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An Air Force spy plane just flew along the U.S-Mexico border

By: - April 1, 2021 4:42 pm

Lockheed U-2 ‘Dragon Lady’ with a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy in the background. Photo by Jack Snell | Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

One of the U.S. Air Force’s high-altitude spy planes flew a path along the United State’s border with Mexico Thursday. 

The Lockheed U-2 flew along Arizona, New Mexico and California’s border with Mexico after taking off from Beale Air Force Base in California, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing

U-2 spy plane border

The spy plane then proceeded to travel along the border and up the coast of California before heading back to base. A spokesperson with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing said the flight was part of a “standard training sortie” and was not part of a joint operation with external agencies. 

The spy plane then proceeded to travel along the border and up the coast of California before heading back to base. 

The U-2 spy plane was designed in the 1950s so the United States could gather aerial intelligence on the Soviet Union. It flies at the upper reaches of the atmosphere, making it difficult to track by radar. This particular U-2 was originally flown by the CIA during the Cold War. 

The Arizona National Guard often assists border patrol activities, and National Guard helicopters, aircraft and drones can be spotted on flight radar or by planespotters. 

This particular aircraft has only flown two other times in the past year, and only in loops around Beale Air Force Base, according to historical flight data

In the past few months, planespotters have noticed U-2s over California, where they are a more  regular site, with newer configurations. 

One U-2 that flew all across California was spotted with what appeared to be some sort of new panoramic camera system installed in the Q-bay of the aircraft, which is located behind the cockpit and under the fuselage. 

At high altitude, the camera can take photos from horizon to horizon and could map entire areas with relative ease. It is unknown if the U-2 that flew Thursday had any signal intelligence collection devices on-board.

Signals intelligence refers to the collection of information that is transmitted through the airwaves such as radio, wifi or other electronic means. Some planespotters have seen the U-2 in configurations over California that would suggest that they were either training or collecting signals intelligence. 

In December, the Air Force also let an artificial intelligence take full control of a U-2 in what the military said was the first time an A.I. was ever given full permission over military equipment. It’s unclear if this was the same U-2. 

Arizona Republicans have been pushing for increased security at the border as towns like Gila Bend have been declaring a state of emergency while the Border Patrol, following a significant policy change, continues to drop migrant families off in tiny desert towns.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.