Hugh Pickens writes "For more than half a century, the CIA and US military have relied on a skinny, sinister-looking black jet, first designed during the Eisenhower administration at Lockheed's famed Skunk Works in Burbank, headed by legendary chief engineer Clarence L. 'Kelly' Johnson, to penetrate deep behind enemy lines for vital intelligence-gathering missions. Although the plane is perhaps best known for being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 with the subsequent capture of pilot Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 continues to play a critical role in national security today, hunting Al Qaeda forces in the Middle East. The fleet of 33 U-2s was supposed to be replaced in the next few years with RQ-4 Global Hawks, but the Pentagon now proposes delaying the U-2's retirement as part of Defense Department cutbacks." (Read on, below.)Hugh Pickens continues: "The Global Hawk drone, costing an estimated cost of $176 million each, has 'priced itself out of the niche (PDF), in terms of taking pictures in the air,' says Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. 'That's a disappointment for us, but that's the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment.' The Pentagon has determined that operating the U-2 will be cheaper for the foreseeable future but it won't disclose how much operating the U-2s will cost for security reasons. 'It's incredible to think that these planes are flying,' says Francis Gary Powers Jr., Powers' son and founder of the Cold War Museum in Warrenton, Va. 'You'd think another spy plane, or satellite or drone would come along by now to replace it.'"
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