’s silver frame stood out in the sunny blue sky, Feb. 15, as it conducted its first flight in 1,030 days. After almost three years of extensive maintenance in a collaborative effort between the 9th Maintenance Group and Lockheed Martin, aircraft 1078 spread her wings again.

On April 21, 2021, Aircraft 1078 was involved in a flightline accident that left her wing damaged and unable to be moved. Fortunately, no one was hurt, however, aircraft 1078 could not be flown to U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, where Lockheed Martin typically provides Program Depot-level Maintenance (PDM) for these aircraft.

“Since 1078 was stuck at Beale, the decision was made to do the wing repair and all PDM work at Beale instead of Plant 42,” said Maj. Brandon, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) Detachment 4 chief of flight test operations. “A small team of Lockheed Martin technicians and Det 4 personnel operated remotely out of Beale to complete the PDM restoration on 1078”.

AFLCMC is the arm of Air Force Materiel Command responsible for the entire service of life of various Air Force assets, including the U-2 Dragon Lady. Brandon is the deputy at Detachment 4 (Det 4), which is charged with being the government’s on-site representation co-located with Lockheed Martin at Plant 42 to oversee this process for the U-2.

Every seven years, each U-2 is flown to Plant 42 for PDM, refreshing the entire aircraft for another seven years of service. The aircraft is totally disassembled, the engine comes out, the wings come off, parts and components are replaced, the aircraft is reassembled, repainted, test flown by a specially-certified pilot, and finally returned to Beale AFB.

For aircraft 1078, this entire process happened at Beale, short of being painted the U-2’s iconic black paint. That means, for the first time since 2014, a silver U-2 flew before being repainted. After passing a series of tests, aircraft 1078 was allowed to fly to Palmdale for a fresh coat of paint.

“Flight checkouts included a taxi test to evaluate systems prior to a flight, a low functional check flight to conduct safety checks, and a high functional check flight taking the airplane to the limits and ensuring all systems operate normally to check all components,” said Lt. Col. Joshua, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron student flight commander. “Its restoration returns a valuable asset back to the 1st RS allowing access to three two-seat trainers. This provides better aircraft availability to the newest class of U-2 pilots, especially after the retirement of TU-2S 1065 in 2023 and the tragic loss of aircraft 1068 in 2016. Originally, only five TU-2’s were ever built.”

The last test flight was conducted in the high-altitude pressure suit at an altitude in excess of 70,000 feet. After passing all the tests, Brandon took aircraft 1078 on a solo flight to Plant 42 in Palmdale. Aircraft 1078 returned to Beale, March 21st, with a fresh coat of black paint ready for service.