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The best known incident involving a U-2 is from 1960. Pilot Francis Gary Powers took off from Pakistan with the intention of photographing  several Soviet installations while heading for Norway. Their starting date of May 1 was a serious miscalculation, however. May Day was a huge holiday in the Soviet Union. Civilian flights were grounded to allow for military demonstration flights. The U-2 stood out in this environment. It was immediately tracked by Soviet air forces. 

Due to its high altitude, the U-2 could not be attacked directly by fighter planes. Instead, a missile brought it down. Powers ejected, but chose not to use a “poison pill” in his possession. He was captured alive. The U-2 itself was not as badly damaged as military planners had expected given a crash from such altitude. This allowed the Soviets to recover and study the wreckage, advancing their own aircraft technology. 

The C. I. A. fell back on their cover story, that the pilot had lost consciousness due to a failure of the oxygen system. After allowing the U. S. to release this information, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev revealed the truth. This was a huge embarrassment to the United States both internally and internationally. It derailed a major diplomatic conference, two weeks later, and may eventually have led to the ouster of Khrushchev by hard-liners who thought he had been too conciliatory toward the U. S. In America, C. I. A. director Allen Dulles was excoriated at a major Congressional hearing.

As for the pilot, Powers followed his orders and cooperated with Soviet authorities. He was convicted of espionage and served time in prison before being released in 1962. Many in the U. S. blamed Powers for not using his “poison pill” after being shot down. However, it appears Powers’ orders were not explicitly that he should commit suicide. Several U-2 pilots had been killed in crashes during development and testing, so whoever wrote the orders must have considered it impossible for Powers to walk away from a crash. 

It just goes to show, you should never underestimate a Dragon Lady and her rider.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Back in 2017, I posted about a comic book character named The Dragon Lady. Now it turns out there was also a jet named “Dragon Lady” from around the same era. 

The U-2 “Dragon Lady” was designed and built by Lockheed Martin corporation beginning in the mid-1950s. U. S. military leaders wanted to improve their ability to conduct aerial surveillance on enemies such as the Soviet Union and China. Flying at high altitudes, the U-2 was able to capture highly detailed images (within the technical capabilities of the era) of foreign installations throughout the Cold War.

The first model, the U-2A, went into service in 1956. They have proven to be a durable and useful craft. The Dragon Lady is still in service today, with the U-2S having been upgraded in 2012. 

The U-2 was operated under direction of the Central Intelligence Agency, and thus the Dragon Lady was little known to the public. Each surveillance flight was carefully planned, with a cover story in case of discovery. There was some disagreement about this, with civilian aviation experts advising to be honest if the flights were found out. However, the C. I. A. followed its instinct and went ahead using cover stories. 

This practice had serious repercussions when a U-2 got busted. Literally. Check back on Wednesday to learn more.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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