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Repurposed Cold War spy plane flies over eastern Massachusetts doing weather observations

Alex Jafarzadeh noticed an unusual plane, identified as a U2, flying over eastern Massachusetts this morning and wondered:

Surely the point of a U2 spy plane is negated if I can find it flying over the Cape on flightradar24?

Flightradar24 responded that's a "highly modified U-2" used by NASA for weather observations during intense or large storms. In particular, NASA is currently studying large winter storms, like the one currently dumping various types of precipitation on us:

The multi-year Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Storms (IMPACTS) mission is the first comprehensive study of snowstorms across the Eastern United States in nearly 30 years. The science team includes researchers from NASA, several universities, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Aside from lending their name to an Irish rock group, U-2s are most famous for their role in the CIA's surveillance of the then Soviet Union. They were designed to fly higher than Soviet air-defense systems could reach, but the CIA was wrong about that.

NASA has redubbed its planes ER-2s. It flies over storms while a second, propeller-driven plane, flies right into the storm.

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Comments

Stiff Little Fingers? I don't get it.

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I guess they built them well back then.
And maintained them due to their special purpose. That is a long service life for an aircraft. Our Germans WERE better than their Germans!

And our manufacturers and service personnel too?

Spying targets rejiggered for this one, anyway.

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Sorry, Freida. Kelly Johnson was not one of our Nazi immigrants.

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B-52 bombers have been around just slightly longer.

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The B-52 was last produced in 1962, with several major upgrades made to existing aircraft in their lifetimes. So the "youngest" B-52 in the air today came off the assembly line in 1962, and some of the fleet is expected to remain in service into the 2050's.

The U-2 was produced through 1989 and while I'm not 100% certain, I'm lead to believe that the two NASA U-2s (or the "ER-2") were purpose built for NASA after they had been borrowing a couple of U-2s for the work.

The aircraft up this way today was acquired by NASA in 1989, so it may be one of the last ones produced.

Anyways, the U-2. B-52, KC-135 and C-130 are all active service 1950's creations. The only equipment I can think of that's older than that still in regular military service is the M-2 Browning machine gun (1933) and the M1911 pistol (1911).

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And the bayonet.

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The current US Army bayonet was first issued in 1986.

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The photo in the tweet shows a U2, but the flight track image seems to be in the shape of an SR71 Blackbird, am I seeing that right? (Both super cool planes!)

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Fun fact: the SR71 was supposed to be RS71 but President Johnson said it wrong when he announced it, so they renamed the plane to keep him from looking bad. The name is a practically a Meninoism.

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USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaissance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the July speech, LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read "SR-71" instead of "RS-71". The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the story that the president had misread the aircraft's designation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_SR-71_Blackbird#SR-71

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You aren't seeing that right. The plane NE of Provincetown in the screenshot has canards, which none of the A-12, YF-12 or SR-71 has/had. The plane ENE of Gloucester in the screenshot is a fairly plausible match for a U-2/ER-2.

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OHHHHH WHERE THE STREEEETTS HAVE NOOOOO NAMEEEE

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i remember a time when EVERYONE knew when U2 was in town.

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Magoo has a rock band called Too Magoo For Yoo. Too Magoo For Yoo features such original hits as Will Yoo Rock With Magoo, Doo Magoo and Magoo will Doo Yoo, and SuperDooper Magoo. Magoo.

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But still used for existential threat surveillance.

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“Do you know how many time zones there are in the Soviet Union?"

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and the number 2.

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Who knew? :)

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