U-2 in flight

(U.S. Air Force photograph)

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

The 1960s

The U-2: Development and Shootdown

Introduction and Table of Contents 

Introduction

On 1 May 1960, an American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over Sverdlovsk, USSR. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured, tried, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. On 10 February 1962, Powers was exchanged for Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel.

The ill-fated flight took place 15 days before a scheduled summit meeting of major world leaders in Paris. The conference collapsed when U.S. President Eisenhower failed to accede to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's demand for an apology. However, U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union were ended.

Often lost in the back-and-forth discussion of whether this particular overflight (or overflights in general) should have been authorized is the fact that, from its first flight over the USSR on 4 July 1956 to the final foray, the U-2 produced unique and invaluable strategic intelligence for the United States on the Soviet military forces and nuclear programs.

In a ceremony at Beale Air Force Base, California, on 1 May 2000, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the National Defence Medal, and the Prisoner of War Medal. Ben Macintyre, "U2 Spy Pilot Is a Hero at Last," Times (London), 3 May 2000.

Materials on the U-2:

The materials included here cover both the development of the U-2 in the 1950s (an extraordinary story in itself) and the shootdown over the Soviet Union on 1 May 1960 (and aftermath).

A - L

M - Z

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