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.