1960 - in the heat of the Cold War -
an American spy plane was shot down over Soviet
The U-2 Incident
a diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen
Gary Powers in front of a Lockheed U-2
The U-2 wreck on display in Moscow
The May 1, 1960, a CIA-operated Lockheed
U-2 Spy Plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers
was shot down while conducting espionage over
the Soviet Union.
The U-2 (nicknamed Dragon Lady) was the
brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency, and
it was a sophisticated technological marvel.
Traveling for 12 hours at 70,000 feet - twice the
altitude of a commercial plane – and equipped
with state-of-the-art photography equipment that
could, the CIA boasted, take high-resolution
pictures of headlines in Russian newspapers as
it flew overhead.
Flights over the Soviet Union began in mid-1956
and the CIA assured President Eisenhower that
the Soviets did not possess anti-aircraft weapons
sophisticated enough to shoot down the high-
Captain Powers, took off from the US base in
Peshawar (Pakistan) on a mission (code name
GRAND SLAM) to overfly the Soviet Union and
photographing targets including several ICBM
and then land at Bodø in Norway.
The U-2 flight, however, was expected by the
Soviet, and all units of the Soviet Air Defence
Forces in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Ural, and in the
USSR. European Region and the Extreme North, were placed on red alert.
Soon after the plane was detected, the Lieutenant
General of the Air Force ordered the air-unit
commanders "to attack the violator by all alert
flights located in the area of the foreign plane's course, and to ram if necessary».
Because of the U-2's extreme operating altitude,
Soviet attempts to intercept the plane using fighter
The U-2's course was also out of range of several
of the nearest SAM sites, but the U-2 was
eventually brought down near Kosulino in the Ural Region, by a SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missile.
The SA-2 batteries launched all together 14
missiles at the U-2
After the impact, Powers bailed out and were
captured soon after parachuting safely down onto
Russian soil. Powers carried with him a modified
silver dollar which contained a lethal, shellfish-
derived saxitoxin-tipped needle, he did not use it.
One of the Soviet MiG-19 fighters pursuing Powers,
was also destroyed in the missile salvo.
The MiGs' IFF transponders were not yet switched
to the new May codes because of the 1 May
Powers had little instruction on what to do during
Although he had been told that he could reveal everything since the Soviets could learn what
they wanted from the aircraft, Powers did his best
to conceal classified information while appearing to
His trial began on 17 August 1960 and he was
sentenced to ten years in prison, but on 10
February 1962 the USSR exchanged him and the American student Frederic Pryor for Rudolf Abel at Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, Germany.
Two CIA investigations found that Powers had
done well during the interrogation and had
"complied with his obligations as an American
citizen during this period".
To the left:
A wooden U- 2 model used by Powers when
he testified to
the Senate Committee.
The wings and tail are detached to demonstrate the aircraft's
Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady
Role: High-altitude reconnaissance
First flight: 1 August 1955
Primary users: United States Air Force, Central Intelligence Agency, NASA and Republic of China Air Force (Taiwan)
Number built: Produced: 1955–1989 In service: 1956 – 2019(?)
Retiring in 2019
The US Air Force looks to retire the Lockheed's U-2 Dragon Lady in 2019. It will be one of a very few aircraft models that have served the United States Air Force for more than 60 year
SA-2 “Guideline” Missile
The SA-2 (NATO name: “Guideline”) was one of the Soviet Union's earliest SAM systems.
It is a land based anti-aircraft system meant to engage "non-maneuvering" targets, like
bombers, at low to high altitudes. It was first put into production in 1956, and has since been subject to continuous modernization.
It is the longest serving and most widely exported anti-aircraft missile in the Soviet arsenal.
It is a simple two-stage missile design with three sets of four cruciform fins.
Once launched its main booster burns for 4-5 seconds before the primary motor ignites and burns for another 22 seconds. The warhead of the missile is filled with 130 kg
(287 pound) high explosive. Its nose section is equipped to hold a variety of fuses -proximity, impact, and command.
Once the missile is fired it is guided to its target by a UHF link that has to be locked onto the missile within six seconds or the control of the missile will be lost.
The missile was first used by the Soviet PVO (air defence forces) to defend the airspace of the Soviet Union. To do this, hundreds of missile sites were built across the country.
The SA-2 'Guideline' was successful against high flying spy planes like the U-2.
Another U-2 aircraft was also shot down by SA-2 'Guideline' missiles while overflying Cuba on October 27th 1962. That same year, eight Taiwanese operated U-2 spy planes operated by the United States were shot down by a Chinese copy of the SA-2
Building the Dragon Lady
The only U-2C (which was the model Gary Powers flew) I found was the 35 years old Italeri model (1:48)
This kit is of course far, far away from today’s standard. A very simple and primitive model, but with a lot of paste, sanding and a lot of patience, it turned out acceptable, at least for this diorama.
The colour scheme and decals was for a plane operated by NASA, and therefore nothing I
could use, they were too old, discoloured and too dried any way.
The U-2’s operated by CIA in the 1960s were painted dark blue/grey. They had no national
markings at all, just basic safety and maintenance markings.
A characteristic of the U-2 is its landing gear. Instead of the typical tricycle configuration
consisting of a nose wheel and two sets of main wheels under each wing, the U-2 uses one set of main wheels located just behind the cockpit and one set of rear wheels located behind the engine.
To maintain balance and allow the aircraft to taxi, two sets of auxiliary wheels called "pogos" are installed under each wing by the ground crew.
These fall out of their sockets when the aircraft takes off.
The pogos provide stability and support when the wings are heavy with fuel.
When landing, the U2 wings are much lighter. When the U2 has slowed to a point which the wings are no longer producing lift after touchdown, the plane will actually come to rest with one wingtip on the ground, much like a glider.
The wingtips are reinforced with titanium to allow this to happen without damage to the plane. Ground crews reinstalled the pogos after the plane had landed.
Building the SA-2
I used the Trumpeter 1:35 SA-2 on a launcher.
The kit was a pleasure to build. No problems at all.
I plan to photograph the missile on the launcher,
ready for launching, but also just after launching
and in the air homing in on the Dragon Lady.
To make the launching picture as realistic as
possible, I will put some light into the booster to
create light from the rocket engine.
I used a clear acryl tube and inserted a 12V
halogen lamp into one end.
The tube was then fixed to the rocket booster
and the launch rail
The very thin wires were hidden in the smoke
from the rocket.
The smoke will be so widespread that I have to
use a chicken wire cage to form the smoke.
After I put on the cotton, I sprayed it with
hairspray to stiffen.
The last I did was to spray a little colour on the
smoke. Not much, because the smoke was
The missile is painted light grey and the colour on
the launcher is green.
The SA-2 missiles were then placed on a green carpet, painted a little dirty and decorated with some sand and pebbles, some artificial bushes and trees and a couple of huts made of cardboard.
The background was borrowed from another diorama.
The SA-2 battery was now ready for the American spy plane
and here is my U-2 story:
May 1st 1960, the CIA spy plane is ready for take-off at Peshawar (Pakistan)
Build like a glider
With the wings heavy with fuel, she needed the extra wheels (pogos) under each wing.
Take off, the pogos have fallen off.
No markings, just a grey ghost in the sky
Cruising at 70.000 ft. – twice as high as any commercial airliner
On its way to Bodø (Norway)
Soviet SA-2 batteries - ready and waiting
Firing salvoes of SA-2 missiles.
Homing in on the Grey Ghost
US officials: It was a civil weather plane… The wreckage
I was 18 years when this incident happened and I remember it well.
When the U-2s landed at Bodø after their flight over Soviet, they were immediately whisked into a hangar and hidden from view.
Officially, there was never a CIA plane in Norway during the Cold War.
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