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Cold War on the Brink: The U-2 Incident

On May 1, 1960, an American U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile. Francis Gary Powers — a civilian pilot flying for the Central Intelligence Agency — was unable to activate the self-destruct mechanism and the plane crashed largely intact. News of the event caused Premier Khrushchev to storm out of a summit conference in Paris with President Eisenhower.

Because the U-2 was specifically designed for covert surveillance, Powers was tried and convicted as a spy and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. On Feb. 10, 1962, he was exchanged in Berlin for Soviet agent Rudolph Abel.