A Dragon Lady U-2 spy plane flies over the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria airports on July 27.
A Dragon Lady U-2 spy plane flies over the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria airports on July 27. (Ryan Cullom / RLC Photography photo)

Some Santa Barbara County residents caught a rare glimpse of a U-2 spy plane last month. 

A Dragon Lady conducted low passes over the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria airports on July 27, thrilling and intriguing residents curious about the visits.

Observers said the aircraft made a gear-down, low-approach flight at the Santa Barbara Airport.

“The reason for the U-2 flying in the area was for a training sortie,” said Kathryn Miller, a spokeswoman for Beale Air Force Base near Marysville in Yuba City.

Even before the official word, that’s what aviation experts, including Chris Kunkle of the Santa Maria-based Central Coast Jet Center, figured as the reason for the flight. He added that the pilots often train in the area while flying T-38s.

Their training often includes various flight profiles — differing heights and lengths — so pilots can hone their skills and remain qualified to fly the aircraft, Kunkle said.

Whatever the reason, the rare chance to see the spy plane fly was welcomed even by those who spend their time around airports. 

“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria Public Airport.

He saw the end of the flight and then tracked it as it traveled south to Santa Barbara.

The U-2 spy plane is a high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

The single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude/near space aircraft can collect various types of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Its long and narrow wings — the wingspan stretches 105 feet — give the U-2 glider-like characteristics.

The plane is built by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and has unique capabilities and characteristics, including a unique land gear and requirements, according to the Air Force.

Many of those reasons have led to the U-2 spy plane being designated with the title as the most difficult aircraft to fly.

The fleet boasts more than 30 aircraft, including two-seat trainers plus NASA’s two ER-2s, a variant of U-2 used as flying laboratories by the space agency.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.