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Loss of the Gary Powers U-2 aircraft over Russia


In the early 1950s, Western intelligence agencies were struggling to run human agents inside secure police states such as the Soviet Union. One answer was better technical collection using sigint and imagery. Reconnaissance aircraft were vulnerable to being shot down, but in 1954 the American began to develop the "U-2", in effect a rocket-powered glider that could could fly at 70,000 feet, well beyond missile range. This was designed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson at the Lockheed Aicraft Corporation. Successful missions collecting both sigint and imagery were flown over the Soviet Union and China during the late 1950s. However, on 1 May 1960, the Soviets finally suceeded in shooting down a U-2 aircraft, flown by Gary Powers, leading to a major international controversy. The British were involved in the U-2 programme and had provided some pilots. The shoot-down of May 1960 prompted Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to launch a review of all Britain's efforts to gather sigint from aircraft and submarines.  The photograph above shows Kelly Johnson (left) with Gary Powers (right) in front of a CIA U-2 aircraft.


The U-2 Spyplane Incident

U2 in USSR: Spy plane crash still a mystery 50 years on (Video clip)