The High Flying Heart of the U-2 Dragon Lady

The High Flying Heart of the U-2 Dragon Lady

The official U.S. Air Force name for the U-2 is Dragon Lady, and as the program nears its 60th anniversary this fall, one question keeps coming up: “What continues to make the U-2 program successful?”

Some answers are obvious: the open architecture and modular payload capability, which allow commanders to readily tailor sensors to the mission in the field; the ability to engage in a rapid climb to 70,000 feet; and, the unmatched reliability and performance of the U-2, which has an average 97 percent mission success rate.

But, what else contributes to the Dragon Lady’s success? Heart.

Outstanding athletes are often remembered for playing with heart, but heart is not for athletes alone, as the many people supporting the U-2 Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) can attest.

“As the maintainers of the U-2, these ‘Dragon Keepers’ simply emanate heart,” said Melani Austin, director, U-2 Program. “They take great pride in their work, and it is this pride, this dedication and heart that ensures each U-2 coming out of PDM is 100 percent ready to support our pilots and service men and women in the field.”

Dragon Keepers: In Their Words

Should one ever have the opportunity to speak with a U-2 Dragon Keeper, their personal drive to continue to make the U-2 the most capable and reliable high-altitude ISR platform –manned or unmanned– is apparent. Their focus is to bring our pilots home and keep our service men and women on the ground safe.


“We put effort into getting the U-2 ready because of the good it does for our country and for the people putting their lives on the line,” said Paul G., team lead. “When we hear the U-2 taking off, we know we did something good.”

“There’s great pride in workmanship, and I’ll never do anything short of what I’m capable of doing to support the best product possible,” said Jerry J., structural mechanic. “I’m not just a mechanic. I’m a valued part of my country.”

“It means a lot to support our service men and women,” said Chris. W., team lead. “The type of support the U-2 gives to troops and the type of security it gives our country… it feels good to be a part of it.”

“The U-2 is like a shy wallflower to me,” said Randy G., instrumentation technician. “But the job it does is unbelievable. It saves our troops, and there’s a lot of pride in that… a lot of pride.”

“My number one priority is to deliver the very best product I can to those in the field working 24/7,” said Gil M., flight test operations. “A lot of heart goes into PDM, and I’m proud to work on this aircraft.”

“What we do is important,” said Frank G., wings lead. “Everything we do impacts what happens out on the field. To help bring our pilots home to their family and to make a difference for the country that gave me everything? I’m in.”

“As a flight test engineer, I can use my prior U-2 field experience to provide input on how to best support service men and women,” said Andrew D. “What the U-2 does and how it saves lives by getting information where it’s needed is why I do this job.”

Dragon Keepers Up Close: Cas and Rich

Many Dragon Keepers have worked on the U-2 for decades, and many have also served our nation in the armed forces. Meet Mike “Cas” C. and Rich B., who served in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, respectively.


A career maintainer with the U.S. Air Force, Cas has been to just about every place the U-2 is assigned, and knows firsthand the positive impact the U-2 has on service men and women in the field. Now, with one year under his belt as the PDM flight operations manager, it’s Cas’ service perspective that helps him get the job done.

“Knowing why the U-2 is important made choosing to work on the aircraft an easy choice,” said Cas. “I love coming to work. It’s almost like still serving but on a different level. When the U-2 takes off, a part of me is taking off, too. There’s a lot of pride in that.”


Rich first saw a U-2 take off in Burbank, California, while in junior high school. His mother and father both worked for (and retired from) Lockheed Martin, and yet, he never imagined he would one day work on the aircraft. It’s only fitting that Rich is now retiring from the U-2 PDM line as an electrical flight test supervisor after 48 years with Lockheed Martin.

“One reason why I have put in nearly 49 years is because of what it means to support our troops,” said Rich. “Saving soldiers’ lives on the ground? That’s why we’re here.”

Through its dynamic U-2 communications architecture, the U-2 can provide vital intelligence to troops within minutes of collection, allowing them to react swiftly to threats and prevent catastrophic incidents. The U-2 also engages in tactical engagements around search and rescue and emergent activity.

Dragon Keepers support the safety of service men and women worldwide by consistently delivering a quality aircraft. It’s Dragon Keeper heart that helps maintain the U-2 as the newest generation of an American icon.

July 6, 2015


The U-2 program is celebrating 60 years of operational excellence. Learn more about the different faces of the U-2.