Spying from the Sky received a very favorable review by the Journal of America's Military Past in their Spring/Summer 2010 edition. A portion of their review follows:
"Rarely does one encounter any American military service member who has served in World War II as a fighter pilot (P-38s), flown bombers (B-47s) and strategic reconnaissance aircraft (RB-57s) in the Cold War, and finally served with the Central Intelligence Agency over the course of many of the most important missions of the aerial surveillance era (U-2s) across the globe, up to the advent of the SR-71 “Blackbird.”
Flying also meant being on the front lines of the Cold War, as the United States needed as much intelligence as it could get on the Soviet and Chinese (and later the North Vietnamese) orders of battle, intentions, capabilities and the locations of much of their defensive and offensive military infrastructure and weapons systems. These missions were fraught with risk by virtue of accidents, pilot error,
mechanical failures and the ever-present possibility of a shoot down for violating a nation’s airspace, as was the case of Francis Gary Powers in May 1960.
Gregory was even involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, leading the detachment which overflew the island and provided the intelligence by which President John F. Kennedy justified his blockade and forced the Soviets to back down and remove their missiles.
Interspersed throughout the text are italicized, clarifying, and contextual quotes from Gregory himself and many photographs from the National Archives, Army and Navy, Lockheed Martin, the Gregory family, and other sources. Although there is no bibliography, the endnotes provide additional information and context and
demonstrate considerable research by the author in declassified government documents, newspapers, magazine articles, reports and other sources. "
On March 31, Casemate Publishers, a major publisher of books related to World War II aviation and Air Force aviation history, released “Spying from the Sky” , a biography of Col. William James Gregory, authored by Robert L. Richardson.
Spying from the Sky chronicles Col. Gregory’s roots as the son of a dirt-poor Tennessee sharecropper who dared to imagine, from the back of a mule-drawn plow, that a better life was possible.
The book describes “Greg’s” challenging early years – years that were marked with sharp poverty, but also with close family support, and a deep personal faith. With his father’s strong commitment to his education, Greg completed high school, and by sheer dint of determination was able to locate a college that would both admit him, and provide a work-study position that would permit him to work his way through school.
During his early college years, with the war in Europe reaching a fever pitch and America’s involvement not far off, Greg entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program. He discovered a love of aviation, and developed a strong proficiency in handling an aircraft. He was offered a position with the Army Aviation Pilot Training Program, and shortly after completing his Primary Training Course, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. was at war.
Greg completed his flight training, was assigned to a P-38 fighter squadron, and arrived in North Africa in the spring of 1942 – a time when control of the skies over the Mediterranean was still hotly contested. Greg completed 50 combat missions with the 49th Fighter Squadron (14th FG) and on return to the United States was assigned as a flight leader and instructor at Ontario Army Air Base.
Post-War, Greg began flying B-29 aerial refueling tankers with the 301stBomb Wing at Barksdale, and in 1953 was selected to transition to the new, high performance B-47 strategic bomber. After a year of training, Greg was assigned to the 19th Bomb Wing at Orlando and joined the regular rotation of SAC overseas deployments. When on deployment to Sidi Slimane, Morocco, Greg’s assigned target for his Mark 15 nuclear bomb was Tblisi, Georgia – Josef Stalin’s home town.
In 1956 Greg was hand-picked for assignment to the United States first truly high-altitude reconnaissance project – the Black Knight Program – which flew the highly modified RB-57D Canberra, and aircraft capable of reaching an altitude of 65,000 feet. Greg was named commander of the 4025th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, and took his group on deployments to England, Alaska, and Turkey where the squadron flew electronic intelligence (ELINT ) collection missions to obtain order of battle information on Soviet air defenses.
Just as the Black Knight Program was reaching the end of its planned 5-year duration, Francis Gary Powers was shot down while piloting a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union. The CIA’s high altitude program was immediately withdrawn to the United States, the two deployed units were dissolved, and all U-2 aircraft and assets were relocated to the North Base at Edwards AFB. And named to lead the CIA’s new Detachment G: Lt. Col. William Gregory.
Greg was immediately tasked with determining if the U-2s could operate effectively as a “deployed” force – meaning that instead of the U-2s being stationed at fixed bases overseas, they would be based within the United States, and sent on short term deployments to forward bases in order to conduct overflight missions, then return to Edwards.
Greg and his team of CIA, Air Force, and civilian contractors were able to demonstrate in three CIA-designed exercises that the U-2 could be effectively deployed. Following that recertification of the aircraft’s capabilities, the CIA immediately began laying on reconnaissance missions for Detachment G. The first missions assigned were overflights of Cuba.
Over the next five years Greg and his team would complete 126 separate mission over dozens of deployments. Most significantly, when the CIA began receiving reports of intensified Soviet activity in Cuba in late 1963, Greg and his unit began regular overflights of the island, seeking to learn what the Soviet’s capabilities and intentions were.
On an August 29th, 1964 overflight, Soviet surface-to-air missiles were found in western Cuba. Greg would later be told by his CIA handlers: “this is the most important mission you will have ever flown”. From that point, the Cuban Missile Crises unfolded, with the Soviet Union and the United States coming perilously close to a nuclear exchange before a resolution was found.
Greg was awarded the CIA’s Medal of Merit for his command of the U-2 detachment during the Crisis, and received a personal, though highly classified letter of thanks from President Kennedy. Detachmenet G was also awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
Greg’s five year term with the CIA’s U-2 operation came to an end in 1965, and after spending a year at the War College, Greg was assigned to the Directorate of Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare at the Pentagon. In that post, Greg was responsible for oversight of dozens of development projects related to aerial reconnaissance, both tactical and strategic.
Greg’s next, and final assignment was to the Air Force Institute of Technology, where he served as Vice Commandant and Chief of Staff. Greg retired from that position in August 1975.
It is the tremendous arc of Greg’s life and service that makes his story so compelling. “How is it possible that so much could occur in one lifetime, even a long one like Col. Gregory’s”.
Spying from the Sky tells the story of the American Cold War Intelligence Program in the words of the man who controlled much of the reconnaissance operations. Importantly, the book places Greg’s service within the context of the times, and details the evolution of the American high altitude program, as well as the development programs that provided the critical aircraft platforms from which the reconnaissance was conducted.
In the words of Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of the Cold War Museum:
“This book is a must read. It is a detailed account of the U-2 program and other Cold War operations as lived through by Col. William Gregory, one of the pilots who experienced it firsthand. A great addition to your library.”
In the words of Lockheed’s Eric Knutsen:
“The biography of William Gregory and the history of the world events surrounding his life give context to the stories the families gleaned decades after the events of the 1960’s. Within these pages are contained the challenges, disappointments and victories these heroes endured while performing a difficult job.”
Spying from the Sky is included in the Casemate Spring Catalog for 2020
By special permission of the publisher, Chapter ONE of Spying from the Sky is available for online reading at: https://robertrichardsonbooks.com/spying-from-the-sky
Orders can be placed directly with the publisher at www.casematepublishers.com, with any bookstore, or at the usual online book sellers. Copies will be placed in libraries around the country.
Based on newly available information, the son of famed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers presents the facts and dispels misinformation about the Cold War espionage program that turned his father into a Cold War icon.
One of the most talked-about events of the Cold War was the downing of the American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The event was recently depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies. Powers was captured by the KGB, subjected to a televised show trial, and imprisoned, all of which created an international incident. Soviet authorities eventually released him in exchange for captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. On his return to the United States, Powers was exonerated of any wrongdoing while imprisoned in Russia, yet, due to bad press and the government's unwillingness to heartily defend Powers, a cloud of controversy lingered until his untimely death in 1977.
Now his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr. and acclaimed historian Keith Dunnavant have written this new account of Powers's life based on personal files that had never been previously available. Delving into old audio tapes, letters his father wrote and received while imprisoned in the Soviet Union, the transcript of his father's debriefing by the CIA, other recently declassified documents about the U-2 program, and interviews with the spy pilot's contemporaries, Powers and Dunnavant set the record straight. The result is a fascinating piece of Cold War history. This is also a book about a son's journey to understand his father, pursuing justice and a measure of peace.Almost sixty years after the fact, this will be the definitive account of one of the most important events of the Cold War.
“To most of us, Francis Gary Powers was an abstraction, a name in a history book. The same as Charlemagne, Martin Luther, or Gandhi. After Spy Pilot, we can never say that again. Powers is now a son, a husband, a father. Like all of us, he had dreams, fears, passions, courage, rage, and an overwhelming desire to make a difference. Spy Pilot is our chance to finally meet the man behind the legend.”
—VINCE HOUGHTON, PhD, historian/curator, International Spy Museum
“Francis Gary Powers Jr. brilliantly details his father’s painful turmoil as a CIA U-2 pilot. The stain on his father’s character, facilitated by America’s Cold War fears, caused him anguish that was exacerbated by his first wife’s behavior. Gary Jr., always knowing that his father was a true American patriot and a loving parent, helped clear his father’s name and bring closure to his life’s journey. I can relate to Gary’s pain because the crew of the USS Libertyhas endured a similar fate, which still continues to this day.”
—ERNEST A. GALLO, president, USS LibertyVeterans Association
“Biography, autobiography, the unraveling of a Cold War mystery, and a son’s mission to see his father honored. This book has it all.”
—VIN ARTHEY, author of Abel: The True Story of the Spy They Traded for Gary Powers
“Spy Pilot is a deeply moving book of a son’s lifelong search to uncover the hidden history of his father. Gary Powers Jr. has done himself, his family, and his father proud with this fascinating, detailed, and loving account that is at once a detailed and informative history of the Lockheed U-2 and the men who designed, maintained, and flew it; a compelling biographical inquiry about his famous father, CIA spy pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile on May 1, 1960; and a searching personal memoir of one man’s efforts to restore the reputation of his father, who was killed in a tragic news helicopter accident in August 1977. Knowing what pilot Powers actually did, readers will come away feeling dismayed at how badly he was treated upon his return from Soviet captivity, and impressed by the depth of his son’s love and devotion. Highly recommended!”
—RICHARD P. HALLION, PhD, aerospace analyst and former historian of the US Air Force
“The son of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers has written an in-depth, detailed account of his father’s life, the infamous U-2 shoot-down, and the aftermath. Much is revealed in this book, which is a must-read for those interested in the Cold War, intelligence, and aviation.”
—NORMAN POLMAR, author of Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified and coauthor of Spyplanes
“Francis Gary Powers Jr. has been a tireless and admirable advocate on behalf of the legacy of his father, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, as well as on the preservation of Cold War history, by establishing the Cold War Museum, and (his) meticulous collection of personal artifacts on exhibit at multiple institutions and organizations.
This book is a personal, poignant, and touching tribute to a man who loved his son and family; a new understanding of an American patriot; and a thoughtful, insightful analysis of the events linking our families together in history, for generations to come.”
—MARY ELLEN DONOVAN FULLER, BETH AMOROSI,
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