For more than a century, spy planes have been invaluable in obtaining information from others that they don’t want people to know. Through the years, manned spy planes have had great influence on many missions. Here are some of the first spy planes from Spyplanes.
During the American Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy used balloons for visual reconnaissance. Here, Thaddeus S. Lowe observes a battle from his balloon Intrepid, in 1862. Universal History Archive/UIG/Bridgeman Images
On 23 October 1911, Italian Captain Carlo Piazza flew the first heavier-than-air reconnaissance mission in a Bleriot XI monoplane like this one, observing Turkish troops and positions in the area around Benghazi, Libya. Dorling Kindersley/UIG/ Bridgeman Images
Airplanes on both sides carried out extensive photography and visual recon during World War I. This artwork depicts the first aerial reconnaissance carried out by the Royal Flying Corps. The two aircraft are a Bleriot XI (foreground) and a BE 2b (background). Private Collection/© Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images
The Geoffrey de Havilland–designed Airco DH.4 was one of the most popular reconnaissance aircraft of World War I. Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
Designer Igor Sikorsky’s Ilya Muromets bombers, the world’s first operational four-engine aircraft, were among the most impressive recon aircraft of World War I. Here Sikorsky demonstrates his aircraft in 1914. Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images
World War I airmen aboard aircraft like the French-built Salmson 2A2 sought “tactical intelligence” on defenses and troop and ship movements. National Archives and Records Administration
An American pilot in a Salmson 2A2 shows off the aircraft’s camera equipment. National Archives and Records Administration
A comprehensive history with descriptions of the world’s most significant aircraft employed as “eyes in the sky.”For as long as there has been sustained heavier-than-air human flight, airplanes have been used to gather information about our adversaries. Less than a decade after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, Italian pilots were keeping tabs on Turkish foes in Libya. Today, aircraft with specialized designs and sensory equipment still cruise the skies, spying out secrets in the never-ending quest for an upper hand.
Spyplanes tackles the sprawling legacy of manned aerial reconnaissance, from hot air balloons to cloth-and-wood biplanes puttering over the Western Front, and on through every major world conflict, culminating with spyplanes cruising at supersonic speeds 85,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Authors Norman Polmar and John Bessette offer a concise yet comprehensive overview history of aerial recon, exploring considerations such as spyplanes in military doctrine, events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the downing of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2, the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, and the USAF’s Big Safari program.
Polmar and Bessette, along with a roster of respected aviation journalists, also profile 70 renowned fixed-wing spyplanes from World I right up to the still-conceptual hypersonic SR-72. The authors examine the design, development, and service history of each aircraft, and offer images and specification boxes that detail vital stats for each. Included are purpose-built spyplanes, as well as legendary fighters and bombers that have been retrofitted for the purpose. In addition, the authors feature preliminary chapters discussing the history of aerial surveillance and a host of sidebars that explore considerations such as spyplanes in military doctrine, events like the Cuban missile crisis and the downing of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2, the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, and the USAF’s current Big Safari program.
From prop-driven to jet-powered aircraft, this is the ultimate history and reference to those “eyes in the skies” that have added mind-bending technologies, not to mention an element of intrigue, to military aviation for more than a century.