Francis Gary Powers --the spy who fell from the skies, Indian Airforce

Francis Gary Powers --the spy who fell from the skies

American U2 Spy plane

In 1962 espionage became big news as the 'U2 Incident' grabbed world headlines. Pilot Gary Powers was shot down as he flew the sinister U2, designed for covert surveillance, over Soviet territory, sparking one of the biggest international crises of the Cold War. The US demanded his safe return. The USSR wanted to know what he was doing up there in the first place.

Shot down on 01 May 1960, Powers was held in prison for two years until 1962, when he was exchanged for Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel in the most dramatic East-West spy swap ever to occur in Cold War Berlin. Powers stepped on to the eastern end of the Berlin's Glienicke Bridge spanning the River Havel on February 10 in 1962. At the other end of the bridge, stood Colonel Rudolf Abel, a heavily muffled Soviet master-spy, seized earlier by US security agents after setting up a red spy network in New York in the late 1950s.

At a precisely arranged signal, the two men strode on to the bridge, marching purposefully towards one another, Powers heading westward, Abel eastwards. In the middle of the bridge they passed each other silently, with barely a nod of their heads. That spy-swap operation was to be the forerunner of many such East-West prisoner exchanges to take place on the Glienicke Bridge over the next 27 years in Berlin

Criticized when he returned to the United States for not ensuring the revolutionary plane was destroyed or killing himself with poison, Powers was cold-shouldered by his former employers at the Central Intelligence Agency and eventually died in 1977 at the age of 47 when a television news helicopter he was piloting crashed in Los Angeles.

Francis Gary Powers, seated at the witness stand, holds a model of a U-2 spy-plane as he begins his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1962.

On 01 May 2000, U.S. Officials presented Powers' family with the Prisoner-of-War Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the National Defense service medal during a 30-minute ceremony held at the Beale Air Force Base, north of Sacramento and home to the modern US U2 force. It marked the 40th anniversary of the incident.

"The mind still boggles at what we asked this gentleman and his teammates to do back in the late 1950s -- to literally fly over downtown Moscow... -- alone, unarmed and unafraid," Brig. Gen. Kevin Chilton, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Commander told the some 350 people gathered at Beale Air Force Base.

CIA and Air Force officials presented the awards, something the pilot's son Francis Gary Powers, Jr., saw as an important step in recognizing those who served their country during the Cold War. "We wanted to make sure that my father was honored with the medals he deserved for being a prisoner of war," said Powers, who arrived at the ceremony straight from a three-hour flight in a U2 plane. "It took a little bit of letter writing and a couple of people to help us, but today that's been done."

Powers, Jr., 34, has devoted much of his time to seeing his father's memory honored, and is working to establish a permanent Cold War Museum in Washington, D.C. to educate the public about the period of US-Soviet rivalry.

The ceremony ended with a fly-by of a lone U2 plane.