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Coen van Wyk

The article deals with the fact that the shooting down of an American spy plane by the Russians during the cold war was made possible by the unintended collaboration of Britain and Russia.

In 1962 Gary Powers was doing a reconnaissance flight over Russia in his American Lockheed U-2 spy plane when he was shot down and captured by the Russians. It was common knowledge at the time that Russian interceptor aircraft and ground to air missiles were unable to reach the altitude at which the U-2 was flying and the question as to how the Russians succeeded in downing the U-2 remained unanswered.

During 1963 and while the author was still active as an Air Force pilot he met an American airman who had been seconded to the American military attaché in South Africa. He asked the American whether his Government knew how the Russians succeeded in knocking Powers out of the sky, and he was told that the most acceptable theory regarding how Powers could have been brought down from an altitude that Russian fighters and missiles could not reach, was that the U-2 had a flame-out and that it was necessary for Powers to descend to a lower altitude to restart. And that is when his U-2 was shot down. Gary Powers was in captivity at the time and it was therefore not possible to procure his comments on the theory and I never found out whether it was in fact possible to restore power to a U-2 in flight. However, that question and the flameout theory has now become of mere academical interest in the light of information that the author gleaned from a letter of one J.B Scott-Wilson that appeared in the August 2000 edition of Aerospace International.

It appears from the letter that the U-2 was downed by a Sam-2 missile, but that the altitude capabilities of the missile was enhanced by making a first stage boost for the missile. Without the boost, the missile would have been unable to attain the altitude at which the U-2 was flying. What is however particularly interesting is the fact that the fist stage boost for the missile was made by using a Rolls- Royce Nene II turbojet engine. It appears that the Nene II was a gift to the Soviet Government by a generous British Government.

J.B. Scott-Wilson states in his letter that in 1993, when he was chairman of Nato Agard, he was accompanied by the director on a goodwill visit to the Ukraine and thereafter visited the Progress engine factory in Zaporozhye. He stated that at the end of their visit they were shown round their museum which had many of their early engines on display. There, much to his amazement, we saw the rather battered remains of a Russian Nene turbojet, which had been built there, along with photos of the remains of Gary Powers U-2. It was explained that when the Russians found that their Sam-2 missiles were unable to reach the altitude at which the U-2 was flying, decided to make a first stage boost using the Nene engine to increase the altitude capabilities of the missile.

The story of the Rolls-Royce engine in the life of Gary Powers illustrates just how unforeseen the consequences of any particular action can be. Balfour would no doubt be stunned to see what the Middle East looks like in the year 2000 due to the declaration that he made in 1917. Would Einstein's ever have thought that his theory on relativity and the very simple, yet magical formula, would lead to nuclear fusion and nuclear fission?