The U2 Spy Plane Incident

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Before becoming the name of world-famous rock band, U2 was a spy plane created and used by the United States to spy on the Soviet Union. The U2 was a sophisticated machine, capable of flying 70,000 feet at over 500 miles per hour. It had several cameras as well, capable of taking very detailed pictures on the ground below. The U2 spy plane has been described as the most difficult plane to fly.

On May 1, 1960, an incident involving a U2 spy plane would make the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union much, much colder.

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U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers was flying a U2 spy plane over the Soviet Union when it was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Thinking the plane was lost and Powers was killed, the United States tried to cover up the incident by claiming that the plane was a science plane operated by NASA to monitor the weather.

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, decided to use this incident to embarrass the United States because he knew something that the United States did not know: the pilot of the spy plan had been captured.  All spy plane pilots were supposed to use a poison hidden in a silver dollar to kill themselves if captured. The United States thought pilot Powers was dead, but little did they know he did not use the poison and was sitting in a Soviet cell.

The Soviet Union announced that it had actually shot down a spy plane and showed pictures of the wreckage.

American president Dwight Eisenhower publicly denied that it was a spy plane.

By Mikko Tapio Vartiainen
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Then, the Soviet Union showed photographs of Francis Powers, catching the United States in a series of public lies.

As a result, a meeting between the Soviet Union and the United States failed. Tensions increased between the two countries. Gary Powers was held in a Soviet prison for two years before a prisoner exchange was made in 1962.

Parts of the U2 spy plane are still on display in a Moscow museum.

The 2015 movie Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, dramatizes the U23 incident and the negotiations for the releases of Francis Gary Powers.