Thursday, August 17, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: August 17, 1929 - Francis Gary Powers

Powers wearing special
pressure suit for stratospheric flying, 1960

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Accessed August 3, 2016) -
Francis Gary Powers (17 August 1929 – 1 August 1977) – often referred to as simply Gary Powers – was an American pilot whose Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)[1] U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission in Soviet Union airspace, causing the 1960 U-2 incident.

Early life
Powers was born August 17, 1929, in either Jenkins, Kentucky, or Burdine, Kentucky, the son of Oliver Winfield Powers (1904–1970), a coal miner, and his wife Ida Melinda Powers (née Ford; 1905–1991).[2] His family eventually moved to Pound, Virginia, just across the state border. He was the second born and only male of six children. His family lived in a mining town, and because of the hardships associated with the life in such a town, his father wanted Powers to become a doctor. He hoped his son would achieve the higher earnings of such a profession and felt the life of a doctor would involve less hardship than any job in his hometown.[3]

Education and service
Graduating from Milligan College in Tennessee in June 1950, he enlisted in the Air Force in October. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force in December 1952 after completing his advanced training with USAF Pilot Training Class 52-H[4] at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. Powers was then assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, as an F-84 Thunderjet pilot. In January 1956 he was recruited by the CIA. He married Barbara Gay Moore in April 1956. In May 1956 he began U-2 training at Watertown Strip. His training was complete by August 1956 and his unit, the Second Weather Observational Squadron (Provisional) or Detachment 10-10, was deployed to Incirlik Air Base, in Turkey. By 1960, Powers was already a veteran of many covert aerial reconnaissance missions.[3]:6–9,14–15,24,50–51,55–56,95

A Soviet photograph of Powers while he was in Soviet custody

Wooden U-2 model – one of two used by Powers when he testified to the Senate Committee. The wings and tail are detached to demonstrate the aircraft's breakup upon impact.

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 at altitudes above 70,000 feet (21 km),[5][6][7] above the reach of Soviet air defenses.[8] The U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera[8] 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.[3]:41

"The primary mission of the U-2s was overflying Russia. The border surveillance and atomic sampling, though vital, were secondary." Additionally, the U-2 flew "special missions". "If there was a trouble spot in the Middle East, the U-2s observed it." Beginning on 27 September 1956 and continuing until 1960, "the United States was spying not only on most of the countries in the Middle East but also on her own allies." These included France, Great Britain, and Israel during the Suez Crisis.[3]:260–263

Soviet intelligence had been aware of encroaching U-2 flights at least since 1958, if not sooner, after they started in 1956.[3]:47,59 but lacked effective countermeasures until 1960.[9] On 1 May 1960, Powers' U-2 departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan[3]:53 with support from the U.S. Air Station at Badaber (Peshawar Air Station).

This was to be the first attempt "to fly all the way across the Soviet Union...but it was considered worth the gamble. The planned route would take us deeper into Russia than we had ever gone, while traversing important targets never before photographed."[3]:53–54 He was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile[10] over Sverdlovsk. "What was left of the plane began spinning, only upside down, the nose pointing upward toward the sky, the tail down toward the ground." Powers was unable to activate the plane's self-destruct mechanism before he was thrown out of the plane after releasing the canopy and his seat belt. While descending under his parachute, Powers had time to scatter his escape map, and rid himself of the US dollar coin, keeping the poison pin. "Yet I was still hopeful of escape." He hit the ground hard, was immediately captured, and taken to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.[3]:61–63,67–71,76

Powers' U-2 plane was hit by the first missile fired. A total of eight were launched,[11] one of which hit a MiG-19 jet fighter which was sent to intercept the U-2 but could not reach a high enough altitude. Its pilot, Sergei Safronov, ejected but died of his injuries. 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 but missed because of the large differences in speed (the Su-9 flew above Mach 1.1, while the U-2 flew at approximately Mach 0.6).

Powers did note a second chute after landing on the ground, "some distance away and very high, a lone red and white parachute".[3]:69,148–149,274,278[12]:159–160

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.[13]

Powers tried to limit the information he shared with the KGB to that which could be determined from the remains of his plane's wreckage. He was hampered by information appearing in the western press. A KGB major stated "there's no reason for you to withhold information. We'll find it out anyway. Your press will give it to us." However, he limited his divulging of CIA contacts to one individual, with a pseudonym of "Collins". At the same time, he repeatedly stated the maximum altitude for the U-2 was 68,000 feet (21 km), significantly lower than its actual flight ceiling.[3]:xii,78,91,128,135,137,139,145,165–166,256

The incident set back talks between Khrushchev and Eisenhower. Powers' interrogations ended on 30 June, and his solitary confinement on 9 July. On 17 August 1960, his trial for espionage began before the military division of the Supreme Court of the USSR. Three generals, Lieutenant General Borisoglebsky, Major General Vorobyev, and Major General Zakharov presided. Roman Rudenko acted as prosecutor in his capacity of Procurator General of the Soviet Union. Mikhail I. Grinev served as Powers' defense counsel. In attendance were Gary's parents and sister, plus Barbara and her mother. Gary's father brought along his local attorney, Carl McAfee, while the CIA provided two additional attorneys.[3]:110,114,119,120,142–143,148,157–158,162,188,220

On 19 August 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage, "a grave crime covered by Article 2 of the Soviet Union's law 'On Criminality Responsibility for State Crimes'". His sentence consisted of ten years confinement, three of which in a prison, the remainder in a labor camp. The US Embassy "News Bulletin" stated, according to Powers, "as far as the government was concerned, I had acted in accordance with the instructions given me and would receive my full salary while imprisoned".[3]:157–161

He was held in Vladimir Central Prison, about 150 miles (240 km) east of Moscow, in building number 2 from 9 September 1960 until 8 February 1962. His cell mate was Zigurd Kruminsh, a Latvian political prisoner. Gary kept a diary and a journal while confined. Additionally he took up carpet weaving from his cell mate to pass the time. He could send and receive a limited number of letters from his family. However, Gary was distracted by his wife Barbara's drinking and infidelities. In fact, at one time, Barbara was hospitalized and treated by Corbett Thigpen.[3]:167–172,194,222–223,228–232,236,327

The prison now 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 Powers' uniform are on display at the Monino Airbase museum near Moscow.[citation needed]

On 10 February 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicized spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as "Rudolf Abel", who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage.[14] Powers credited his father with the swap idea. When released, Powers' total time in captivity was 1 year, 9 months and 10 days.[3]:237–240

In 2010, CIA documents were released indicating that American officials did not believe Powers' account of the incident at the time, because it was contradicted by a classified National Security Agency (NSA) report which alleged that the U-2 had descended from 65,000 to 34,000 feet (20 to 10 km) before changing course and disappearing from radar. However, newly released declassified CIA documents confirm the accuracy of Powers' report. [clarification needed] The NSA report remains classified.[15]

Powers initially received a cold reception on his return home. He was criticized for having failed to activate his aircraft's self-destruct charge to destroy the camera, photographic film, and related classified parts of his aircraft before his capture. He was also criticized for not using an optional CIA-issued "suicide pill" (later revealed, during CIA testimony to the Church Committee in 1975 to be a coin with shellfish toxin embedded in its grooves) to kill himself.[16]

After being debriefed extensively by the CIA,[17] Lockheed, and the Air Force, a statement was issued stating, "Mr. Powers lived up to the terms of his employment and instructions in connection with his mission and in his obligations as an American." On 6 March 1962, Powers appeared before a Senate Armed Services Select Committee hearing chaired by Senator Richard Russell and including Senators Prescott Bush, Leverett Saltonstall, Robert Byrd, Margaret Chase Smith, John Stennis, Strom Thurmond, and Barry Goldwater Sr. During the hearing, Senator Saltonstall stated, "I commend you as a courageous, fine young American citizen who lived up to your instructions and who did the best you could under very difficult circumstances." While Senator Bush declared, "I am satisfied he has conducted himself in exemplary fashion and in accordance with the highest traditions of service to one's country, and I congratulate him upon his conduct in captivity..." Finally, Senator Goldwater sent Powers a handwritten note stating, "You did a good job for your country."[3]:264,270–280

Kelly Johnson and Francis Gary Powers in front of a U-2

In January 1963, he divorced his wife Barbara. He started a relationship with Claudia Edwards "Sue" Downey, whom he had met while working briefly at CIA Headquarters. They were married on 21 October 1963. Their son Francis Gary Powers, II, was born on 5 June 1965.[3]:287,292–293,323

During a speech in March 1964, CIA Director Allen Dulles said of Powers, "He performed his duty in a very dangerous mission and he performed it well, and I think I know more about that than some of his detractors and critics know, and I am glad to say that to him tonight."[3]:295–296

Powers worked for Lockheed as a test pilot from 1962 to 1970, though the CIA paid his salary. In 1970, he published Operation Overflight. Lockheed fired him, because "the book's publication had ruffled some feathers at Langley." Powers became a helicopter traffic pilot reporter for KNBC News Channel 4. "On August 1, 1977, while conducting a traffic report over Los Angeles, his helicopter crashed, killing him and George Spears, his cameraman."[3]:251,289–290,324

Ben Rich states that Kelly Johnson thought the electronic counter-measure black box installed in the U-2 tail, called Granger, may have acted as a homing device for the Russian missile. The same Granger system was used on Taiwanese U-2s flying over China. "One day three of four U-2s were shot down, and the sole survivor told CIA debriefers that he was amazed to be alive because he forgot to turn on his black box. To Kelly, that clinched the case."[12]

On 1 August 1977, Powers had been covering bush fires in Santa Barbara County in the KNBC helicopter and was heading back from flying over them. As he returned, his Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter, registered N4TV, ran out of fuel and crashed at the Sepulveda Dam recreational area in nearby Encino, several miles short of its intended landing site at Burbank Airport, killing Powers instantly. The National Transportation Safety Board report attributed the probable cause of the crash to pilot error (poor fuel management).[18] According to Powers' son, an aviation mechanic had repaired a faulty fuel gauge without telling Powers, who misread it.[19] At the last moment he noticed children playing in the area, and directed the helicopter elsewhere to avoid landing on them.[18] If not for the last-second deviation, which compromised his autorotative descent, he might have landed safely.[19]

Powers was survived by his wife, two children, Dee and Francis Gary Powers Jr., and five sisters. Powers is buried in Arlington National Cemetery as an Air Force veteran.[18][20]

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 1970, Powers published his first – and only – book review, on a work about aerial reconnaissance, Unarmed and Unafraid by Glenn Infield, in the monthly magazine Business & Commercial Aviation. "The subject has great interest to me," he said, in submitting his review.[21]

In 1998, newly declassified information revealed that Powers's mission had been a joint USAF/CIA operation. In 2000, on the 40th anniversary of the U-2 Incident, his family was presented with 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.[22]

On 15 June 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."[23] Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz presented the decoration to Powers's grandchildren, Trey Powers, 9, and Lindsey Berry, 29, in a Pentagon ceremony.[24][25]

Powers' son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., founded the Cold War Museum in 1996. Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, it was essentially a traveling exhibit until it found a permanent home in 2011 on a former Army communications base outside Washington.[26]

In popular culture
In the 1976 telemovie Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident, Powers was played by Lee Majors.
In 1999, the History Channel aired Mystery of the U2, hosted by Arthur Kent as part of their History Undercover series. The program was produced by Indigo Films.
In the 2015 movie Bridge of Spies, dramatizing the negotiations to repatriate Powers, he is portrayed by Austin Stowell, with Tom Hanks starring as negotiator James Donovan.[27]


1.    "CIA FOIA – Francis Gary Powers: U-2 Spy Pilot Shot Down by the Soviets". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
2.    "Francis Gary Powers (1929 - 1977) - Find A Grave Memorial".
3.    Powers, Francis (2004). Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 3. ISBN 9781574884227.
4.    [1]
5.    "U-2 Specifications". Lockheed Martin. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
6.    "Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady - Development and Operational History, Performance Specifications and Picture Gallery". Retrieved 16 November 2015.
7.    Harper, John. "U-2 Dragon Lady". Retrieved 16 November 2015.
8.    "American U-2 spy plane shot down - May 01, 1960 -". Retrieved 16 November 2015.
9.    Abarinov, Vladimir (30 April 2010). "Fifty Years Later, Gary Powers and U-2 Spy Plane Incident Remembered". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
10. "S-75". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
11. "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." Юрий Кнутов, Олег Фаличев. Бой в небе над Уралом Retrieved 13 January 2012
12. Rich, Ben (1994). Skunk Works. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 162–163. ISBN 0316743305.
13. "This Day in History — — What Happened Today in History". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
14. Famous Cases: Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case). Federal Bureau of Investigation.
15. "CIA documents show US never believed Gary Powers was shot down". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
16. "The 1962 Spy Exchange of Powers for Abel". Francis Gary Powers, Jr. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
17. "Report of the board of inquiry into the case of francis gary powers (sanitized copy)" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 27 February 1962. p. 1. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
18. "The Francis Gary Powers Helicopter Crash". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
19. "Powers Helicopter Crash". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
20. Michael Robert Patterson. "Francis Gary Powers, Captain, United States Air Force". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
21. Letter to G. Haber, Managing Editor, Business & Commercial Aviation
22. Traitor or Patriot? Boghardt, Thomas. International Spy Museum. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
23. "Press Advisory: Silver Star to be Posthumously Presented to Capt. Francis Gary Powers". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
24. "U-2 Pilot Gary Powers Receives Silver Star – ABC News". 15 June 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
25. "Cold War pilot Francis Gary Powers to get Silver Star". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
26. "Cold War Museum". Retrieved 13 July 2014.
27. Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg Cold War Thriller Set for Oct. 16, 2015,, access date 5 June 2014
  • Khrushchev, Sergei N. Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower. State College, PA: Penn State Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-271-01927-7.
  • Powers, Francis Gary with Gentry, Curt. Operation Overflight. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1971 (hard cover) ISBN 978-0-340-14823-5. Potomac Book, 2002 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-57488-422-7.
  • West, Nigel. Seven Spies Who Changed the World. London: Secker & Warburg, 1992 (hard cover). London: Mandarin, 1992 (paperback).
  • The Trial of the U2: Exclusive Authorized Account of the Court Proceedings of the Case of Francis Gary Powers, Heard before the Military Division of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R., Moscow, 17 August 18, 19, 1960. Translation World Publishers, Chicago: 1960.
  • Powers, F.G., Gentry, C. (1970) "Operation Overflight – A Memoir of the U-2 Incident"

Selected Sources from UK Libraries: 

Powers, Francis Gary, and Curt Gentry. Operation Overflight : A Memoir of the U-2 Incident. 1st ed. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2004. Print. Aviation Classics Ser.
Young Library Scott/Greenslade Coll 2nd Floor Rotunda (DK266.3 .P64 2004 )

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. Francis Gary Powers Hearings before the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, Eighty-Seventh Congress, Second Session, on Mar. 6, 1962. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1973. Print.
Young Library Periodicals Desk Microfiche (CIS Hrgs MF Gp 3--(87) S1470-14 )

Spielberg, Steven, Marc Platt, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Hanks, Tom Rylance, Mark Ryan, Amy Magnussen, Billy Alda, Alan Stowell, Austin Hewson, Eve Plemons, Jesse Shepherd, Scott Koch, Sebastian Kamiński, Janusz Newman, Thomas Kahn, Michael Maimone, Coen, Joel, Hanks, Tom, Rylance, Mark, Ryan, Amy, Magnussen, Billy, Alda, Alan, Stowell, Austin, Hewson, Eve, Plemons, Jesse, Shepherd, Scott, Koch, Sebastian, Kamiński, Janusz, Newman, Thomas, Kahn, Michael, Maimone, Kasia Walicka, Touchstone Pictures, Production Company, Afterworks, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment , Publisher. Bridge of Spies. 2016. Young Library Closed Media Stacks - Ask at Media Library Desk in B-67 Young Library AV-D10417

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