U-2 Crisis of 1960
Learn more about U-2 Crisis of 1960
The U-2 Crisis of 1960 occurred when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. The U.S. denied the true purpose of the plane, but were forced to admit it when the U.S.S.R produced the living pilot and the largely intact plane to corroborate their claim of being spied on aerially. The incident worsened East–West relations during the Cold War and was a great embarrassment for the United States.
On May 1, 1960 (fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris), a U.S. Lockheed U-2 spy plane, piloted by Gary Powers, left Peshawar, Pakistan intending to overfly the Soviet Union and land at Bodø, Norway. The goal of the mission was to photograph ICBM development sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk in the Soviet Union. Attempts to intercept the plane by Soviet fighters failed due to the U-2's extreme altitude, but eventually one of the 14 SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles launched at the plane managed to get close enough. According to Soviet defector Viktor Belenko, a Soviet fighter pursuing Powers was caught and destroyed in the missile salvo.<ref>Burrows, William E. (1986). Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security. New York: Random House. ISBN 0394541243.</ref> Powers' aircraft was badly damaged, and crashed near Yekaterinburg (renamed as Sverdlovsk, from 1924 to 1991), deep inside Soviet territory. Powers was captured after making a parachute landing.
Four days after Powers disappeared, NASA issued a very detailed press release noting that an aircraft had "gone missing" north of Turkey.<ref>Orlov, Alexander The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers CIA website, URL accessed October 26, 2006</ref> The press release speculated that the pilot might have fallen unconscious while the autopilot was still engaged, even claiming that "the pilot reported over the emergency frequency that he was experiencing oxygen difficulties." To bolster this, a U-2 plane was quickly painted in NASA colors and shown to the media. (see photo).
After hearing this, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced to the Supreme Soviet (and hence the world) that a "spyplane" had been shot down, whereupon the U.S. issued a statement claiming that it was a "weather research aircraft" which strayed into Soviet airspace after the pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment" while flying over Turkey. The White House, presuming Powers was dead, gracefully acknowledged that this might be the same plane, but still proclaimed "there was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been", and attempted to continue the facade by grounding all U-2 aircraft to check for "oxygen problems".
On May 7, Khrushchev dropped the bombshell:
"I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well... and now just look how many silly things [the Americans] have said." 
Not only was Powers still alive, though, but his plane was also essentially intact. The Soviets managed to recover the surveillance camera and even developed the photographs. Powers' survival pack, including 7500 rubles and jewelry for women, was also recovered. Today a large part of the wreck as well as many items from the survival pack are on display at the Central Museum of Armed Forces in Moscow.
The Paris Summit between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev collapsed, in large part because Eisenhower refused to make apologies over the incident, demanded by Khrushchev. Khrushchev left the talks on May 16.
Powers pleaded guilty and was convicted of espionage on August 19 and sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor. He served one and three-quarter years of the sentence before being exchanged for Rudolf Abel on February 10, 1962. The exchange occurred on the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, Germany.
Another result of the crisis was that the US Corona spy satellite project was accelerated.
 See also