Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident

Powers on trial from Cold War Museum




The U-2 airplane was developed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson at the Lockheed "Skunk Works" in Burbank starting Dec. 1, 1954. Project Staff was budgeted at $35 million to develop 30 planes and sophisticated cameras developed by Edwin Land. Johnson's old boss Jimmy Doolittle at the Shell Oil Co. provided a special fuel that would not boil off at high altitudes, called "Kelly's Lighter Fluid No. 1." Johnson built the first U-2 plane in 88 days and the first U-2 test flight took place Aug. 6, 1955. In May 1956 the U-2 air wing of 4 planes and 6 civilian pilots was established by the CIA with Turkey providing an air base at Adana. The first U-2 flight over Russia from Adana to Bodo, Norway, a distance of 3788 miles at 80,000 feet, took place in June 1956 and was detected by Russian radar. The Russian spy Selmer Nielsen at the Bodo air base gave the Russians the time and routes of the U-2 flights. In the "Spirit of Camp David" Eisenhower had halted the U-2 flights in September 1959 but they were resumed April 9, 1960, to prepare for the Paris Summit Conference planned for May 1960. The U-2 flight of Gary Powers was shot down May 1 by a SAM-2 missle. Eisenhower leaned that Powers was alive May 7, and Khrushchev displayed the recovered parts of his U-2 plane Moscow on May 11. Eisenhower departed for Paris May 14 for the summit conference. On May 15 Khrushchev made a threat against U-2 bases and the U.S. went on DefCon 3 alert. On May 16, Khrushchev canceled Ike's Moscow visit and walked out of the Paris summit. On Aug. 19, Powers made his confession during his trial that he was "deeply repentant and profoundly sorry" for his actions. He was jailed in Russia until exchanged for Rudolf Abel in Feb. 1962. The U-2 production at Skunk Works was shut down in 1969 but was revived in 1978 to produce the updated TR-1 model.


revised 12/20/00 by Schoenherr