U-2 pilot’s son describes Cold War spy swap

Francis Gary Powers Jr

By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]

Francis Gary Powers Jr. spoke about his new book, “Spy Pilot,” and his famous father in an appearance Sunday evening at Union Street Public House. Francis Gary Powers Sr. was an Air Force pilot who was flying a U-2 spy mission for the Central Intelligence Agency over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, when he was shot down by a Soviet missile and captured.

The incident created an international sensation because the U-2 program had been secret – President Dwight Eisenhower initially said the craft was a weather plane – and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev waited several days before parading Powers Sr. before TV cameras to call the U.S. president’s bluff. Powers spent almost two years in Soviet prisons before being exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. The exchange was dramatized in the Steven Spielberg movie, “Bridge of Spies,” which was released in 2015.

Powers Sr. died in 1977 in a helicopter crash after a faulty fuel gauge caused his helicopter to run out of gas. Powers Jr. said his father tried to autorotate his helicopter to the ground, but his landing pathway would have injured children below so he diverted and crashed.

Powers Jr. has written two books about his father in an effort to tell the full story as more records pertaining to the U-2 program and his father’s imprisonment have been declassified. The audience of about 25 people at Sunday’s talk included numerous accomplished aviators and former CIA officials.