development of spy planes

Development of Spy Aircraft

21 February 2000

Since the beginning of time there has always been conflict and inevitably war. Because of war, it is logical that enemies would seek out information about each other in order to increase their own chances of survival. Reconnaissance would be the proper terminology for gathering this information. There are many ways in which to gather reconnaissance, however I am going to talk about aerial reconnaissance and the use of spy aircraft as a method of acquiring important information. The first documented evidence of aerial reconnaissance was in 1794 when Captain J.M.J. used his captive balloon to observe his enemy at the Battle of Fleurus. The first documented use of airplane reconnaissance was in 1911, when Italian Captain Piazza spent an hour in his Blerot making notes on the Turkish positions between Azizia and Triopoli. The next year in 1912, this same pilot recorded the first aerial reconnaissance sortie using a camera. These first methods of reconnaissance were very cumbersome events because the cameras of those days would fill your entire lap. Because it greatly increased range of sight, it was extremely advantageous to observe from a higher elevation. For example, an average 6ft man can see approximately 3 miles, however, when put in an aircraft 65 feet above the earth’s surface, his horizon increase to 10 miles. Moreover, put him in an aircraft 35,000 ft above the earth’s surface and his horizon is no less than 230 miles. This paradigm shift in intelligence would lead to astounding innovations in aerial reconnaissance within this century.
The Great War (World War I) was basically a ground war, which consisted of bloody fighting throughout an immense system of interconnected trenches. Because of this, each side needed a reliable source of intelligence about each other’s movements At the beginning of the Great War aircraft had only been used as an effective fighting machine. After realizing that these high-flying aircraft could observe and bring back panoramic photographs of enemy fortifications and movements, each side began modifying aircraft to carry large cameras of the time. Most of the modifications were very simple, consisting of a hole cut in the bottom of the fuselage through which your back gunner could point and operate the camera. However, more often than not, the back gunner just basically manhandled this large robust camera into position when a target was sighted. In either case, by the end of the Great War in 1918 more than 90,000 people on all fronts, produced roughly 12,000 large photographic prints a day. Also, the quality and reliability of these photos were unimagined four years earlier. Pressure of four years of war had transformed aerial reconnaissance into a routine operation using extremely large but very good cameras designed for the job. (Gunston pg.8)
By the time World War II began in September 3, 1939, there were many aircraft in circulation, however the U.S. had not been able to get sufficient photos of Germany for a variety of reasons. Sidney Cotton, who was an expert pilot and photographer, was contracted by the British to daringly fly his civilian Lockheed airplane over German hostile territory and come back with photos of the German fleet. He had accomplished his mission in less than a month after the War had started. Sidney Cotton went on to set up the Photographic Development Unit in Heston. The Unit became know as the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, which was famous for developing millions of films and made great technological advances in the art of aerial reconnaissance. During the time of World War II aerial reconnaissance and intelligence gathering really came into its own. Advanced warplanes were often modified as reconnaissance platforms capable of carrying a battery of cameras at high speed and over long distances. These reconnaissance flights became a regular part of the war, and were instrumental in the planning of the D-day invasion.
The Cold War, which began at the end of World War II and last until the dismantleing of the Soviet Union in 1991 called for extreme advancement in all aspects of aircraft and aerial reconnaissance. It was this sensitive period that inspired the United States CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) to fund the production of the famous U-2. The U-2, also known as “Dragon Lady”, was the first