Francis Gary Powers Biography

Francis Gary Powers was an American air-force pilot, best known for his involvement in the 1960 ‘U-2’ incident, in which his ‘CIA’ spy plane was shot down and captured by the Soviets.

Quick Facts

Birthday: August 17, 1929

Nationality: American

Famous: Pilots American Men

Died At Age: 47

Sun Sign: Leo

Born Country: United States

Born in: Jenkins, Kentucky, United States

Famous as: Pilot

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Claudia, Claudia "Sue" Downey (m. 1963), Barbara Gay Moor (m. 1955–1963)

father: Oliver Winfield Powers (1904–1970)

mother: Melinda Powers (née Ford; 1905–1991)

children: Dee Rogers, Francis Gary Powers Jr.

Died on: August 1, 1977

place of death: Encino, Los Angeles, California, United States

Cause of Death: Helicopter Crash

U.S. State: Kentucky

More Facts

education: Milligan College, Grundy Senior High School

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Francis Gary Powers was an American air-force pilot, best known for his involvement in the 1960 ‘U-2’ incident, in which his ‘CIA’ spy plane was shot down and captured by the Soviets. Francis was born in Jenkins, Kentucky, and was the only son in a financially backward family. His father worked as a coalminer. Following his high-school graduation, Francis attended ‘Milligan College’ in Tennessee. In October 1950, he joined the ‘American Air Force.’ He completed his advanced training as a pilot and was assigned to the ‘Turner Air Force Base’ in Georgia. In 1956, he joined the ‘CIA,’ following his discharge from the ‘Air Force.’ He was associated with the ‘CIA’s ‘U-2’ missions, through which they sent fighter planes to fly over their enemies (Soviet Russia, in this case). On May 1, 1960, Francis’s plane was shot down by the Russians, and Francis was captured and questioned by the ‘KGB’ for months. Francis hid as much information from the Soviets as he could. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In February 1962, the U.S.A. signed a prisoners’ exchange deal with the Soviets. Following this, Francis was freed. He later served as a helicopter pilot and a ‘Lockheed’ test pilot. In 1970, he also co-wrote the book titled ‘Operation Overflight.’

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Francis Gary Powers was born on August 17, 1929, in Jenkins, Kentucky, U.S., to Oliver Winfield and Ida Melinda Powers. He was the only son in the family and grew up with five sisters, one older and four younger. Theirs was a poor family. His father worked as a coalminer, and his mother was a housewife.
  • Soon after he was born, his family moved to Pound, Virginia, where Francis spent the rest of his adolescence. Growing up during the Depression, he faced a lot of trouble getting access to the necessities required to lead a comfortable life. His father wanted him to study well, so that he could improve his family’s financial situation.
  • They lived in a mining town, and almost all the families in the neighborhood were engaged in mining. Growing up amidst these hardships, Francis graduated from the ‘Grundy High School,’ Virginia, in 1946. His father wanted him to become a physician. However, since Francis had grown up during the Second World War, he was more interested in joining the armed forces.
  • Following his high-school graduation, he joined the ‘Milligan College,’ Tennessee. He graduated in 1950. His ambitions led him to join the aviation cadets in the ‘United States Air Force’ in October 1950.
  • He joined the ‘Williams Air Force Base’ in Arizona for advanced training and received a commission as a second lieutenant in 1952. He was then assigned to a fighter squadron, as a ‘Thunderjet’ pilot, at the ‘Turner Air Force Base,’ located in Georgia.
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Career
  • He eventually attained the rank of captain and was honorably discharged from the air force in 1956. In May, he was recruited by the ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ (CIA) as a civilian pilot flying a ‘U-2’ jet. President Eisenhower had set up a ‘CIA’ team that embarked on espionage missions across the enemy territories, in ‘U-2’ planes. The planes were well-equipped with high-end cameras and surveillance systems and flew 70,000 feet above the ground.
  • The ‘CIA’ had been executing these missions since the late 1950s. On May 1, 1960, Francis was supposed to fly into Soviet Russia from the ‘Peshawar Air Base’ in Pakistan. This time, the ‘CIA’ wanted to go deeper (into Russia) than any of their earlier missions had ever gone. Their mission was to capture photographs of the military bases and other important locations of the Soviets, which would have been of great use to the country during a war.
  • Francis’s plane was shot down by Soviet land-to-air missiles, and he dodged many of them before one hit him. He tried to turn on the self-destruction function of the plane but was unable to do that and was thus thrown out of the plane. He was hopeful of escaping until the very last moment, but all his attempts were in vain, as he was captured as soon as he landed on the ground. He was then taken to a prison in Moscow.
  • The American government lied to the media and said that a weather plane had strayed off into Soviet Russia and crashed. However, Francis’s plane was captured by the Soviets in good condition and all the equipment on it were recovered. Francis’s case was handed over to the ‘KGB,’ and he was interrogated for months.
  • The ‘KGB’ used many techniques to extract information from him. However, Francis had a great presence of mind, and he only revealed as much information as they had already gathered from the plane. He also lied about many things.
  • His interrogation ended in June 1960, and he was kept in solitary confinement for a few weeks. He was charged with espionage, and his trial began in the ‘Supreme Court’ of Moscow. On August 19, 1960, his trial ended. He was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison and labor camps.
  • His behavior in the ‘Vladimir Central Prison’ was good, and he befriended many Soviet prisoners there. He was also allowed to write to his family and receive letters from them. However, this incident had dented the already-diminishing bilateral relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • Back in the U.S.A., newspapers and media organizations discarded Francis as a traitor. They claimed that he had defected, as the plane was captured by the Soviets in a good condition. They also claimed that he had spilled the beans and complied with the Soviets, answering all their questions.
  • There was also a row over that fact that Francis had not used the poison stocked in the plane. When he returned to the U.S., he revealed that he was not ordered to kill himself if he were captured and that he was supposed to use it only to escape unbearable torture.
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Release & Later Life
  • ‘KGB’ officer William Fisher had later been captured by the ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ (FBI). Hence, an exchange deal was initiated. In February 1962, the exchange took place in Berlin. Francis was released after a year and 9 months.
  • However, his return to the U.S.A. was not as welcoming as he had hoped. He received a cold reaction from the media and the general public. He also came to know about media reports repeatedly using the word “traitor” to describe him.
  • A ‘Senate Committee’ gave him a chance to attain some respect in the eyes of his country people. No charges were set against him, and he was given $50,000 to cover for the time he had spent in prison.
  • Soon, the ‘CIA’ came to his support and claimed that he had acted as instructed and had never done anything he was not supposed to do. He was also offered a job as a test pilot for ‘Lockheed.’
  • He published a book titled ‘Operation Overflight’ in 1970, which he had co-written with Curt Gentry. The book mentioned some unpalatable things about the ‘CIA.’ Thus, he was fired. He later worked as a helicopter pilot for ‘KNBC News.’
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Family & Personal Life
  • Francis Gary Powers married Barbara Gay Moore in April 1955. He divorced her in 1963, a year after he was released from the Soviet prison.
  • In 1963, he married Claudia Edwards Downey. They remained married until his demise. He had a child each from both his marriages.
  • Francis passed away in a helicopter crash on August 1, 1977. Apparently, he was flying the helicopter for ‘KNBC.’
  • He was never able to completely shrug off the unfavorable image he had in the minds of the American people. However, following his death, his second wife, Claudia, tried hard to retrieve the lost respect of her late husband.
  • Francis received the ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’ and the ‘Prisoner of War Medal,’ posthumously.
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Francis Gary Powers

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