Francis Gary Powers


Francis Gary Powers

Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky, USA
Death 1 Aug 1977 (aged 47)
Encino, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 11, Grave 685-2
Memorial ID 2118 View Source
Suggest Edits

United States Air Force Pilot. He was the American pilot of a U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union; his capture resulted in embarrassment to the United States Government and the cancellation of a scheduled United States-Soviet Summit Meeting. Born in Jenkins, Kentucky, and raised in Pound, Virginia, he graduated from Milligan College in eastern Tennessee. Upon graduation in 1950, he enlisted into the United States Air Force, and upon completion of pilot training, was commissioned and assigned to Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, flying F-84 Thunderjet Fighters. Shortly afterwards, he served in Korea during the Korean War, and in 1956, after promotion to Captain, he resigned from the USAF to join the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was seeking Air Force pilots to join the U-2 program. The U-2 was a high altitude reconnaissance plane, capable of flying at altitudes of 80-120,000 feet, above the known altitude limits of then Soviet fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles. CIA Pilots flew without identification in unmarked aircraft, and were issued a suicide pin to use if they were forced down. Based at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Powers flew several flights over the Soviet Union, while the USSR was powerless to shoot down the planes. This changed by 1960, as the USSR gained the ability to shoot down high altitude aircraft. On May 1, 1960, Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, to fly across the Soviet Union and land at Boda, Norway, in a complete trip across the USSR. He was scheduled to return to Incirlik Air Base from Boda a few days later, returning via a different route across the USSR. About four hours into the flight, his U-2 was severely damaged by the near miss of a Soviet surface to air missile near Sverdlovsk, Russia. Forced to bail out over Soviet territory, he was quickly captured. President Eisenhower initially believed that Powers had died in the crash and denied it was a spy mission, until Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev held a press conference in which he produced a very much alive Powers along with cameras and film from the plane. After embarrassing President Eisenhower in front of the world press, Khrushchev then angrily cancelled the upcoming Paris Summit Meeting between the US and the USSR. Powers was tried for espionage, convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Twenty-one months after his capture, on February 10, 1962, he was swapped for Soviet spy Colonel Rudolf Abel in Potsdam, Germany. Upon his return, Powers was extensively debriefed by the CIA, the USAF and Congress, and all determined that he did not reveal any classified information to the Soviets. In 1965, Powers was awarded the CIA Intelligence Star for Valor, for his intelligence flights over the Soviet Union. However, the USAF reneged on their earlier promise to restore him to full USAF officer status and to credit his time in the CIA as USAF time (an offer they fulfilled to the other recruited pilots), and refused to award him a Distinguished Flying Cross that he had earned in 1957 while flying for the CIA. Powers returned to flying, working for Lockheed Aircraft as a test pilot from 1963 to 1970, before moving on to become a helicopter traffic reporter for Los Angeles TV station KNBC. He died in August 1977 when his KNBC helicopter crashed; investigators found that it had a malfunctioning fuel gauge that they believed was the cause of the crash. Powers wrote a book about the incident, "Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident," in 1970. In 1998, the USAF posthumously awarded the Powers family the Prisoner of War Medal and his overdue Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

Family Members






In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees



How famous was Francis Gary Powers?

Current rating:

225 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2118
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Francis Gary Powers (17 Aug 1929–1 Aug 1977), Find a Grave Memorial ID 2118, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .