Francis Gary Powers (August 17, 1929 – August 1, 1977) was an American pilot whose Central Intelligence Agency U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace, causing the 1960 U-2 incident.
Powers was born in Jenkins, Kentucky, to Oliver and Ida Powers. He grew up in Pound, Virginia, just across the state border. Graduating from Milligan College in Tennessee, in 1950, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. After completing his training, Powers was assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, as an F-84 Thunderjet pilot. According to his son, he did not fly combat missions during the Korean War, because he was recruited by the CIA for his outstanding record in single engine jet aircraft. By 1960, Powers was already a veteran of many covert aerial reconnaissance missions.
Powers was discharged from the Air Force in 1956 with the rank of captain. He then joined the CIA's U-2 program. U-2 pilots flew espionage missions using an aircraft that could reach altitudes above 70,000 feet, making it invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons of the time. The U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera designed to take high-resolution photos from the edge of the stratosphere over hostile countries, including the Soviet Union. U-2 missions systematically photographed military installations and other important sites.