Francis Gary Powers (August 17, 1929 – August 1, 1977) was an American pilot whose CIA U-2 spy plane was shot down while over the Soviet Union, causing the 1960 U-2 incident. He left the Air Force with the rank of captain in 1956, to join the CIA U-2 program. U-2 pilots carried out espionage missions using a spy plane that could reach altitudes above 70,000 feet, essentially making it invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons of the time. Powers was shot down after his engine flamed out and, in an effort to relight it, descended to a lower oxygen-rich altitude, exposing himself to the threat of SAMs as he crossed over Sverdlosk, which was deep in Soviet airspace. Powers was unable to activate the plane's self-destruct mechanism, as instructed, before he parachuted to the ground and into the hands of the KGB. When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance over the Soviet Union, it issued a cover statement claiming that a "weather plane" had crashed down after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment." What U.S. officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its photography equipment, as well as Powers, whom they interrogated extensively for months before he made a "voluntary confession" and public apology for his part in U.S. espionage. Ultimately the whole incident would set back the peace talks between Khrushchev and Eisenhower for years.
- After he left office, Ike described the lies his administration had told about the U-2 incident as one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. “I didn’t realize how high a price we were going to have to pay for that lie,” Eisenhower told David Kraslow of Knight Newspapers. “And if I had to do it all over again, we would have kept our mouths shut.”
o Atlantic, Carl Cannon, “Untruth and Consequences.” Jan/Feb 2007