Project Whale Tail: U-2 Carrier Operations

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Colville McFee
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing

After stopping U-2 flights over the Soviet Union in May 1960, the Intelligence Community looked for new ways to use this unique reconnaissance asset. One idea was to modify the U-2 to fly from US Navy aircraft carriers​.

In 1963, the idea was raised with U-2 designer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed. Johnson made certain design modifications to the airframe and the first test  codenamed Project Whale Tale, occurred on 3 August 1963 off the coast of San Diego. The modified U-2 lifted off from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk without catapult assistance or incident, but its landing was a different matter. The expected “bounce” when the aircraft hit the carrier deck damaged a wing.