PALMDALE, Calif., April 15 (UPI) -- The Air Force Monday took delivery of the first U-2S to be fitted with new cockpit displays and controls under an upgrade that will eventually be performed on the entire fleet of 31 high-flying spy planes.
Lockheed Martin said it delivered the updated aircraft, to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beal Air Force Base near Sacramento.
Capable of flying great distances and altitudes, the U-2 has been a mainstay of U.S. intelligence gathering since the Cold War and is currently flying reconnaissance missions in support of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
The U-2S is a designation given to aircraft that were fitted with new F-118-101 engines in 1998.
The Reconnaissance Avionics Maintainability Program updates the U-2S cockpit with new instrument displays and other control units that an Air force pilot said replace outdated equipment and "provides improved pilot situational awareness."
"The bottom line in any modernization effort is support to the war fighter," said Lt. Col. Mike Masucci, U-2 Flight Test Commander. "The U-2 pilot now has superior situational awareness and improved survivability. This increases the collection efficiency, which leads directly to more bombs being dropped on target and reduced risk to friendly forces."
The RAMP program is run by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Palmdale and will continue through 2007 at a rate of around six aircraft per year. It takes about six months to upgrade each plane, according to Lockheed.