For the US Air Force, the dominance of drones has been bad news for some of the branch's most iconic aircraft. For the iconic U-2 "Dragon Lady," though, its manufacturer is fighting for the plane's future. Lockheed Martin is pushing the USAF to redevelop a trio of the high-flying jets so that they can be flown without a pilot in the cockpit.

That's not to say the U-2's will be exclusively unmanned aircraft, but rather that the Air Force will have the option flying them either remotely or with an actual human at the controls. The cost of the redevelopment would be $700 million, and would include a pair of ground control stations as well as the modification of three planes. Once that initial phase is completed, Foxtrot Alpha reports, each additional modification would cost $35 to $40 million, with the resulting being a "more reliable, heavier payload lugging, air traffic friendly, higher flying and less expensive to operate" plane than the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, the U-2's biggest challenger.

Both the initial cost and the additional cost are far less than the roughly $10-billion development cost and $131-million unit cost of the Global Hawk. According to Foxtrot Alpha, for the price, Lockheed will add a barrel-like apparatus to the top of the U-2's fuselage (shown above), that would allow the plane to handle both remote and manned flight without compromising the cockpit.

The U-2 program is still far from a sure thing, but considering the degree of promise it offers, we can only hope that there are those in Congress that see the logic and value of redeveloping such an iconic aircraft.

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