Monday, May 15, 2006

MAN MOMENT MACHINE: Shot Down - The U2 Spyplane

In 1960 tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union is on the rise, and the world's two greatest powers seemed on the brink of war.

President Eisenhower proposed the "Open Skies Treaty" to allow mutual aerial reconnaissance, but the USSR rejected it. The U.S. needed information on the Soviet's nuclear capabilities.

Francis Gary Powers, a CIA pilot, was chosen to fly the U2, the greatest spy plane ever built, over the Soviet Union. At 11 miles above the earth's surface, where the sky merges with outer space, Powers felt safe from Soviet missiles and jets

On May 1st, 1960, an American U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over central Russia, forcing Francis Gary Powers, to bail out at 15,000 feet. He survived the parachute jump from his crippled aircraft, but was picked up by the Soviet authorities, who immediately arrested him.

On May 5th, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced the capture of the American spy, and vowed that he would be put on trial. After initial denials, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower admitted on May 7th that the unarmed reconnaissance aircraft was indeed on a spy mission.

In response, Khrushchev cancelled a long-awaited summit meeting in Paris, and in August, Powers was sentenced to ten years in a Soviet prison for his confessed espionage.

However, a year-and-a-half later, on February 10th 1962, the Soviets released him in exchange for Rudolph Abel, a Soviet spy caught and convicted in the United States five years earlier.

Upon returning to the U.S., the CIA and the Senate cleared Powers of any personal blame for the incident.


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