What you need to know: CIA pilot Frances Gary Powers was doing a top secret (spying) over-flight of the USSR in a top secret U-2 spy plane when he claimed to be shot down. He failed to follow any of the standing orders if shot down. He failed to push the destruct aircraft switch to keep the top-secret aircraft and just as valuable its top secret camera system from falling into USSR hands, and he failed to take the poison given him. Despite the claim that he was shot down, the top-secret aircraft was whole except for minor damage. He suffered even less damage. All
The Details: In the 1960s USA President Dwight D. Eisenhower needed to see what the Soviet Union’s military threat really was. He was frightened that they had the capability to do what they boasted of. Lockheed Aircraft was able to produce an aircraft that could overfly the USSR. It couldn’t fly high enough to evade radar but too high to be shot down, and that was good enough. The USSR would never publicly acknowledge that the USA could overfly their country and they could not stop it.
The U-2 can fly well over 70,000, feet AGL (above ground level) and the USSR had nothing that could fly that high, neither missiles nor planes, thus, they had to sit quietly and not say anything. They were unable to demand the USA to stop without having to admit to the rest of the world that they were not able to stop us.
Then came a mission
I remember this incident very clearly. The fact is, our CIA was certain that Powers was a USSR spy even if they couldn’t admit it. One of Power’s stories was that he had some kind of engine troubles that caused him to lose enough altitude to allow the Soviet missiles to reach him. Then another one where he said the missile reached his altitude but just nicked the plane which then fell like a leaf over 70,000, feet to land with no “crush” damage, as would be expected. However, his injuries along with the damage done to the fallen U-2 plane did not ring true. The Soviets were broadcasting images of the pilot and plane that showed little damage. But, what could the CIA do? The USA would have to expose valuable intelligence assets to try to disprove the shoot down.
About five years later Powers was released back to the USA in a spy swap. He was not welcomed home as a hero. He was not treated the same as our shot down pilots of the Vietnam war. Nope, he returned and was not offered any position anywhere. Not with the CIA or any government vendor. His considerable abilities were not desired anywhere. Not by an airline or even by flying tours. He got the only job he could, and that was with the sympathetic news media. He became a helicopter pilot for a Southern CA news station.
Eventually, he met the same fate that all persons seem to meet when the Soviet Union is fearful that some embarrassing information might be made public. For instance, as in a bestselling book or autobiography. His chopper fell from the sky and he was killed. He ran out of fuel because “someone” had worked on the fuel gauge without telling him.
Of course, there are several cover stories manufactured by the media over time. Often they do more harm (for Powers) than good. For example, when Powers was debriefed by the CIA upon his return he proudly told them that he gave the USSR some misinformation. He told them that he U-2 could not fly over 68,000 feet while it can fly well above that. But, didn’t the Soviets see that he was flying at a higher altitude. This was a tacit admittance that he was not flying at the altitude he was supposed to. And then there is the one where the Soviets had an unarmed Su-9 fighter in the area and he was instructed to ram the U-2. (During WWII both British and Nazi pilots ramed planes when necessary) As the story goes, the Su-9 missed the U-2 because he was flying too fast to maneuver to the U-2. Really. Please note that the Su-9 can only fly to 55,000, feet altitude. Powers must have been well below where he was supposed to be.