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ISSUE 54 - February 2009
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Sitting out there on the frozen lake was the strangest bird anyone around these parts had ever seen.

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.

Welcome to Creighton

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.

Map of 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.

Airborne RB57F

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 and photograph.

Ken Murphy

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 different names.

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.

President Eisenhower warned of the lobbying power of the militaryindustrial complex:

“In 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 democratic processes.”

Read this amazingly prophetic speech in its brief entirety at:

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