Today is the 49th anniversary of a classic height-of-the-Cold-War moment: the exchange of Rudolf Abel for captured U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers over the Glienicker Bridge in Potsdam. Here is the contemporaneous story from Time Magazine. A little-known fact about this little-remembered incident is that Powers was accompanied by American graduate student Frederic Pryor, who had been detained by the USSR as a potential spy. In reality, Pryor simply stumbled into a spy trap in East Berlin and was not in fact an agent. He went on to teach Economics at Swarthmore, Michigan, and other elite universities for decades. He is still alive and semi-retired.

I want so badly to go next year and re-enact this for the 50th anniversary. If you don't know who Rudolf Abel is, fix that. If you are ignorant of Gary Powers and the U-2 incident, fix that too.

Quick question – why did the CIA give Powers a poisoned suicide pin (which he failed to use as he had been ordered to do) while also giving him a parachute? It appears that giving him neither would have produced more desired results than giving him both.

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  1. cat Says:

    Planes fall out of the sky over friendly nations as well. You don't want to waste a trained pilot unless you have too.

  2. Major Kong Says:

    Presumably the parachute was to be used if he had to get out over friendly territory.

    You wouldn't want to waste a highly trained U-2 pilot if you had a chance of getting him back.

  3. Jude Says:

    Jokes, people. Look into them. They might make your lives more enjoyable.

  4. Da Moose Says:

    all astronauts take a poison pill with them. His U2 was essentially a suborbital plane in the minds of the air force/nasa at that time. They weren't sure he might not actually launch himself into space. The pill wasn't for suicide if he was captured by the Soviets. It was for if he got accidentally catapulted into space.

  5. Ed Says:

    That is wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to begin.

  6. Ben Says:

    I agree with Ed, y'all are way off. The liberal communists which have been working hand-in-hand with the islamofacists to bring down America have always ensured that spy plane pilots have been given parachutes and suicide pills. Parachutes, obviously, so that if they are shot down by patriots while spying on US citizens they can glide down to friendly FEMA camps and live to spy again. Suicide pills so that if they are caught with their arabic copies of the communist manifesto they can off themselves and avoid implicating the global plot.

    We still don't know if the islamofacists extend the 72 heavenly virgins to their liberal communist comrades, but rest assured with enough hard work we will find out the truth.

  7. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    In the Moscow Central Armed Forces Museum you can view the wreckage of Powers' U2, arranged in a nice pile. They must have had a huge broom/dustpan.

  8. Liebchen Says:

    "We still don't know if the islamofacists extend the 72 heavenly virgins to their liberal communist comrades, but rest assured with enough hard work we will find out the truth."

    It is somewhere out there in teh interwebs.

  9. Crocodile Chuck Says:

    the U-2 was a tricky plane to fly-within a window of 5 knots; too slow it would stall, too fast, it would break up: for twelve hours. If the engine flamed out, it had to be taken down to lower altitude to restart:


    reference: 'Skunk Works', Ben Rich:

  10. Mark Says:

    Astronauts don't carry a poison pill – its a myth. Jim Lovell talks about it in his book "Lost Moon." COL Mike Mullane – early STS astronaut – confirmed its myth status too.

  11. Bud Says:

    I love how dangerous Russian spy Col. Able was allowed a civilian trial in New York from which he appealed. Contrast with dirt farmers Shanghai'ed off the battlefield of Afghanistan who can't be permitted on US Soil.

  12. a Says:

    Ben, you weren't supposed to notice that part… Able probably wasn't waterboarded either…