Shot Down U-2 Pilot
Francis Gary Powers To Be Awarded The Silver Star
By Mike Mitchell
December 19, 2011 - The United Stats Air Force will
award the Silver Star, posthumously to Francis Gary
Powers for valor in the face of the enemy when his U-2
spy plane was shot down on May 1, 1960, while flying a
reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace.
Powers’ son, Francis Gary Powers Jr. had made a request
to the Air Force that his father be considered for the
medal. This week the Air Force confirmed to Powers’ son
that the medal would be awarded to his father. “It is
vindication of my father 50 years afterwards. Dad is one
of our American heroes.”
The United States government at first denied the U-2 spy
plane's purpose and mission, but then was forced to
admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft when
the Soviet government produced its intact remains and
surviving pilot, as well as photos of military bases in
Russia taken by Powers.
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.
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. He was awarded the CIA's Intelligence Star
in 1963 after his return from the Soviet Union.
served in the United States Air Force. He then joined the CIA's
U-2 program. 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
intelligence, especially the KGB, had been aware of U-2 missions since
1956, but lacked the ability to launch counter-measures until 1960.
Powers’ U-2, which departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, was
shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Surface to Air) 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
had been hit by the first S-75 missile fired. A total of 3 had been
launched; one missile hit a MiG-19 jet fighter sent to intercept the
U-2, but which was unable to 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, it is recounted in "The
Skunk Works", that upon ejecting he saw the parachute of another pilot
deploy behind him.
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.
On February 10,
1962, Powers was exchanged along with American student Frederic Pryor in
a well publicized spy swap for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher (aka
Rudolf Abel), a Soviet colonel who was caught by the FBI and put in jail
for espionage, at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, Germany.
debriefed extensively by the CIA, Lockheed, and the Air Force, on March
6, 1962, Powers appeared before a Senate Armed Services Select Committee
hearing chaired by Senator Richard Russell and including Senators
Prescott Bush and Barry Goldwater Sr. It was determined that Powers had
followed orders, had not divulged any critical information to the
Soviets, and had conducted himself “as a fine young man under dangerous
Powers worked for
Lockheed as a test pilot from 1963 to 1970. In 1970, he co-wrote a book
called Operation Overflight, a memoir of the U-2 Incident. It is rumored
that this led to his termination from Lockheed due to negative publicity
for the CIA from the book. Powers became an airborne traffic reporter
for radio station KGIL Los Angeles. He was then hired by television
station KNBC to pilot their new "telecopter", a helicopter equipped with
externally mounted 360 degree cameras. The telecopter wasn't new it had
been in service for years, and was purchased from KTLA, Channel 5. Prior
to this time Powers' experience was with fixed wing aircraft.
In 2010, CIA documents were released indicating that "top US officials never believed Powers’ account of his fateful flight because it appeared to be directly contradicted by a report from the National Security Agency, the clandestine US network of codebreakers and listening posts. The NSA report remains classified, possibly to spare the blushes of its authors. For it is now possible to piece together what really happened high over Sverdlovsk on May 1, 1960, and to understand why America’s most secretive intelligence agency got it so wrong".
According to the
article cited, the still classified NSA report is incorrect based on the
CIA documents that were declassified which show that Powers' account of
being shot down at altitude was accurate.
|blog comments powered by Disqus|
|©AvStop Online Magazine Contact Us Return To News|