Spying from the Sky

At the Controls of US Cold War Aerial Intelligence

Robert Richardson

The history of Cold War reconnaissance in the words of the man who proved the aircraft, commanded the units, and flew the missions. This is the biography of pilot Col. William Gregory, whose astonishing career with the CIA and the US Air Force encompassed the attempts by US intelligence to understand Cold War Soviet Union.
Date Published :
February 2020
Publisher :
Contributor(s) :
William J. Gregory
Illustration :
70 images
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612008363
Pages : 312
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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This is the biography of pilot Col. William Gregory, whose astonishing career with the CIA and the US Air Force encompassed the attempts by US intelligence to understand Cold War Soviet Union.

William Gregory, "Greg" to all, 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 living a determined life. Refusing to accept a life of continued poverty, Greg sought and found a way out—a work-study college program that made it possible to leave farming behind him forever.

While at college, Greg completed the Civilian Pilot Training Program and was subsequently accepted into the Army's pilot training program. Earning his wings in 1942, Greg 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—Tblisi, Stalin's home town. While a B-47 pilot, Greg was selected to join America's first high-altitude program—the Black Knights. Flying RB-57D aircraft, Greg and his team flew peripheral "ferret" missions around the Soviet Union and its satellites, collecting critical order-of-battle data so desperately needed by the Air Force at that time. When that 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. It was during that five-year command that Greg and his team provided critical overflight intelligence, including during the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam build-up. He found time to also become one of the first to fly U-2s off aircraft carriers in a demonstration project.

Following his U-2 command, Greg attended the National War College, was assigned to the reconnaissance office at the Pentagon, and then was named Vice-Commandant of the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). Greg retired from the Air Force in 1972.

About The Author

Following a successful career in international business and global education, Robert Richardson began writing about the little-known, personal, but critically important stories of World War II and the Cold War. He wrote The Jagged Edge of Duty in 2017, and his current project relates to the events in the South Pacific during the early months of World War II. A life-long conservationist, Richardson is co-founder of the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy.


Chapter 1 Tennessee
Chapter 2 College Life
Chapter 3 AAC Flight Schools
Chapter 4 Combat Tour
Chapter 5 Coming Home
Chapter 6 Pinecastle and the B-47
Chapter 7 Project Black Knight
Chapter 8 The 4025th and Operation Border Town
Chapter 9 The U-2, the CIA, and Early U-2 Operations
Chapter 10 U-2 Shootdown
Chapter 11 Cuban Missile Crisis
Chapter 12 National War College, the Pentagon, and AFIT
Chapter 13 The Colonel is a Civilian


"Spying From The Sky presents a pilot’s firsthand view of manned high altitude surveillance. Truly a unique and valuable source."

- Studies in Intelligence

"Gregory's professional exploits are described in vivid detail...Spying from the Sky is a solid and informative addition to several books on the subject..."

- Air & Space Magazine

"...an interesting read about an Airman’s life in the USAF, spent mostly in strategic reconnaissance from World War II to the 1970s. It is also an excellent history of USAF and CIA strategic reconnaissance in the 1950s and 1960s."

- Air & Space Power Journal

"This is certainly a publication meant for those who have an interest in aviation, the Cold War, and aerial surveillance. It is gratifying to finally have an opportunity to learn, know and understand much of what went on behind the scenes in defending this country during a critical period in its history."

- The Journal of America's Military Past

"Richardson has produced a well-researched, well-written book that achieves his objective of introducing us to Colonel William Gregory and helping us understand his role in preserving the peace during the Cold War."

- Air Power History

"This book is a must read. It is a detailed account of the U-2 program and other Cold War operations as lived through by Col. William Gregory, one of the pilots who experienced it firsthand. A great addition to your library.”

- Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Founder and Chairman Emeritus of The Cold War Museum and author of Spy Pilot (2019) and Letters from a Soviet Prison (2017)

“Growing up in the Antelope Valley as young children of the Lockheed U-2 drivers, we did not know what our fathers were doing other than they were pilots. This biography of William Gregory and the history of the world events surrounding his life give context to the stories the families gleaned decades after the events of the 1960s. Within these pages are contained the challenges, disappointments and victories these heroes endured while performing a difficult job. Yet, it was a job that they all embraced without fanfare or reward. Through Col. Gregory and the U-2 drivers, they achieved what they had instilled—they kept our country safe.”

- Eric Knutson, Director of Lockheed Martin Co.

“In Spying from the Sky, the reader gets a peek beneath the shroud of secrecy surrounding the CIA’s Area 51 in Nevada as it develops the U-2 spy plane, and its proposed replacement, the CIA’s A-12 Archangel Blackbird predecessor to the Air Force’s SR-71. All-in-all, by following the career of Col William Gregory, the author touches a vast spectrum of history, being poor, the struggle for an education, the advancement of aviation, secrecy, war, leadership, family, and success, to name a few.”

- T. D. Barnes, Veteran of the US Army, NASA, & CIA Area 51 Special Projects

‘’Books following pilots’ careers can become rather familiar to the avid aviation enthusiast/reader, but occasionally a real gem comes along and this is one of them. ..provides a hitherto unseen level of detail.’’

- Air Forces Monthly

‘’If flying P-38s over the Mediterranean or landing U-2s on an aircraft carrier sounds exciting than this book is for you. . This is one of the most intriguing and fascinating accounts by a pilot who was there in the beginning.It reads very easily and is well organised. It’s published at the very high standard indicative of all Casemate Publishing titles. I highly recommend this book and I guarantee that you will not be able to put it down!’’

- Military Enthusiast Book Club

"An inherently interesting, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented military biography..."

- Midwest Book Review

"...this is a fine addition to the growing body of high-quality literature on Cold War aerial reconnaissance."

- The Aviation Historian

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