Spying from the Sky
At the Controls of US Cold War Aerial Intelligence
Robert L Richardson
The “must read” story of America’s first high-altitude aviation program and one of its pilots (Francis Gary Powers Jr.).
William “Greg” Gregory was born into a sharecropper’s life in the hills of North Central Tennessee. From the back of a mule-drawn plow, Greg learned the value of resilience and the importance of determined living. Refusing to accept a life of poverty, he found a way out: a work-study college program that made it possible for him to leave farming behind forever.
While at college, Greg completed the Civilian Pilot Training Program and was subsequently accepted into the US Army’s pilot training program. Earning his wings in 1942, he became a P-38 combat pilot and served in North Africa during the summer of 1943—a critical time when the Luftwaffe was still a potent threat, and America had begun the march northward from the Mediterranean into Europe proper.
Following the war, Greg served with a B-29 unit, then transitioned to the new, red-hot B-47 strategic bomber. In his frequent deployments, he was always assigned the same target in the Soviet Union: Joseph Stalin’s hometown of Tbilisi. While a B-47 pilot, Greg was selected to join America’s first high-altitude program, the Black Knights. Flying RB-57D aircraft, he and his team flew peripheral “ferret” missions around the Soviet Union and its satellites, collecting critical order-of-battle data desperately needed by the US Air Force at that time.
When the program neared its design end—and following the Gary Powers shoot-down over the Soviet Union—Greg was assigned to command of the CIA’s U-2 unit at Edwards AFB. Over this five-year command, he and his team provided critical overflight intelligence during the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam buildup, and more. He also became one of the first pilots to fly U-2s off aircraft carriers in a demonstration project.
Spying from the Sky is the in-depth biography of William Gregory, who attended the National War College, was assigned to the reconnaissance office at the Pentagon, and was named vice-commandant of the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) before retiring from the force in 1972.