ANGELS IN RED SKIES

A CIA U-2 pilot identified as Francis Gary Powers poses in his high altitude flight suit with an early U-2B, one of several such aircraft fitted with the ventral antenna fairing atop the fuselage.

 

To commemorate the shoot-down of Powers’ U-2, this Fakel 13D missile on its SM-63 launcher was placed outside the Sverdlovsk military museum, where the remains of the U-2 are on display.

The first success of the S-75 [SA-2 GUIDELINE SAM] system took place under mysterious circumstances. The Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) had been staging reconnaissance missions over the People’s Republic of China using RF-101 Voodoo aircraft and, in early 1959, the US Air Force transferred three RB-57D high-altitude spyplanes to RoCAF for deep overflights. In 1958 the Soviet Union delivered five SA-75 Dvina batteries, along with a training battery and 62 missiles, to China. Soviet PVO-Strany troops helped man the launch sites, which included three around Beijing and the others around major missile and nuclear weapons test sites. On October 7, 1959, one of the Taiwanese RB-57Ds was struck at an altitude of 65,600ft (20km) by a salvo of three V-750 missiles. It was the first time in history that an aircraft was shot down by a SAM, although at the time the feat was attributed to Chinese fighters due to the secrecy of the Chinese S-75 battalions. The first kill in Soviet airspace was claimed on November 16 1959 when an SA-75 battery near Volgograd was credited with shooting down a US WS-416L reconnaissance balloon, although this incident remains unverified.

Due to growing political controversy over the Soviet strategic missile program, Eisenhower reluctantly agreed to a resumption of U-2 flights in 1960. The U-2 mission on April 10, 1960, flew near the Tyuratam missile range and passed a number of S-75 batteries that had not been alerted in time. A number of senior Soviet commanders were cashiered when Khrushchev learned of the failure. The next U-2 flight on May Day 1960 became the most infamous. Operation Grand Slam was piloted by Francis Gary Powers and flew from Pakistan towards Tyuratam and the Sary-shagan anti-ballistic missile proving ground. The PVO-Strany managed to track the U-2 almost continuously from the Soviet-Afghan border, and more than a dozen fighter aircraft were sent up to intercept it, including one attempt to ram it using a new Su-9 interceptor. The CIA had a very incomplete picture of the density of air defenses in the Urals, and the Sverdlovsk area had a heavy concentration of missile defenses since it was the center of the Soviet nuclear weapons industry. The new production line at the Kalinnin plant in the city had recently begun to deliver the new 13D missile to local SAM batteries. In the vicinity of Sverdlovsk, a PVO-Strany regiment newly equipped with the latest S-75N Desna engaged the U-2 from two of its batteries. A 13D missile from the battery, commanded by Maj Mikhail Voronov, scored a near miss behind the U-2 at around around 67,000ft (20.5km) at 0853 hours, which shattered the control surfaces of the U-2 and caused it to spiral out of control. Powers managed to escape the doomed aircraft by parachute, and shortly afterwards the U-2 was hit by another missile, which broke it apart. The shoot-down of the U-2 and capture of Powers was a major embarrassment for the Eisenhower administration and led Eisenhower to forbid any further flights over the Soviet Union by the U-2, a ban which was later extended to its supersonic follow-on, the SR-71. However, overflights did continue in other regions including China, North Korea, and the Middle East. By this time, new sources of overhead photography of the USSR were becoming available, the Corona spy satellites, which reduced the need for provocative overflights.

In 1956, as flying saucers were appearing regularly on the covers of pulp magazines, the US Air Force and the CIA were preparing to deploy U-2s overseas for operational missions.

Meanwhile, Project Genetrix had come to an end after only two months. Nearly fifty cameras and film capsules had been recovered, but most of the balloons had not successfully drifted across the entire breadth of the Soviet Union. Ironically one of the most useful results from having reconnaissance balloons masquerading as weather balloons was the weather data that was gathered. A great deal was learned from high altitudes winds over the Soviet Union that would be vital in planning the U-2 missions.

Meanwhile the cameras that had been developed for the U-2 were, like the airplane itself, breaking new ground technologically. They had to. Existing aerial cameras had good resolution when taking pictures from 30,000 feet, but the U-2 would be flying twice that far from the subjects of its cameras. The Connecticut-based Perkin-Elmer company, an existing maker of aerial cameras, had developed high-acuity K-38 cameras, but they needed to scale it down to meet the U-2’s 450-pound payload limit. The result was the A-1 system that consisted of a pair of K-38s with a K-17 as a back-up camera.

Of course, in the context of Cold War geopolitics, the notion of overflying the Soviet Union involved more dimensions than cameras, altitude, and weather. Even as he approved Project Aquatone at each step, President Eisenhower was well aware of the politics of violating the air space of another superpower. He voiced this opinion directly to CIA Director Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, as well as through his Defense Liaison Officer Colonel Andrew Jackson Goodpaster.

Back on July 21, 1955, less than a week before the Angel went airborne for the first time, Eisenhower had made his famous Open Skies proposal to the Soviet Union in which he offered to allow the Soviets to overfly American facilities if they would reciprocate. Eisenhower had considered their rejection of this proposal as a rationale for continuing the Aquatone program, but a year later, he hesitated, fearing the reaction that would come if the Soviets detected a U-2, or even worse, if one of the aircraft crashed or was shot down.

The CIA, especially Dulles, insisted that this was unlikely and that it was worth the risk when balanced against the vital intelligence that was likely to be gained by the overflights.

Goodpaster, who served as Eisenhower’s point of contact with the CIA with regard to overhead reconnaissance and who sat in on the president’s meetings on the subject, recalled Dulles’s almost nonchalant attitude on the subject. In the early 1980s, he told Smithsonian historian Michael Bechloss that “Allen’s approach was that we were unlikely to lose one.

If we did lose one, the pilot would not survive.… We were told—and it was part of our understanding of the situation—that it was almost certain that the plane would disintegrate and that we could take it as a certainty that no pilot would survive and that although they would know where the plane came from, it would be difficult to prove it in any convincing way.”

Just as Genetrix operated under the weather balloon cover story, the CIA U-2s operated under the cover story of being weather reconnaissance aircraft ordered by National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which explains why the early ones bore NACA markings. These aircraft were assigned to the US Air Force 1st Weather Squadron, Provisional, with the latter qualification added because “provisional” squadrons could exist outside a routine command structure.

The pilots, meanwhile, were fighter pilots who held reserve, rather than regular, commissions. They resigned these commissions in order to be hired as civilians by the CIA and then masqueraded as US Air Force pilots flying with the newly created provisional squadron.

Detachment A of the 1st Weather Squadron began deploying overseas to England in April 1956 but was redeployed to the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) base at Wiesbaden in West Germany in June. According to Pedlow and Welzenbach, this move was to “avoid arousing further [public] reaction [to the U-2’s arrival] in the United Kingdom.” They were quickly moved to another location near the East German border whose name is redacted in the copy of the Pedlow-Welzenbach document available to the author. Here the aircraft were reengined with more powerful J57-P-31 engines and were redesignated as U-2Cs.

While waiting for Eisenhower’s final go-ahead for flights over the Soviet Union, the first U-2 missions, over East Germany and Poland, were flown on June 20. At the CIA, Richard Bissell and General Charles Cabell, now the agency’s deputy director of central intelligence (DDCI), were eager to begin flights over Soviet territory, but Eisenhower insisted on a face-to-face briefing for German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The two men flew to Bonn personally.

On July 4, less than one year after the U-2’s debut flight, the aircraft was flying an operational mission over the naval shipyards at Leningrad on its first Soviet Union mission. The following day, a U-2 overflew Moscow itself for the first and only time, then flew 125 miles farther east, looking down at the facility at the Zhukovsky Airfield at Ramenskoye where the Myasishchev M-4 Bison bombers were tested.

In a later conversation with Donald Welzenbach, Richard Bissell recalled briefing Dulles about Leningrad and Moscow having been overflown in the first twenty-four hours of the surveillance program. If Dulles was nonchalant, Bissell was almost cavalier.

“Oh my Lord,” Dulles said. “Do you think it was wise the first time?”

“Allen,” replied Bissell. “The first time is the safest.”

In turn, Dulles and Bissell met with Goodpaster to discuss the president’s concerns about whether the first overflights had been tracked on Soviet radar. In his July 5, 1956, memorandum for the record, Goodpaster noted that the CIA was authorized to continue the overflights “at the maximum rates until the first evidence of [radar] tracking was received.”

In a July 1987 interview, Goodpaster told Donald Welzenbach that Eisenhower was prepared to immediately halt the overflights if the U-2s were detected.

As the mission folders in the files of the CIA Office of Special Activities (OSA) show, the Soviets did detect the U-2 but were unable to track it consistently. Indeed, their radar coverage was so spotty that they did not know the aircraft had been over Moscow or Leningrad.

Elsewhere, MiG-15s and MiG-17s were captured by the K-38 cameras as they attempted to reach the Angel. However, the fighters were unable to reach the U-2 at its altitude. Just as the gleaming bare metal belly had made American airliner pilots mistake it for a flying saucer, the same glare made the Angel easy for Soviet pilots to see, even if they could not touch it.

Naturally, the Soviets protested about the overflights—privately, of course, because to admit being overflown would have been embarrassing.

Eisenhower then told Dulles to halt the flights—after eight missions behind the Iron Curtain, including five over the Soviet Union itself—and to tell no one about the U-2 missions who did not already know. The president met with Dulles on July 19, where he told him, according to Goodpaster, that he had “lost enthusiasm” for U-2 overflights of Soviet territory, although he did agree for them to continue over Eastern Europe. In an October 3 conversation with Goodpaster, a nervous Eisenhower grumbled that the U-2 operations were “provocative and unjustified.”

Despite all of the apparent failures, the U-2 had already achieved an unexpected intelligence coup. Analysts were able to ascertain that not nearly as many Bison bombers were being rolled out as previously feared. Indeed, there was no “bomber gap.”

In the fall of 1956, even as the overflights of the Soviet Union were suspended, the attention of the Eisenhower administration and the CIA shifted to the Middle East. Egypt had seized the Suez Canal, then owned and operated by Britain and France. The crisis devolved into open warfare as Israel attacked Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula, and Britain and France attempted to seize the canal by force. The United States remained on the sidelines with Eisenhower demanding a halt to hostilities.

Meanwhile, as Detachment A in West Germany was closed down, the CIA had made arrangements with Turkey, a fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, to base U-2 Detachment B there for possible future overflights of the Soviet Union. When the Suez Crisis began, the U-2s were able to supply Eisenhower with timely information about unfolding events. Later in 1956, after the Soviets intervened in Hungary to crush a rebellion against their dominance of Eastern Europe, Eisenhower agreed to a resumption of limited overhead reconnaissance by Detachment B of Eastern Europe, but not of the western Soviet Union.

As it was now obvious that Soviet radar could track the U-2s, the CIA initiated Project Rainbow, an effort to develop means of reducing the U-2’s radar cross section (RCS). These developments were early steps toward the basket of technologies known as “stealth,” which emerged into prominence a quarter century later.

One of the firms that emerged as a major player in this process was Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier (EG&G), a technical consulting firm founded in 1931 by MIT professor Harold Edgerton, a pioneer of high-speed photography. During World War II, EG&G had the imaging technology for Manhattan Project implosion tests, and in the 1950s, they were one of the key support organizations for the nuclear testing program at the NTS.

Over the coming decades, EG&G gradually expanded the scope of their work from engineering to facilities management at secure government locations, especially within the Nellis Range. As Area 51 mythology unfolded late in the century, EG&G was often singled out in various “black airplane” conspiracy theories. For Project Rainbow, their role was that of monitoring the proto-stealth experiments developed by others.

The early radar deception experiments conducted at Groom Lake involved radar-absorbing beads on wires strung around the periphery of the U-2 or gluing radar-absorbing “wallpaper” panels to its fuselage. Aircraft this encumbered were called “dirty birds,” an appellation readily accepted by Kelly Johnson, who did not like these additions because they interfered with the aerodynamics of his airplane.

This came to a head on April 2, 1957, when a dirty bird, coincidentally Article 341, the U-2 prototype, piloted by top Lockheed test pilot Robert Seiker (sometimes seen spelled as Sieker) crashed in a remote part of the Nellis AFB Range. It was not found for several days. The deadly mishap was traced to overheating caused by wallpaper, which resulted in a stall.

Ultimately, and sadly, given that they had claimed a life, the dirty bird modifications were proven ineffective.

Later RCS testing would be conducted with aircraft held aloft by a crane, or positioned atop a pole or pylon.

Soviet radar notwithstanding, overflights of parts of the Soviet Union east of the heavily populated areas had resumed and were proving extremely useful. During August 1957, under a series of missions conducted under the code name Soft Touch, U-2s brought back significant images of the ICBM test—and future space launch—facilities at Semipalatinsk and Tyuratam in Soviet Kazakhstan.

Russian Colonel Alexander Orlov told a CIA/CSI public symposium in September 1998 that “between March and October [of 1957], Soviet air defense radar picked up five U-2 overflights … at altitudes of 19 to 21 kilometers [about 62,000 to 69,000 feet], they were beyond the reach of the Soviet Air Defense Forces’ fighter planes and antiaircraft artillery.”

A short time later, the U-2s of Detachment C, flying out of Eilsen AFB in Alaska, photographed the nuclear weapons and missile facilities at Klyuchi on Kamchatka Island in the Soviet Far East.

In the span of a few days, Charles Cabell and Richard Bissell were able to put photos on President Eisenhower’s desk that showed him the Soviet equivalents of the NTS and Cape Canaveral. If all three men were as amazed to see the launch site at Tyuratam, they were astonished two months later on October 4 when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 from here.

Also at Tyuratam, the Soviets built the Baikonur Cosmodrome, their manned space launch center, and in April 1961, Yuri Gagarin went aloft to become the first human to orbit the Earth in outer space. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, numerous American astronauts have traveled into space from Baikonur.

Despite the success of Soft Touch, Eisenhower’s reticence in the face of Soviet protests—and attempts to shoot down U-2s in international air space of the Black Sea—led to a winding down of deep-penetration overhead reconnaissance missions. On March 7, 1958, the president told Goodpaster to tell Cabell and Bissell to halt the U-2 surveillance flights completely, initiating a ban that would last sixteen months.

Goodpaster sent Dulles and Bissell a memo conveying the president’s demand that “every cent that has been available for any project involving crossing the Iron Curtain is to be impounded and no further expenditures are to be made.”

ANGELS AT THE TURNING POINT

 

IN THE MONTHS AFTER President Eisenhower ordered CIA Director Dulles to pull the plug on overflights of the Soviet Union, a great many things happened that would affect the future of the U-2. On the operational side, the aircraft were again flying useful missions in the Middle East, this time watching over American troops who intervened in the 1958 Lebanon Crisis and monitoring Soviet ships and submarines in the Mediterranean. A secret deal to base the planes at Peshawar in Pakistan had been concluded, although no aircraft had yet been deployed there.

Meanwhile Detachment C, now based in Japan, had conducted overflights of the Peoples’ Republic of China, notably during 1958, when there were fears that the “Red” Chinese might attempt to invade Taiwan (the Republic of China). Later in the same year, the U-2s were also used—reverting to their original cover story—to monitor the progress of Typhoon Winnie as it came over Taiwan. The United States later transferred some U-2s to Taiwan’s Republic of China Air Force. These were operated by the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) 35th “Black Cat” Squadron, mainly over mainland China, between 1960 and 1974. The ROCAF was the only non-US air force to officially operate the U-2.

On the technical side, the CIA and US Air Force fleets of U-2As and two-seat U-2Bs were being upgraded. They were retrofitted with larger intakes, reengined with the new Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13 turbojet engines, and redesignated as U-2Cs. The J75’s 17,000 pounds of thrust permitted a more rapid climb into the troposphere and a stated operational altitude of 74,600 feet.

Meanwhile some earlier model U-2s were upgraded to U-2D standard, capable of carrying additional reconnaissance gear or a second crewmember. Later other aircraft were modified to be capable of being aerially refueled—although the endurance limitations of the aircraft did not rest with the fuel load but with pilot fatigue. Ten hours was shown to be the maximum length of time that a pilot could function at optimum performance. Aircraft with J57 engines retrofitted for aerial refueling were reportedly redesignated as U-2Es, while J75-powered aircraft became U-2Fs. The U-2G designation went to three U-2As, which were modified with arrestor hooks and other equipment for use aboard US Navy aircraft carriers.

Because of fears that the Soviets might soon deploy an interceptor that could threaten the U-2, the pilots wanted something done about that gleaming bare metal belly that made them feel like sitting ducks against the dark sky. Kelly Johnson’s engineers had resisted painting the U-2 because the weight of the paint would cost them altitude. With a more powerful engine installed, though, Johnson relented and the aircraft were painted a very dark blue-black.

On the geopolitical side, the Cold War arms race had heated up again. Just as there had once been a “bomber gap,” now there were cries in the media of a “missile gap,” as the Soviet Union was reportedly piling up ICBMs at a rapid rate. With nothing to refute these reports, and with mounting pressure from Congress to do something, Dwight Eisenhower was compelled to rethink his overflight ban.

One flight was made over Tyuratam on July 9, 1959, but further missions were complicated by an apparent thaw in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Vice President Richard Nixon visited the Soviet Union later in July, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev returned the favor with a thirteen-day visit to the United States. Khrushchev was well received during his trip, which included coast-to-coast stops that were widely covered in the media and culminated in a meeting with President Eisenhower at Camp David. In turn, the two men made plans for another summit conference to be held in the spring of 1960.

Behind the scenes, however, the Soviet Union was working overtime to develop U-2 countermeasures. These included a high-altitude variant of the Yakovlev Yak-25 interceptor (NATO code name Flashlight) that was designated Yak-25RV (NATO code name Mandrake), as well as the high-altitude V-750VN variant of the S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile (SAM), which was known to NATO as the SA-2 Guideline.

Ominously, considering later events, Colonel William Burke of the CIA’s Development Projects Division (DPD) wrote to Richard Bissell on March 14, 1960, that ATIC’s “present evaluation is that the SAM (Guideline) has a high probability of successful intercept at 70,000 feet providing that [radar] detection is made in sufficient time to alert the [SAM launch] site.”

Meanwhile the Soviet counterpart to the CIA, the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security), was also pulling out all the stops to get their hands on information about the U-2. Their agents and stringers haunted the periphery of bases from Turkey to Japan, where U-2s were based. If they had known about the secret world at Groom Lake, they would have had agents climbing the hills of the Pahranagat Range to have a peek, just as later-generation black airplane buffs would be doing.

With regard to intelligence about the U-2, conspiracy theorists often make mention of a former US Marine who had worked as a radar operator at Atsugi in Japan and who defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959. His name, which would enter the annals of infamy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, was Lee Harvey Oswald. In fact, the future assassin of John F. Kennedy had been no closer to the U-2 than his radar scope, and the Soviets showed no immediate interest in debriefing him.

By the spring of 1960, the CIA had developed an ambitious plan to utilize their U-2 launch site in Pakistan. They would fly 3,700 miles, cross the breadth of the Soviet Union, photograph ICBM facilities at Plesetsk and Sverdlovsk, and land in Norway. One mission, designated as Square Deal, had taken place on April 10, and another, designated as Grand Slam, was scheduled for May 1.

In retrospect, it seems counterintuitive, especially considering Eisenhower’s cautiousness about U-2 flights, that a mission would be scheduled for May Day. It was a major Soviet holiday, and it came just two weeks before the president was scheduled to sit down in Paris with Nikita Khrushchev on May 16 for their summit conference.

On the morning of May 1, Francis Gary “Frank” Powers, a veteran of 27 U-2 missions, climbed into a U-2C, Article 360, tail number 56-6693. He took off from Peshawar and flew north into the Soviet Union. He crossed Kazakhstan, photographed Tyuratam, entered Russia, and was 70,500 feet over the town of Degtyarsk, about 42 miles west of Sverdlovsk, when he was hit by a V-750VN missile. Powers bailed out and was captured by the Soviets, who made no immediate public mention of the incident.

When Powers did not arrive in Norway as planned, a preplanned cover story was released to the media through NASA on May 2 that a weather reconnaissance aircraft was missing on a flight over Turkey. On May 5, Khrushchev went public with a widely reported announcement that an American “spyplane” had been shot down.

For two days, he made no mention of the pilot having survived, but when he did, he announced that Powers had admitted to being a spy. Then the largely intact camera system was shown to the media in Moscow. The CIA, the US Air Force, and the Eisenhower administration were humiliated by their own bogus cover story—not to mention the embarrassment to NASA, who provided the cover story.

In the official CIA history of the U-2, Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach write that “Richard Bissell and the Development Projects Division had become overconfident and were not prepared for the ‘worst case’ scenario that actually occurred in May 1960.”

Pedlow and Welzenbach paint a picture of the CIA having come to believe its own unrealistic assurances about how long the U-2 could remain invulnerable to Soviet air defenses. They write that as early as 1956, the agency assumed the aircraft would have a useful service life of eighteen to twenty-five months, with Richard Bissell believing that it would become vulnerable before the end of 1957.

Now, however, here it was 1960, and the CIA had still never developed a worst case contingency.

In one ray of light, Kelly Johnson successfully cajoled the Soviets into displaying the entire crashed U-2 publicly.

“Hell, no,” he told the media when they displayed the wreckage of a Soviet aircraft, possibly a MiG that was accidentally shot down by a SAM trying to hit Powers. “That’s no U-2.”

It wasn’t, and the Soviets promptly dragged out the real wreckage, which was photographed in great detail. The widely published images allowed the Skunk Works team a close look.

The summit conference in Paris in mid-May, which also involved the British and French, turned sour when Eisenhower refused to apologize for the “U-2 incident.” Khrushchev walked out in a huff.

The show trial of Powers was a media circus that added insult to injury and cast a cloud over Eisenhower’s final months in office. Powers was convicted and sentenced to ten years, but he was released in a February 1962 prisoner swap with Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

After seeing the wreckage on television, and especially after debriefing Powers in 1962, Johnson determined what exactly had happened. “Both wings failed because of down-bending, not penetration of critical structure by shrapnel from a missile,” he wrote in his memoirs. “None of the pictures showed a horizontal tail. And the right section of the stabilizer was missing. While this damage is conceivable from a crash landing, it was improbable because of the relatively undamaged condition of the vertical tail itself.

“The design of the U-2 wing is so very highly cambered that without a tail surface to balance the very high pitching moment, the aircraft immediately goes over on its back; and in severe cases the wings have broken off in down-bending. This occurred once in early testing when the pilot inadvertently extended wing flaps at high cruise speed, resulting in horizontal tail failure. This takes place in a few seconds, at great acceleration and with the fuselage generally spinning inverted. When Powers was exchanged in February 1962 for a Russian spy, I met and talked with him as soon as possible. His statements matched our conclusions.”

Between what the Skunk Works had deduced and what Powers could add, it appeared that the missile had knocked off the right stabilizer at cruising altitude. As Johnson explains, “The airplane then, predictably, immediately went over on its back at high speed and the wings broke off in downbending.… With the airplane spinning badly and hanging onto the windshield for support, he tried to reach the destruct button to destroy the airplane [the CIA states that it would only have destroyed the camera]. It was timed to go off about ten seconds after pilot ejection. But he could not reach the switch. We simulated the situation and it just was not possible with the forces on his body. He had to let go.”

Johnson later hired Powers at the Skunk Works. Dismissed by Lockheed after the publication of his 1971 book Operation Overflight, Powers went to work as a traffic reporter for radio station KGIL in Los Angeles. When he was killed in a 1977 helicopter crash while on the job, the incident spawned a round of conspiracy theories.

In the immediate aftermath of the May 1960 incident, new procedural changes required the National Security Council (NSC) to approve all CIA U-2 overflights of sensitive territory, though no more would be sanctioned of the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe.

Detachment B was closed, and all the U-2s but one were crated up and sent to the United States. Meanwhile, the Japanese government, sensitive about the “spyplanes” of Detachment C, asked that they be removed, and they were. The CIA fleet was then consolidated into Detachment G at Edwards AFB in California.

In 1961, Detachment G U-2s were twice redeployed to the Pacific, specifically to the Philippines, for some of their first operations over Laos and North Vietnam. In September 1961, during the crisis over the building of the Berlin Wall, John F. Kennedy came close to ordering a resumption, but he did not.

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff established the Joint Reconnaissance Center (JRC) to coordinate the separate CIA and US Air Force U-2 operations. According to Pedlow and Welzenbach, 500 missions were still being flown monthly in 1961. The targets included China, North Vietnam, and Cuba—especially before and during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.

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