Mayday 1960: Reassessing the U-2 Shoot Down

April 28, 2010 // 1:30pm5:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
History and Public Policy Program

The U-2 spy plane and the intelligence that it collected played an important role in Cold War history. Convened in connection with the 50th anniversary of the downing of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 over the Soviet Union on 1 May 1960, Mayday 1960: Reassessing the U-2 Shoot Down will examine the role of the U-2 in the missile-gap debate and will explore the political, diplomatic and intelligence history surrounding the events of 1 May 1960.

Luncheon Address

U-2 Operations, with former U-2 Pilot Charles P. Wilson

Panel I: The U-2 and the Missile Gap

2:00 - 3:30 p.m.
Alarmed by the launch of Sputnik in October 1957 as well as by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's claim that the Soviet Union was producing ICBMs "like sausages," the United States became embroiled in an increasingly contentious debate on "the missile gap" in the run-up to the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Presidential election.

Drawing upon imagery from the last few U-2 flights over the Soviet Union which has never before been seen in public, Panel I will focus on the role of signals intelligence, newly developed photo-reconnaissance satellites and the U-2 in resolving the missile-gap debate.

  • Christian Ostermann - chair
  • Chris Pocock - author, 50 Years of the U-2
  • Martin Sherwin - Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow
  • Dino Brugioni - all-source analyst,(ret.) National Photographic Interpretation Center

Panel II: The U-2 Shoot Down

3:45 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union on 1 May 1960 provoking a major Cold War incident which led to the cancellation of a planned superpower summit.

Drawing upon newly declassified documents on the Board of Inquiry which examined Powers' conduct during the shootdown and his subsequent captivity, Panel II will examine the repercussions of the U-2 shoot down in international politics and intelligence history.

  • Chris Pocock - chair
  • Svetlana Savranskaya - director of Russian programs, the National Security Archive
  • Giles Whittell - Washington correspondent, The Times of London and author, Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War
  • Matthew Aid - visiting fellow, the National Security Archive and author, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

Generous Support for this seminar has been provided by Raytheon Systems Co.


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Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Charles Kraus // Program Associate
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project