The U-2 Mission and the Cold War
The U-2 spy plane was designed as a high altitude, single-pilot, single-engine aircraft. It was lightweight, but able to carry a variety of equipment such as multi-sensor cameras, and electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery machines.
Although the plane’s design broke ground in many ways, its main drawback was sluggish flight control due to its landing gear requirements. In case of an emergency ejection, the pilot seat was equipped with a hunting knife, a .22 caliber pistol, a parachute, and a survival pack. An explosive mechanism was installed that would blow up the plane after the pilot ejected.
On May 1, 1960, Captain Francis Gary Powers’ CIA mission was to perform secret aerial reconnaissance by flying over the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact territory. While in flight, a missile hit his plane and Powers was unable to follow the self-destruct protocols. The Soviet Union quickly recovered the wreckage and captured the pilot.
President Eisenhower learned of the missing U-2 plane on May 2. Believing that there was no possibility that Powers could survive a high-altitude missile strike, President Eisenhower gave the order to proceed with releasing a cover story.
More - Letters to the President about the U-2 Incident
-from the Eisenhower Library