There are some companies that use decommissioned military aircraft for commercial high-altitude flights (for, say, tourists). Examples would be the MiG-31 and the MiG-29:

Why isn't the Lockheed U-2 used for such flights? Here is a two-seat version of the U-2:

enter image description here

( Image source )

Is the U-2 still secret? Or is it expensive to build?

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    $\begingroup$ it's nearly entirely titanium... also what commercial purposes would you envision? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ It would cost more than likely anyone is likely to pay. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak: Titanium? Aren't you confusing it with that other Skunk Works reconnaissance plane? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent! Thank your for sourcing your image. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


It is expensive to operate, and there is no economic value in what it does.

Apart from reconnaissance and espionage, the U-2 is used for high-altitude atmospheric research, but since it is operated by NASA and man-carrying, it is subject to an immense bureaucracy. When you want to fly your own scientific instrument on it, you need to go through years of certification procedures. The instruments which are rated to fly on the U-2 are ancient and much less precise than what can be built today. Therefore, most high altitude research is done by balloons, where the bureaucracy is much less suffocating.

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    $\begingroup$ @user3624251: Except for the view and the custom-fit suit, there is not much spaceflight feeling in operating the U-2. No weightlessness, no fiery reentry, but much boredom. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @user3624251 It was used for a "tourist" at least once - Adam Savage of Mythbusters got to take a joy ride on a U2. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @T.J.L. I'm aware of two instances of people riding shotgun in a U-2 for television: James May for a BBC special and Adam Savage, for an episode of Mythbusters. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomasOwens James May, too, huh? I'm not surprised. I'll have to try to dig that up. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ I don't necessarily agree with "instruments which are rated to fly on the U-2 are ancient and much less precise than what can be built today". I don't know what payloads NASA flies on their U-2, but the USAF payloads are quite modern. In fact, their payloads are still being upgraded on a regular basis. Some are more incremental, but they are by no means ancient. From what I've seen, it's much easier to get new payloads and technology onto a government or military aircraft than a commercial aircraft, in terms of certification. Just from what I see on a day-to-day basis. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:49

Because the owners of the U-2s (the USAF and NASA) don't make them available for commercial use. Presumably, the U-2s on display in Norway and the UK and the US aren't operable and were supplied on the condition that they wouldn't be operated.


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