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Shot down over the Soviet Union

April 8th 1950. Soviet Pilot Anatolij Gerasimov has the US Navy PB 4Y2 Privateer neatly positioned in his sights and fires the guns of his fighter plane. The Lavochkin 11 shudders, and a hail of bullets hits the giant American four-engined spy plane. Airmen bail out of the fatally damaged Privateer, parachutes blossom. While a Soviet rescue operation swings into operation, Gerasimov and his 3 wingmen return to their base to sign the pilot reports prepared for them, which assert the deliberate lie that the plane exploded - with no survivors.

During the cold war more than 150 American airmen were killed in clandestine spyflight operations. There was a full-blown secret air war in the 1950´s. Only one case is well known, both the tip and of the iceberg and the last instance: the shooting down of Gary Powers' U2 over Sverdlovsk. But this was the last overflight. Not because the Americans feared Soviet air defence, but because they had developed a better tool: the spy satellite. The day Powers was sentenced in Moscow, the first successful spy satellite was launched and placed in orbit.

In recent years more and more facts about the spy missions of the secret air war have emerged. The full truth is still not known, but what has bubbled to the surface is startling enough. Some historians argue that staunch hawks in the American military tried to start World War 3 with their spyflight missions. Because of these allegations the US government decided to commission a historian to gather facts about these missions. Although it may be naive to believe that a US government historian would deliver the whole truth, as opposed to a portion of the truth relating to pre-selected cases, a new and more complete picture is now available. And although some evidence has emerged to counter the claim that warmongering generals mounted rogue missions, there are still disturbing questions. Some of the flights in question could best be described as intentionally provocative.

The secret air war of the superpowers shows the outline of the operations and reports facts never previously published. There is an account of how secret agents were dropped by the CIA in Soviet satellite states - hundreds of them - in missions that failed entirely. A still well-kept secret of the Cold War. On camera for the first time ever one of the pilots involved in these drops talks the operations.

Other highlights: a crew member from a reconnaissance flight over Eastern Block countries recounts his experiences with intercepting Migs. His flight still never took place, officially. And the pilot of the first ever spy flight over the Soviet Union provides a dramatic account of how he just managed to his battle-scarred plane to England.

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