Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers must be one of the most famous American pilots from the post World War Two conflict. This man changed the face of reconnaissance forever during the Cold War because of one incident while flying a plane.

Imagine its 1960 and the Cold War is in full flow and then add the fact that you are in a reconnaissance mission that takes you over the Soviet Union and you are then shot down. This is the position Francis Gary Powers found himself in during 1960 as you are about to find out.

Francis Gary Powers Prior to Reconnaissance

Francis Gary Powers was born on August 17th in the year 1929 in the state of Kentucky, although from a young age he actually grew up in the state of Virginia.

At around 20 years of age Powers graduated from Milligan College, found in Tennessee before then moving on to the United States Air Force where he became a second lieutenant in 1950.

After completing training Powers became a fighter jet pilot flying the F-84 Thunderjet, with the Korean War in full flow many thought he would end up fighting in this war theatre but they were wrong.

The CIA saw the potential of this great pilot and commissioned him to fly reconnaissance missions instead.

Francis Gary Powers and Reconnaissance

For years Powers completed many reconnaissance missions but the one that made him famous is the flight in 1960. This flight was a U-2 spy plane flight over the Soviet Union on the 1st May in the year 1960.

While flying over the Soviet Union Powers plane was shot down and he was captured along with the plane remnants by the Soviet Union. The U-2 spy plane fly’s at such a high altitude it took a lot of perseverance by the Soviet Union to manage to bring this bird down and they managed to do this after many attempts by using SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missiles.

The Americans initially denied the reasons for the plane being in Soviet airspace but they didn’t know what the Soviets were about to show. The initial American press release said a pilot was lost north of Turkey and was flying a NASA plane, but this was before the Soviet’s unleashed their secret.

The secret was that the Soviet’s had the captured pilot and the photos taken by the planes camera showing Soviet airbases. This secret was given as a statement by the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Nikita Khrushchev said “I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well… and now just look how many silly things [the US] have said.”

The Outcome of the U-2 Flight

The flight of the U-2 occurred only two weeks prior to the Four Power Paris Summit, a summit where the President of America, Prime Minister of the UK, President of France and Nikita Khrushchev met in Paris. The talks of this summit were to try and develop a better relationship with east and west but it collapsed as soon as it started as the Soviet Union wanted America to apologise for its indiscretion which the Americans declined.

The Soviet Union went to the UN Security Council requesting for the UN to condemn America’s actions and ensure they didn’t happen again, interestingly the bid failed.

Powers went on trial in the Soviet Union and pleaded guilty to the charges, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison followed by 7 years hard labour of which he only served 1 year 9 months as the Americans agreed a prisoner swap with the Soviet Union.

After Returning to the United States

Francis Gary Powers returned to the United States and became a test pilot for Lockheed until 1970 where it is said he lost his job due to a book he wrote entitled Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident.

After leaving Lockheed Powers became a traffic reporter for an LA radio station flying a helicopter complete with camera. This is the job he continued doing until August 1st 1977 where he died on the job as the helicopter he was flying ran out of fuel, Powers was 47 years of age.

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