NPR logo At The Helm Of The U-2 Spy Plane

At The Helm Of The U-2 Spy Plane

With all the news these days about drones and robots in war, I nearly forgot that the United States continues to field the U-2 spy plane. Cholene Espinoza used to fly the "Dragon Lady" and wrote a revealing piece last week in the New York Times on the importance, and the incredible difficulty, of including the spy plane in the U.S. arsenal.

The U-2 is nicknamed the Dragon Lady for good reason. You never knew what to expect when you took it into the air, no matter how seasoned a pilot you were.... Getting the plane up and down was not the only challenge. Staying airborne - and alert - for countless hours, looking at nothing but sky, was another. I learned the hard way, for example, that you can get diaper rash from Gatorade.

Espinoza believes that the Air Force is getting close to finally retiring the U-2. And she argues that will be a tremendous loss.

The new generation of drones have their merits. But flying robots, no matter how advanced, can't measure up to the courage and commitment of a pilot who is risking her life for the sake of the mission.

NPR thanks our sponsors