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Secret Historical Fun Facts.
An occasional series
From time to time I will be running little (or un-) known historical tidbits that I’ve picked up over the years.
#1. Sixty three years ago today, May 1, the Soviets shot down a U.2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers. When the U.S. government learned that the U.2 had disappeared over the Soviet Union, they lied that a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment".. They were supremely confident that Powers could not have survived the shoot-down.
Why? Because the CIA had rigged Power’s plane so that, if he tried to eject, the U.2. would blow up, killing him instantly, thereby saving his cold-hearted employers the embarrassment of a live pilot telling tales.
But, as a senior air force official once confided to me, the crews who serviced the plane knew its secret. They liked Powers, and so proffered friendly counsel. “‘Gary,’ they told him, ‘whatever happens, don’t ever eject.’”
Heeding this advice, Powers stayed away from the ejection lever, climbed out of the plummeting plane and parachuted to safety - much to the chagrin of the spymasters.
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