Why Famous: Powers is best known as the pilot of the CIA U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. His plane was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera intended to take high-resolution photographs of military installations and other sensitive sites from an extremely high altitude.
As the U-2 spy plane flew and took photographs from the stratosphere, the Soviet Union initially lacked any effective way to respond.
Then in 1960, when Powers was on a mission already deemed risky, the Soviet Union launched a total of 14 S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missiles. One missile hit Powers' aircraft and the plane crashed. Unfortunately for the United States, Powers was unable to activate the plane's self-destruct mechanism and the advanced aircraft was captured intact.
This proved awkward when the United States sought to inquire under cover, claiming that a weather plane had ended up off course.
Powers was convicted by a Soviet court and imprisoned, admitting his guilt and apologising for violating Soviet airspace. As a result of this, the American media turned on Powers who they initially portrayed as a hero, now implying cowardice.
Meanwhile, Powers' wife in the United States was up to all sorts of shenanigans and, indirectly as a result of this, President John F. Kennedy approved a prison swap: Powers for KGB Colonel William Fisher.
- 1960-05-01 Russia shoots down Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane over Sverdlovsk
- 1960-05-07 USSR announces Francis Gary Powers confesses to being a CIA spy
- 1960-08-17 Francis Gary Powers U-2 spy trial opens in Moscow
- 1960-08-19 American CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers convicted of spying by USSR (U-2 incident); sentence to 3 years in prison plus 7 in a labor camp, he served 17 months before being exchanged for a captured Soviet KGB spy
- 1977-08-01 Former Lockheed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers crashes the news helicopter he was flying in Los Angeles