For years, the CIA had been flying ultra top-secret (and highly illegal) espionage flights over the Soviet Union. Their vehicle: the U-2 spy plane, a technological marvel seemingly lightyears ahead of anything the Soviets could throw at it. Flying at heights of 70,000 feet, the plane was assumed to be untouchable by Russian anti-aircraft weaponry. In other words, the U-2 spy plane (and the state-of-the-art cameras mounted in its nose) had free reign over Soviet airspace, to photograph whatever they pleased. But — as so often happens — the unthinkable became doable…
On May 1, 1960, the Soviet Union downed a flyover piloted by Gary Powers. President Eisenhower, who had been assured this would never happen, was understandably pissed — not with the USSR as much as his own intelligence community. But the CIA quickly quelled his concerns, promising him that there was no way that the plane could have survived intact, nor that Powers could have survived. So their secret was still secure. The Soviet Union played coy while the USA scrambled together a convoluted cover story. Claiming that a civilian weather plane had veered off course and crashed, the CIA even doctored photographs of the spy plane (it’s first reveal to the public) complete with fake NASA markings and serial numbers.
That’s when the USSR played their hand, taking the United States totally by surprise. Not only did the Russians have the wreckage of the spy plane mostly intact, but they also had the pilot, Gary Powers, alive and in custody. Oh — and he also confessed to being a pilot for CIA. Thoroughly made an ass of, Eisenhower had to come clean: Yes, it was a top-secret spy plane. And yes, the USA had been flying illegally over Soviet airspace.
As for Gary Powers, he was eventually returned to the United States a few years later. He was traded atop the Glienicke Bridge — the infamous Bridge of Spies — for a captured Soviet agent. Eisenhower would later call this one of the worst debacles of his presidency.
If you’re digging this, you’re going to love my novel. It’s full of secret agents, top-secret missions, and Cold War history… so check it out! — https://amz.run/3ES5