The U.S. Air Force sent a U2 surveillance plane deep within Soviet territory in 1960 to perform aerial surveillance at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. Unfortunately, Soviet soldiers shot down the plane, and the pilot was captured.

USAF pilot Francis Gary Powers was flying the single-seat aircraft when it was hit by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile and crashed near Sverdlovsk (present-day Yekaterinburg). Powers parachuted but was stopped by the Soviet Army.

The Soviet Union later produced the captured pilot and pieces of the U-2 surveillance equipment, including photographs of Soviet military bases, forcing U.S. authorities to admit the mission’smission’s true purpose.

This left U.S. authorities red-faced, as the incident was initially passed off as the loss of a NASA-operated civilian weather research aircraft.

The U.S. military was heavily spying on Soviet military installations and their nuclear program. However, the abysmal failure of this mission was an important learning experience for the U.S. military, its political class, and the Central Investigation Agency (CIA).

However, the incident did not stop the United States from conducting espionage missions with its U-2 spy plane on another rising military power and potential adversary, China. 

Washington officials knew that Beijing’sBeijing’s burgeoning military power would be detrimental to their interests, especially after the heavy-handed front of Chinese forces in the Korean War.

In addition, it was a period of flourishing cooperation between the Soviet Union and China, in which the latter received military support and the technology necessary for its nuclear program.

The United States and the CIA wanted to know the location of the Chinese military bases, their bases for submarines, and what kind of aircraft the Chinese were building at the time. However, wary of losing more of its U.S. Air Force pilots if the planes were shot down by the Chinese People’sPeople’s Liberation Army (PLA), the CIA hatched a spectacular plan.

As part of this plan, the United States turned to China’s estranged brother, the Republic of China (ROC), better known as Taiwan. In 1954, a “Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of China” was signed, which Taiwan identified as the US-led Western camp.

China shot down 5 U.S. reconnaissance planes.
File image: Kelly Johnson and Gary Powers in front of a U-2

How Taiwan Confronted the Black Cats and the U.S. Spy Mission

The planes were transferred to Taiwan as part of a top-secret mission to spy on Communist China’s growing military capabilities, including its fledgling nuclear program, according to accounts by the pilots in a Taiwanese documentary and stories published on Taiwanese government websites. United States and Taiwan.

At the time, the newly created U-2, also known as the Dragon Lady, seemed like the ideal aircraft to carry out the mission. Its high-altitude capabilities, which, according to its developer Lockheed, allowed it to reach an unparalleled and impressive altitude of 70,000 feet, made it immune to anti-aircraft missiles.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), seemed like the ideal location for the mission. It was going to be a U.S. delegation mission, in retrospect.

“Because the United States did not want their pilots to be shot down in a U-2 as Gary Powers had been shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, leading to a major diplomatic incident, they turned to Taiwan. Taiwan was only too willing to let them. 

Their pilots were trained and made a long series of flyovers over mainland China,” Chris Pocock, author of “50 Years of the U-2,” explains in the 2018 documentary “Lost Black Cats 35th Squadron.”

The U-2 was a challenging aircraft to operate. According to a narrative presented by Pocock at a conference, eight planes were shot down, and six Taiwanese pilots were killed in training. 

Five other pilots died over mainland China during the mission. Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and his son Chiang Ching-Kuo personally supervised the Black Cats squad, hoping to return to mainland China they so lovingly and diligently claimed as their own.

U.S. Air Force veteran Lt. Gen. Lloyd Leavitt described the mission as “a joint US-ROC intelligence operation.”

The Alabama Air Force Research Institute published a Cold War memoir written by Leavitt in 2010 that read: “American U-2s were painted with ROC insignia, the Republic of China pilots of China was under the command of a ROC (Air Force) colonel, Washington planned the overflight missions, and both countries were recipients of intelligence collected on the mainland.

The “Meteorological Research and Reconnaissance Section” (also known as “35° S.Q.”) was officially established on February 1, 1963, and placed under the control of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff/Intelligence (A2) in the Headquarters (formerly known as Command Headquarters) of the ROCAF.

Representatives of both nations signed the “Project Razor” agreement in 1967. It was in force from January 13, 1962, to May 24, 1974. Throughout that period, 220 reconnaissance missions were carried out, covering an area of ​​more than 10 million square kilometers in the other 30 provinces of mainland China.

Throughout the day, the Black Cat Team took to the skies in the iconic U-2 spy plane to get a bird’s eye view of China’s expanding military strength and the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The Chinese communists fired back at Taiwanese pilots flying the U2 spy planes. People’s Liberation Army top brass Mao Tse-Tung and Chou En-Lai urged commanders to deploy radar and anti-aircraft guns and upgrade their Soviet-supplied warplanes and missiles.

In response, the CIA equipped Nationalist planes with state-of-the-art electronic warfare hardware.

How the United States lost the U2 spy planes and Taiwan the Black Cats

Mike Hua was one of the first guys to fly the U-2 to Taiwan and was there when the first jet arrived at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Air Base in early 1961.

“The missions covered the vast interior of mainland China, where aerial photography had hardly ever been taken,” he wrote. “Each mission brought back an aerial photographic map approximately 100 miles wide by 2,000 miles long, which revealed not only the target’ precise location but also activities on the ground.”

Pocock remarked in the 2018 documentary, “As the U-2 usually takes off at night, it made sense to send the Black Cats out at that time. To them, the cameras were the eyes, and they were sneaky, quiet, and difficult to capture.”

As the PLA learned to block U-2 operations in subsequent years, three more U-2 Black Cat pilots perished during missions over China. According to Pocock, the Chinese in mainland China began to develop missile launch sites but moved after knowing from their radars where these planes were headed and their targets.

China shot down 5 U.S. reconnaissance planes.

So they would build a site, occupy it for a while, but move the missiles if they thought the next flight would pass through that area. There was a constant back-and-forth between Taiwanese flight patterns and Chinese air defense forces as they tried to anticipate where the next flight would go.

On November 1, 1963, Commander Yeh Chang-di (Robin) was piloting a U-2 in search of possible nuclear facilities in Wuhan, Hubei province. PLAAF SA-2 missiles shot down his plane near the city of Yin’tan in Jiangxi province, and he was subsequently detained.

On November 10, 1982, he and Commander Chang Li-yi, another pilot from the crashed U-2, were released from detention in Hong Kong, and the CIA then made arrangements for them to move to the United States.

Yeh and Chang, who are believed to have been killed in combat, did not return to Taiwan for many years. Finally, in 1982, the pilots were allowed to return to Hong Kong, which was still a British territory.

But in the intervening years, the world has undergone a major transformation. Legally, the United States had ended its mutual defense agreement with Taiwan and moved recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

Despite the fact that the United States and Taiwan had severed their Cold War alliance, the CIA moved the two pilots to the United States, where they remained until 1990 when they were eventually permitted to return to Taiwan.

CIA oversight of the U-2 program had long since ended by the time of his release. According to U.S. Air Force history, the planes were delivered to service in 1974.

The Air Force’s 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron and its U-2s relocated to Osan Air Base in South Korea two years later. The area was named “Black Cat” by its commander, Lieutenant Colonel David Young. The squadron is now known as the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Last month, U2 spy planes were attacked again as they were dispatched to track a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States. Despite the fact that the F-22 Raptor shot down the balloon, the U2 pilot took photographs, including a self-portrait, demonstrating this aircraft’s value.

These planes were the cornerstone of U.S. surveillance operations. The fact that China shot down five of them will forever be etched in history. The United States has refused to release any further information on the matter.

In 2020, China insulted the United States by inviting a U.S. Air Force pilot to view an exhibit on the U-2s shot down by the Chinese military over four decades prior.

In a message posted on Weibo on August 25 by the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, it was stated that any connoisseur of military history knows that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has repeatedly shot down high-altitude reconnaissance planes U -2.