The Air Force’s all-weather, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the U-2 Dragon Lady, recently flew Beale Air Force Base’s last optical bar camera mission.
As explained by the 2nd. Lt. Hailey M. Toledo, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs, in the article End of an era: U-2 flies its last OBC mission, the OBC mission, which captures daylight acquisition of high-altitude photography, will move to forward operating locations supported by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. This decision allows the processors to consolidate the films closer to the reconnaissance collection required by the mission.
“This event closes a decades-long chapter for Beale AFB and film processing, and it opens another chapter in the digital world,” said Adam Marigliani, technical support specialist for Collins Aerospace.
Collins Aerospace works alongside Beale AFB’s 9th Intelligence Squadron to upload OBC imagery of U-2 global missions in support of Air Force objectives.
The OBC Mission operated from Beale AFB for nearly 52 years, with the first U-2 OBC deployed from Beale AFB in 1974. Extracted from the SR-71, the OBC was modified and flight tested to take supports the U-2 platform. , replacing the long-standing IRIS sensor. While the 24-inch focal length of the IRIS provided extensive coverage, the 30-inch focal length of the OBC allowed for significantly greater resolution.
“The U-2 retains the capability to fly the OBC mission around the world and, if called upon, to perform in a dynamic force employment capability,” said Lt. Col. James Gaiser, commanding officer. of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron.
The OBC has deployed in support of various missions, including Hurricane Katrina relief, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant incident, as well as Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa .
When operating over Afghanistan, the U-2 took imagery of the entire country every 90 days, and Department of Defense units used OBC imagery to plan operations.
“All U-2 pilots will retain the knowledge and skills necessary to operate the sensor across a variety of mission sets and operating locations to meet the priority intelligence gathering needs of geographic combatant commanders as determined by tasks,” Gaiser said. “With a growing need for more diverse collection requirements, the U-2 program will evolve to maintain combat relevance with a variety of C5ISR-T capabilities and combat air force integration roles.”
The termination of OBC at Beale AFB allows mission units and partners to focus more effort on emerging capabilities, tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as employment concepts directly supporting threat problem sets stimulus to advance the overall mission of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.
The U-2 provides high-altitude, all-weather, day and night surveillance and reconnaissance in direct support of U.S. and allied forces. It provides critical imagery and signal intelligence to decision-makers in all phases of conflict, including indications and warnings during peacetime, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.
The U-2 is capable of collecting a variety of images, including multispectral electro-optical, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products that can be stored or sent to ground operations centers. In addition, it also supports the high-resolution, large-area synoptic coverage provided by the optical bar camera producing traditional cinematic products that are developed and analyzed after landing.
USAF Photo by Second Lieutenant Hailey M. Toledo