Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers bigraphy, stories - American pilot

Francis Gary Powers : biography

August 17, 1929 – August 1, 1977

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


Powers received the CIA’s Intelligence Star in 1965 after his return from the Soviet Union. Powers was originally scheduled to receive it in 1963 along with other pilots involved in the CIA’s U-2 program, but the award was postponed for political reasons.

In 1998, newly declassified information revealed that Powers’ mission had been a joint USAF/CIA operation. In 2000, on the 40th anniversary of the U-2 Incident, his family was presented his posthumously awarded Prisoner of War Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and National Defense Service Medal. In addition, CIA Director George Tenet authorized Powers to posthumously receive the CIA’s coveted Director’s Medal for extreme fidelity and extraordinary courage in the line of duty.

On June 15, 2012, Powers was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for "demonstrating ‘exceptional loyalty’ while enduring harsh interrogation in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow for almost two years." Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presented the decoration to Powers’ grandchildren, Trey Powers, 9, and Lindsey Berry, 29, in a Pentagon ceremony.

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 at the civilian grade of GS-12. 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 they lacked effective counter-measures until 1960. Powers’ U-2, which departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan and may have received support from the US Air Station at Badaber (Peshawar Air Station), was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Surface to Air) missile on May 1, 1960, over Sverdlovsk. Mayak, the site of the 1957 Kyshtym disaster, was a goal of this mission. Powers was unable to activate the plane’s self-destruct mechanism before he parachuted to the ground and was captured.

Powers’ U-2 plane was hit by the first S-75 missile fired. A total of eight were launched;"Таким образом, всего по Lockheed U-2 и двум МиГ было выпущено семь ракет. Еще одну (восьмую) ракету выпустил зенитный ракетный дивизион соседнего полка под командованием полковника Ф. Савинова." one missile hit a MiG-19 jet fighter sent to intercept the U-2, but could not reach a high enough altitude. The Soviet pilot, Sergey Safronov, crashed his plane in an unpopulated forest area rather than bail out and risk his plane crashing into nearby Degtyarsk. Another Soviet aircraft, a newly manufactured Su-9 in transit flight, also attempted to intercept Powers’ U-2. The unarmed Su-9 was directed to ram the U-2. The pilot attempted but missed because of the large differences in speed. Powers claimed, as recounted in "The Skunk Works", that upon ejecting he saw the parachute of another pilot deploy behind him.

When the U.S. government learned of Powers’ disappearance over the Soviet Union, they issued a cover statement claiming a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment." What CIA officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in espionage. The incident set back talks between Khrushchev and Eisenhower. On August 17, 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage against the Soviet Union and was sentenced to a total of ten years, three years in imprisonment followed by seven years of hard labor. He was held in Vladimir Central Prison, 100 miles east of Moscow. The prison contains a small museum with an exhibit on Powers, who allegedly developed a good rapport with Russian prisoners there. Some pieces of the plane and Gary Powers’ uniform are on display at the Monino Airbase museum, close to Moscow.