Yesterday’s Air Force: The U-2, Gary Powers incident

  • Published
  • Air Force TV

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- As the dust settled after World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union emerged as competing superpowers. The former wartime allies found themselves locked in a struggle that came to be known as the Cold War.

Still shrouded in secrecy over 35 years after its creation, the Lockheed U-2 was originally designed as a strategic reconnaissance aircraft, playing a crucial role during the tense years of the Cold War.

During an intelligence-gathering mission, flown by Capt. Francis Gary Powers, over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, the Soviets fired surface-to-air missiles at his U-2. Though none hit Powers' aircraft directly, one of the missiles -- at the extreme limit of its range and radar tracking ability -- exploded behind the U-2, and the shock damaged the aircraft.

Powers bailed out of his stricken U-2, and soon found himself in a Moscow prison where he was interrogated for 107 days and eventually spent 21 months locked up.

Yesterday's Air Force is a history and heritage featurette series that airs every other week, profiling significant people and missions from the Air Force's past.