Sitting out there on the frozen
lake was the strangest bird anyone around these parts had
But for sure, the folks around Wapawekka Lake
in Saskatchewan Canada didn’t really get out that
much; at least not in the early ‘60’s anyway.
The closest towns were Creighton and La Ronge, neither
a thriving metropolis. This is pretty isolated country.
It lies in the Precambrian Shield, so the chief industry
naturally is mining. The Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting
Company developed a mining, milling and smelting complex
there in the late 1920's mining copper and zinc, gold,
silver, cadmium and now uranium. Other resources for the
area are forestry and especially tourism which began picking
up in the late 30's, with people flying in for the rich
fishing available on Lac La Ronge and other lakes nearby.
The community of Creighton is just to the east near the
Saskatchewan Manitoba boundary but even now enjoys a population
of just 1,700 or so. This is the Mamawetan Churchill River
Region and the indigenous populations are mostly Cree and
Dene, first nation descendants.
Everyone knows about everyone here, so when this thing
happened, word of it spread like a nor’easter. There
was no keeping it quiet.
Captain Roger Cooper of the United States Air Force was
involved that day in what was probably the most secret
thing happening anywhere. Even today there are countries
that refuse to talk about their involvement. Australia
won’t. Certainly Taiwan doesn’t. Afghanistan,
Iran, Turkey, Norway, among others. They were all involved,
but you won’t get much from them about it.
It was March, 1960, the 15th. The “Ides
of March” as it were. Never a good time since the
era of ancient Rome. Nobody gives a thought anymore for “The
Calends of April”, or even “The Nones of May”.
But the Ides of March, well; they still resonate
with us. Nothing good is expected.
So it was for Captain Cooper, 75,000 feet up over Canada.
Scooping air samples. Searching for traces of a rare gas
called Krypton-85. This was Operation Crowflight. His 10
hour mission was to collect, from the skies over the Artic,
traces of this Krypton-85. Determining the trace values
of this rare gas would help the US calculate the size of
the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. This sampling operation
was being conducted world wide with logistical support
from a dozen countries. But Capt. Cooper’s routine
ended when the engine quit. With the engine went his pressurization
and the huge suit filled with compressed air, binding his
body tightly against the near vacuum of his altitude. Sure,
he was in a glider now. Wings way too long for any normal
aircraft. A lift over drag number off the charts. But you
need a place to glide TO, and he was over vast tundra.
The U2’s extraordinary glide ratio and its available
altitude came together on the frozen Wapawekka Lake.
And remember, this was March 1960. Francis Gary Power’s
odyssey wouldn’t begin for another six weeks. The
world had never heard of a U2. Never suspected the scope
of our airborne intelligence gathering operations. Never
suspected we would over fly the Soviet with our huge B-36
and speedy B-47’s and high flying RB-57F’s.
Never conceived a program of repeated spy missions over
most of the world. Missile Gap. ICBM. That’s about
all the world’s public would read about.
It would all change on May 1st of that year. Gary Powers
would end up in the news reels and on world’s TV
screens, on trial for his life as a spy. The U.S. Air Force
pilot and his spy plane plucked from the skies over the
Soviet Union. His super secret spy plane revealed for all
to see. But all that wouldn’t happen for another
six weeks, and landed here today, on the frozen surface
of Wapawekka Lake, was this strange bird. They all came
and saw it, long before the Yanks could muster up a C-119
Flying Boxcar and support crew to come rescue their top
secret little spy bird. Long before they could cordon off
the lake and deny access to all who came to see, and talk
The Royal Canadian Air Force personnel from Station ‘Cranberry
Portage’ were used as guards at the site and arranged
for a contractor from La Ronge to clear the snow. A C-119
landed on the ice with the support personnel and a new engine.
Soon the U-2 was flown off the lake and home.
But it was
too late. Word was still circulating about the secret spy
plane and its imagined activities when another one, half
a world away, came down and ignited a furor which would eventually
bring down the summit meeting between President Eisenhower
and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
So what did this ‘Crowflight’ program
bring us? The photographs told the story. Right there on
the tail, plainly visible for all the folks from La Ronge
and Creighton to see, was the Crowflight logo over the tail
of U2 # 66717.
The Crowflight program was conducted
in conjunction with a number of other projects known by
|Crow Flight Patch, Crow Flight
Green Hornet Patch and Toy Soldier Patch
Crowflight. Only now revealed for what it was. A cooperative
effort by many countries to determine the real extent of the
Soviet nuclear threat. It was this program that helped form
the assessment, presented to President Eisenhower by the CIA,
which not only proved the Soviet nuclear threat was miniscule,
but that it was virtually non existent.
That assessment allowed
the outgoing President to perceive the extent to which the
runaway military build up was being based on fear and presumption.
The need to gather intelligence and craft policy on knowledge
stood out in his mind as paramount in a world struggling to
keep pace with its own technological explosion.
warned of the lobbying power of the militaryindustrial complex:
the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition
of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the
militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous
rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never
let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or
Read this amazingly prophetic
speech in its brief entirety at: