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.
1960 the U-2 was at the center of international
politics. CIA civilian pilot Francis Gary Powers was
shot down over the USSR while photographing missile
sites at Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk. The Soviets reportedly
fired fourteen newly developed SA-2 surface-to-air
missiles at his U-2.
Though none hit Powers' aircraft, 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 fragile aircraft. In the engagement, the Soviets
also accidentally shot down one of their own MiG-19
fighters, killing its pilot. Powers bailed out of his
stricken U-2 and was captured.
conducted a show trial and sentenced Powers to 10 years
in prison for espionage, but the United States and the
Soviets exchanged him for a Soviet intelligence agent in
1962. After the Powers incident, the U.S. suspended U-2
flights over the USSR.
On the world political stage, a U.S.-Soviet arms control
summit planned for 1960 collapsed due to the Powers
incident. The event contributed to growing mistrust
between East and West, and this wariness nearly resulted
in war during the Cuban Missile Crisis two years later.
more than 50 years, Lockheed Martin's U-2 has played a
vital role in American strategic intelligence. The
unique high-flying reconnaissance jet was designed early
in the Cold War to overfly and photograph military
activities in the Soviet Union and other communist
nations. The U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady" after a comic
strip character of the 1930s, has been used by the U.S.
Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency and the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration.