1 May 1960: Near Degtyansk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, a Central Intelligence Agency/Lockheed U-2C, 56-6693, “Article 360,” flying at approximately 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) on a Top Secret reconnaissance mission, was hit by shrapnel from an exploding Soviet S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile.
With his airplane damaged and out of control, pilot Francis Gary Powers bailed out and parachuted safely but was immediately captured. A trailing MiG-19 fighter was also shot down by the salvo of anti-aircraft missiles, and its pilot killed.
Gary Powers was interrogated by the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union, a military intelligence/counterintelligence service) for 62 days, then prosecuted for espionage and imprisoned at the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and seven years of hard labor.
After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer who had been captured in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the recent motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]
Francis Gary Powers entered the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1950. He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1952. Powers was then assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, where he flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber. He received special training in the delivery of the Mark 7 variable-yield tactical nuclear bomb.
In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.
After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.
Powers was killed in the crash of a Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter at Van Nuys, California, 1 August 1977.
On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.”
After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War medal was also authorized.
On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).
Article 360 had been built as a U-2A, the last aircraft of the initial production block. It was delivered to Groom Lake, Nevada, 5 November 1956, and was used for test and development until May 1959, when it was converted to the U-2C configuration.
The Lockheed U-2C was a very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force. It was 49 feet, 7 inches (15.113 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet, 2 inches (24.435 meters) and height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). Its empty weight was 14,250 pounds (6,464 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,150 pounds (10,954 kilograms).
The U-2C was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B turbojet engine rated at 17,000 pounds of thrust (75.62 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. Two-spool axial-flow turbojet with 15-stage compressor (8 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine (1 high- and two low-pressure stages).
The U-2C’s cruise speed was 400 knots (460 miles per hour, 741 kilometers per hour) at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) and its maximum speed was 0.87 Mach at 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), though the airplane was placarded for 0.80 Mach, maximum. The maximum range was 4,600 nautical miles (8,519 kilometers). It could operate ceiling at 76,000 feet (23,165 meters)
The S-75 Dvina (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) is a two-stage ground-controlled anti-aircraft missile. It is 10.60 meters (34 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 0.7 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) in diameter. It is liquid-fueled and has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and range of 24 kilometers (15 miles). It has a 200 kilogram (441 pound) fragmentation warhead. The loaded weight is 2,300 kilograms (5,071 pounds).
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby