Photographer Christopher Michel had the chance recently to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel on board a “High Flight” in a U-2 aircraft, 70,000 feet over the Earth. Accompanied by Lt. Colonel Joe “Tucc” Santucci who commanded the aircraft, the former Navy officer and founder of Military.com strapped on his pressure suit to fly in the iconic U-2 aircraft, a former top-secret plane created in 1955 to perform high-altitude surveillance over unfriendly nations, primarily the Soviet Union.

“When I was first offered the opportunity to fly in the U-2, I must admit that I was surprised that they were still flying,” said Michel, who detailed his experience via the U.S Naval Institute.

“A true credit to the vision of Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson, this once-Top Secret aircraft has outlasted even its replacement, the SR-71.  First flown in 1955, the U-2 was designed to perform high-altitude surveillance over unfriendly nations, primarily the former Soviet Union. Operating under the cover story of conducting ‘weather research,” everything about this black CIA program was above Top Secret. The mission characteristics were clear: to be successful, the plane would have to fly high enough to be safe from surface-to-air missiles and enemy aircraft. The aircraft would also have to be able to capture high-resolution imagery of large swaths of territory. Hence, the ‘Utility-2’ was born. Essentially a high-powered glider, the U-2 would fly higher and longer than any aircraft before it.”

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Leading up to the flight, Michel underwent extensive physical tests and lessons, which included “Chamber” training, in which technicians apply pressure to a large steel-reinforced chamber with a U-2 seat, and then simulate a cabin breach. Michel described the initiation in a Flickr blog post.

“They then simulate a cabin breach by bringing the cabin altitude to 70,000 feet in an instant,” said [Michel]. A glass bottle filled with water in the chamber boils, showing you what would happen to your blood if you weren’t in your protective gear. “Quite an experience!”

An in-depth video shares more behind-the-scenes footage of Christopher Michel’s flight.

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