38 - The U-2 Incident, May 1960

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-

altitude planes.

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

aircraft failed.

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

an interrogation.

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 

                                                              breakup upon


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.

    Testing the 12V halogen lamp

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

mostly white.

The missile is painted light grey and the colour on

the launcher is green.

The acryl tube with the 12V lamp is glued to the launcher and the booster.

The chicken wire cage is ready for the cotton.

The cotton in place. It will be painted lightly with yellow and grey / black before placed on the diorama base

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

the aftermath...

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.

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacobsen

November 2015