On May 1 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit conference in Paris, captain Francis Gary Powers, in a U-2C left the US base in Peshawar on a mission with the operations code word GRAND SLAM to overfly the Soviet Union, photographing ICBM sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk, then land at Bodø in Norway. All units of the Soviet Air Defence Forces in the Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Ural and later in the U.S.S.R. European Region and Extreme North were on red alert, and the U-2 flight was expected. Soon after the plane was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered the air-unit commanders "to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of 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 out of range of several of the nearest SAM sites, and one SAM site even failed to engage the aircraft since it was not on duty that day. The U-2 was eventually brought down near Degtyarsk, Ural Region, by the first of three SA-2 Guideline (S-75 Dvina) surface-to-air missiles fired by a battery commanded by Mikhail Voronov. In bailing out, the plane's pilot, Francis Gary Powers, neglected to disconnect his oxygen hose and struggled with it until it broke, enabling him to separate from the aircraft. He successfully bailed out and parachuted to safety. He was captured soon after parachuting down onto Russian soil. Powers carried with him a modified silver dollar which contained a lethal, shellfish-derived saxitoxin-tipped needle, but did not use it.
The SAM command center was unaware that the plane was destroyed for more than 30 minutes. One of the Soviet MiG-19 fighters pursuing Powers, piloted by Sergei Safronov, was also destroyed in the missile salvo. The MiGs' IFF transponders were not yet switched to the new May codes because of the May 1st holiday.
A close study of Powers' account of the flight shows that one of the last targets he had overflown was the Chelyabinsk-65 plutonium production facility. From photographs of the facility, the heat rejection capacity of the reactors' cooling systems could have been estimated, thus allowing a calculation of the power output of the reactors. This then would have allowed the amount of plutonium being produced to be determined, thus allowing analysts to determine how many nuclear weapons the USSR was producing.
Canadian Aviation Blog
Photo Credit: US Air Force