Got your eye on a sweet used '59 U-2 spy plane you saw on Craigslist? Would you go ahead and take the plunge if you just, you know, knew how to fly it? Then boy, are you in luck.

That's because a couple days ago an entire flight manual for the U-2 from 1959 was declassified and released by the CIA. You can tell it's declassified because on each page where the word "secret" appears, someone has carefully drawn a line through it. We've got a copy here for you.

The U-2 is, of course, one of the most legendary and well-known aircraft of all time. It was one of the first true purpose-built spy planes, created at the height of the Cold War to fly over the Soviets and snap photos at high enough altitudes to prevent them from finding out or shooting it down. Of course, the U-2 may best be known for the time that both the finding out and shooting down part actually happened in 1960 over the Soviet Union.


Even after the Powers incident, the U-2 kept going, undaunted, and is still in active service to this day. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that today's version is so wildly updated and advanced from the late '50s model described in this guide, and that's one of the reasons this manual was declassified. Still, it's fascinating reading even if it likely won't help much if you find yourself in the cockpit of a brand-new U2.

You'll also need a Camaro help you land, but if you've sourced a U-2 then we're going to assume you're resourceful enough to find a muscle car.


The U-2 itself is, by all accounts, a very tricky plane to fly. To achieve the 70,000 + feet of altitude it flies at, the plane must be very very light. It's designed, in many ways, like a large glider that just happens to have a huge turbojet engine inside. Luckily for you, this manual has all of the warnings, specifics, diagrams, and procedures you'll want to follow to the letter to make sure you get the most out of your U-2 purchase.

For me, the most surprising thing in this manual is the amount of New Yorker-ish cartoons involving a very flexible, anthrpomorphized U-2 plane. They're pretty great, and I love that in planning this very no-nonsense flight manual for a top-secret, wildly expensive plane, some government official made the decision that some little cartoons would really perk this thing up, and had a cartoonist hired, and possibly given security clearance.

Even if you're not just about to purchase a U-2 plane, this still makes for a fascinating read, and is full of great diagrams. Plus, all sorts of engaging details are revealed, like how pilots shouldn't really worry about smoke in the cockpit so much and the mention of a "relief canister" which I think I may implement at my desk for less embarrassing desk-urinating.

There's detailed instructions about how to land the very tricky U-2, which was so light and had such a large wing area it could turn into a sort of ground-effect plane when landing, hovering above the runway on a cushion of air.

Oh, and I should mention this: apparently, all acrobatic maneuvers are prohibited. Sorry.


Utility Flight Hb 1 Mar 1959

(Thanks, Karsten!)