Francis Gary Powers

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Francis Gary Powers (August 17, 1929 – August 1, 1977) was an American pilot whose CIA[1] U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace, causing the 1960 U-2 incident.


Early life

Powers was born in Jenkins, Kentucky, to Oliver and Ida Powers. He grew up in Pound, Virginia, just across the state border. Graduating from Milligan College in Milligan College, Tennessee, in 1950, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. After completing his training, Powers was assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, as an F-84 Thunderjet pilot. According to his son, he did not fly combat missions during the Korean War, because he was recruited by the CIA for his outstanding record in single engine jet aircraft.[2] By 1960, Powers was already a veteran of many covert aerial reconnaissance missions.

The U-2 Incident

Powers was discharged from the Air Force in 1956 with the rank of captain. He then joined the CIA's U-2 program. U-2 pilots flew espionage missions using an aircraft that could reach altitudes above 70,000 feet, making it invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons of the time. The U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera designed to take high-resolution photos from the edge of the stratosphere over hostile countries, including the Soviet Union. U-2 missions systematically photographed military installations and other important sites.

Soviet intelligence, especially the KGB, had been aware of U-2 missions since 1956, but lacked the ability to launch counter-measures until 1960. Powers’ U-2, which departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan [2] and may have received support from the US Air Station at Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Surface to Air) missile[3] on May 1, 1960, over Sverdlovsk. Powers was unable to activate the plane's self-destruct mechanism before he parachuted to the ground and was captured.

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