Reconnaissance on a global scale: SAC reconnaissance of the 1950s.
Setting the Stage: SAC Foundations for Reconnaissance
In 1946 the USAAF's headquarters staff envisioned a future based upon the experiences drawn from the world war that had just concluded. From a doctrinal standpoint, these were heady times in the immediate post-war period as strategic bombing had been critical to the success of the allies' campaigns in Europe and the Pacific. Plans were being drawn up for an independent air arm that could build upon the experience gained at the cost of so much blood and treasure over the previous four years.
Unfortunately, post-war cuts to the military starting that year were draconian as America sought to bring home the troops after four years of war and Washington sought to obtain a peace dividend for future budgets. Bomber and fighter units were demobilized and their aircraft scrapped, while those machines that survived the torch were parked in long-term storage. Post-war plans rapidly changed from building a balanced air arm to simply preserving assets. The few reconnaissance aircraft that remained available to SAC after the draw down had to prove their "utility" in an era of austerity, so SAC Commander Gen George Kenney and his deputy Maj Gen St. Clair Streett focused their efforts on activities such as the Post Hostilities Mapping Program that could benefit the growing commercial aviation sector instead of training crews to prepare for war. This activity was in line with Streett's view that SAC's immediate peacetime mission consisted of basic flying proficiency and mobilization and deployment preparedness rather than combat proficiency. (1) With less than five percent of the Earth's surface mapped in detail, mapping became the priority of United States Air Force (USAF) reconnaissance forces until the outbreak of the Korean War, and SAC assets would play a critical role. (2)
Activated in March 1946, the 311th Reconnaissance Wing was tasked with carrying out photographic and reconnaissance missions within the U.S. and overseas for SAC and USAF Headquarters. By default, this wing became the USAF's mapping service and was assigned to the Aeronautical Chart Service, an organization that not only made aerial navigation charts but also produced target folders for SAC. (3) As for flying units, the wing controlled two overseas units that were conducting mapping operations, along with a third squadron that was mapping the U.S.
The following year, SAC started to get serious about reconnaissance. The 311th Reconnaissance Wing was transferred from Fifteenth Air Force to SAC Headquarters and in February 1947, a major subordinate unit, the 55th Reconnaissance Group (RG), was activated with three component squadrons to concentrate on the mapping mission. (4) In April 1948 the 311th became an Air Division in preparation for a planned expansion of SAC's reconnaissance force. While the wing continued its mapping mission, it also supported atomic tests in the Pacific and started to re-equip its units with the Boeing F-13, the reconnaissance version of the B-29 Superfortress, in preparation for global reconnaissance operations. (5) The emergence of an F-13 force (re-named RB-29 in late 1948) in 1948 was linked to cooling relations with the Soviet Union. By July of that year the Berlin Blockade was in effect, and SAC started a policy of deploying forces to the United Kingdom (UK) as a signal of U.S. resolve. While the majority of those forces were bombers, the 311th Air Division (AD) was also required to sustain a presence of at least four reconnaissance aircraft in the UK. (6) The Cold War had started, and SAC now had an impetus to start to refocus the 311th from mapping back to strategic reconnaissance.
Planning a new force
The task of creating a global strategic reconnaissance capability was a daunting one; SAC started by examining its most likely target--the Soviet Union--and developing a force that could be employed against the USSR and its client states. Early studies by the Air Staff discussed the dismal weather often found over the Soviet land mass, and they accordingly recommended a reconnaissance program that centered on radar scope photography, radar mapping and a robust weather reconnaissance capability. Unfortunately, the radar systems of the late 1940s could not provide the resolution necessary to search for targets; those radar sets could only be used to identify previously imaged facilities. (7) Lacking the foundational intelligence necessary to use radar imagery for targeting, the USAF had to field imagery sensors on platforms to first seek out the targets; once they were located, radar sets could be aimed and radar images snapped in all weather, day or night.
Between 1947 and 1950 USAF's Air Material Command, working to SAC's requirements, specified and procured the aircraft that would constitute SAC's reconnaissance force through the late 1950s. Developmental challenges troubling the planned strategic reconnaissance aircraft, the Republic XF-12 Rainbow, opened up the field to a modified bomber platform. (8) The leading contender, the Northrop RB-49, was soon removed from the list due to insufficient range and a two-stage approach followed. In the long run two bomber aircraft in the procurement pipeline, the Convair B-36 and Boeing B 47, would be modified to produce reconnaissance variants; the planned Boeing B-52 aircraft would be purchased with a reconnaissance capability as well. (9) In the interim, RB-29s and Boeing RB-17s remaining from World War II would soldier on. In time, they would be augmented by reconnaissance variants of the Boeing B-50 aircraft, an outgrowth of the Boeing B-29 that was starting to be delivered to the USAF. In mid-1950, plans were finalized and SAC was ready to move forward with its strategic reconnaissance program.
With aircraft procurement planned and programmed for, SAC needed a new concept to most effectively employ its forces. In June 1948 the commander of the 311th AD, Brigadier General Paul Cullen, wrote a letter to General Kenney expressing his concern over the state of SAC's reconnaissance force. Cullen, commander of the 311th from June 1947 until March 1949, outlined a lack of doctrine and capability, stating his fears that war could erupt at any time and the U.S. needed to have modern equipment and tactics in place and adjusted to the new era of nuclear war. (10) At Cullen's direction, the 311th AD staff established an operations research staff that eventually worked with SAC's Headquarters staff to codify the command's reconnaissance procedures. However, those improvements would take time.
In August 1949, SAC Headquarters promulgated a reconnaissance directive that was little changed from the strategic reconnaissance practices of 1945. The document broke reconnaissance operations into six tasks: 1) radar scope photography; 2) bomb damage assessment (BDA) photography; 3) target verification photography (used to develop target folders and bombing strategy); 4) target development photography (essentially lower resolution broad-area photography to find target sets); 5) weather reconnaissance; and 6) electronic intelligence collection by ferret aircraft. In addition, SAC was to conduct mapping and charting missions to meet requirements levied by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). (11) By the time this doctrine was published, SAC was starting to grow its reconnaissance force.
Building a new force
While the Berlin Crisis and the growing recognition of the Soviet threat pushed SAC to the forefront of USAF operations, the appointment of Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay as SAC's new commander had a galvanizing effect upon SAC's operations and culture. LeMay set out to create an operational force in being, able to fulfill the task of deterring the behemoth that was the Soviet military--a path quite divergent from the prior focus on simply maintaining flying proficiency. The new SAC Commander expertly led his organization through the ensuing chaos of rapid growth and expanding responsibilities.
In July 1948, the USAF expanded the 55th RG to make it the first of four planned SAC strategic reconnaissance wings. Later that year the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) was established, using as a basis the 91st RG which had been transferred to SAC in July. The 91st SRW was unique in that it contained the 324th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS). Activated to provide airborne training to electronic warfare officers, the 324th was soon given an additional operational role as the USAF's strategic electronic reconnaissance squadron; it was equipped with RB-29 Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft. (12) SAC would maintain a SIGINT squadron throughout the Cold War, tasking its aircraft to fly the perimeter of "denied" territory to provide the bulk of detailed analysis on communist electronic capabilities. (13)
There was considerable activity in the years 1949 and 1950 as new SAC reconnaissance wings were activated and assets were transferred from unit to unit to provide aircraft and training. The pattern would see new aircraft entering the inventory which would result in the older aircraft, usually RB-29s, cascading to a newer unit. In some cases, reconnaissance wings would receive the bomber version of the aircraft they were scheduled to fly to allow training and type conversion to start. A similar birthing process was used with personnel, where an existing unit would give up a cadre of its most experienced manpower to create a new unit.
The 311th Air Division was disestablished in November 1949, and the two independent reconnaissance squadrons that had been assigned to the Air Division, along with a host of new squadrons, were assigned to two new Strategic Reconnaissance Wings--the 5th SRW and the 9th SRW. These wings, along with the 55th SRW and 91st SRW, were assigned to the newly-created Second Air Force. Located at Barksdale AFB, LA its mission was to "execute upon short notice long-range strategic air reconnaissance operations on a global scale." (14) When the 55th SRW was disestablished in November 1950, the remaining SRWs were relocated so that each of SAC's three numbered air forces could become a self-contained force. To better coordinate the resulting forces, SAC created a new Reconnaissance Division within its Headquarters to oversee all reconnaissance operations and requirements. (15)
SAC was trying to field a credible deterrent force with interim assets, even as it expanded and equipped newly-activated units in accordance with a continually evolving force structure vision. The 91st SRW provides an excellent example of this. Established in mid-1948, the wing was equipped with a heterogeneous mixture of RB-29s and RB-17s. Within 15 months the antiquated RB-17s were gone as the wing began to convert to an allRB-50 organization. This plan changed after only one squadron had received RB-50s, and before the end of 1950 all of the 91st's RB-50s had been reassigned so that the wing could re-equip with RB-45s. Four different aircraft--meaning four different mission profiles, four different training programs, and four different spare parts stocks--were operated within a span of just twelve months!
Even as they were being fielded, the 91st SRW's RB-45s were viewed as temporary gap fillers in SAC's strategic reconnaissance force until such time as more capable RB-47s could be fielded in adequate numbers. (16) However, because the RB-47 seemed to be long in coming, General LeMay pushed for Air Staff consent to equip all three squadrons of the 91st SRW with RB-45s in order for his crews to gain experience in operating multiengine jet aircraft. (17) The RB-45 had the benefit of greater speed than existing RB-50s, along with the ability to fly under a weather deck to service targets not accessible to high altitude platforms. (18)
As would be the case in the coming years, the 91st SRW RB-50 assets were reassigned to a new unit--in this case the reincarnated 55th SRW in late 1950. (19) While the primary mission of SAC's reconnaissance forces during this time period was to train new crews and prepare to receive new aircraft, overseas commitments for mapping and show of force taskings necessitated the sending of squadrons or detachments to Europe, the Far East, and other parts of the globe. SAC continued its practice of cycling RB-29 units through RAF Sculthorpe, UK, for example, and RB-50 detachments were continually dispatched to perform mapping missions in Brazil, Alaska, Cuba, and multiple other locations. (20)
A Korean Interlude and Vulnerabilities to the Force
The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 forced SAC to conduct a realistic test of its reconnaissance doctrine and capabilities. Though the conflict was not one that SAC wanted, it did allow the command to test out equipment and doctrine in a wartime environment. SAC utilized the 31st SRS, its only overseas squadron, to wage the war. Equipped with RB-29s and augmented with detachments of RB-45s and RB-50G SIGINT aircraft, the 31st SRS (soon to be re-named the 91st SRS) provided SAC with insights into the war it could be fighting with China or the Soviet Union. (21) Japan-based 91st SRS RB-29s and RB-45s were tasked in accordance with SAC doctrine to conduct target development, target verification and bomb damage assessment missions while RB-50G aircraft monitored radar signals while flying with bombers and mapped communist radar sets while flying off the coast of North Korea. (22) Within a year of the start of the conflict, the bomber missions in Korea transitioned to the hours of darkness in order to avoid the increasing threat from communist MiG-15 jet fighters. Soon even SAC's RB-45s had switched to night missions due to their vulnerability. This was all nothing new to SAC--as early as 1950 the Command understood that daylight strategic reconnaissance missions would face high loss rates. Unfortunately, the Korean conflict was proving that the camera technology of the era was not up to the task of night operations. The issue that would eventually spell the demise of the converted strategic bomber as a reconnaissance platform was laid out then and there--survivability. (23)
SAC's fears for its RB-29s and RB-15s fighting in the Korean War were part of a much larger problem facing staff planners in Omaha: the reconnaissance platforms programmed in the late 1940s were not living up to their expectations. Though the RB-36 could provide adequate daylight reconnaissance, it was seen as unable to collect BDA imagery due to the prevalence of lower level clouds over planned targets in the USSR. The RB-45, initially lacking a tail gun, was not seen as a survivable platform if it had to operate deep inside the Soviet Union during daylight hours. Neither platform was very capable at night, with sensors and photo flash bombs unable to deliver a quality image. (24) SAC did not have a good night imagery capability, and for a number of years it considered the daytime visual imagery mission to be fraught with risk. (25) This left only radar scope photography, which could guide bombers to a target but was incapable of doing target development and post-strike battle damage assessment. The same challenges--lack of an all-weather or night capability--made these assets incapable of performing SAC's "blunting" mission: tracking down and destroying the Soviet atomic bomber arsenal. By late 1951 SAC felt that the answer laid with a fighter reconnaissance aircraft that was both survivable and able to fly beneath adverse weather to capture essential photography. The USAF's then most current fighter reconnaissance aircraft, the RF-84F, seemed to fit the bill, and SAC ordered enough examples to equip one wing. (26) In the interim, SAC planned to get around its deficit in BDA capability by using theater tactical reconnaissance capabilities. These assets would augment SAC reconnaissance and perform the post-strike mission. (27)
In early 1951 SAC's reconnaissance force consisted of 85 aircraft divided almost equally between RB-29s, RB-15s, and RB-50s. A handful of RB-36s rounded out the force. A snapshot in March of that year revealed four 91st SRW RB-45s deployed to the UK on indefinite Temporarily Duty (TDY) and eight 38th SRS RB-50Es in the UK for a four month tour of duty. SAC's Korean War reconnaissance taskings were being handled mainly by the 91st SRS and its dozen or so RB-29s, along with a small detachment of three RB-45s. While on the surface this was not a large commitment, SAC was being pulled in many different directions and could barely meet this requirement. The 91st SRW's RB-45s were supposed to provide an interim jet reconnaissance capability, but the wing had too many supply deficiencies to perform its mission over an extended period of time, and it was seen as having an initial limited wartime capability that would diminish fast. In addition, the wing only had 17 combat ready RB-45 crews, since it also had to provide crews to FEAF to support the war effort. The 55th SRW was in better shape, though SAC Headquarters felt it was only capable of sustaining one squadron in the UK for war plan employment. The 5th SRW was in conversion to the RB-36 from the RB-29, and it thus would not be able to contribute much to a wartime effort, leaving the 28th SRW and its ten RB-36s as the sole heavy reconnaissance unit. Even though the Air Force had directed conversion of B-36Bs to RB-36Ds on the production line as early as 1949, the large aircraft took time to build. As a result, SAC could only count on a dozen RB-50s and an equal number of RB-36s for its emergency war plan. Second, with anticipated combat attrition rates of 40 percent during the first month of operations and 25 percent in the next month, this force would be completely extinguished in little more than thirty days 28 To safely guard this small force, SAC stoutly resisted any expansion of its contribution to the Korean War. SAC also fought any deployment of its new RB-47s to Korea, along with FEAF's continual desire to enlarge its in-theater RB-45 and RB-50G detachments. (29)
The situation slowly improved over the next 18 months, and by the end of 1952 SAC had four heavy strategic reconnaissance wings either fully equipped or equipping with RB-36s. Unfortunately for the medium reconnaissance wings, RB-47 deliveries were running behind schedule. SAC had procured 90 RB-47B as an interim reconnaissance platform while awaiting development and delivery of the definitive RB-47E. The concept was to slightly modify existing B-47B airframes to accept a bomb bay reconnaissance pod containing cameras. Though planned for delivery starting late 1951, supply problems and production slippages delayed deliveries by over a year. The RB-47B aircraft and eighty-eight reconnaissance pods were finally delivered to the 91st and 26th SRWs in the first part of 1953, followed nine months later by the first deliveries of the definitive RB-47E aircraft. (30)
Planned Wartime Usage
SAC reconnaissance assets were an integral part of wartime planning of the early 1950s. Upon initiation of the Joint Emergency War Plan, heavy reconnaissance units would conduct operations either from their home bases in the continental U.S. or from a forward staging base. Because they would be the first aircraft to reach prospective target areas, the RB-36s would first have to fly pre-strike reconnaissance missions to search for or confirm targets, then recover at a forward base for film processing and prepare for follow-on missions. These "search and seek" missions were critical to the success of SAC's war plans because at the time it still lacked quality imagery for many of its expected wartime targets. Medium reconnaissance units would have to operate from forward deployed bases due to their range limitations. Consequently, SAC kept up to 25 percent of its medium reconnaissance forces on forward deployments; these units would commence combat operations upon initiation of hostilities and assist the RB-36s in target development and verification photography. Squadrons on rotational duty to the UK were critical in providing U.S.-based bombers with pre-strike reconnaissance during the first 72 hours of hostilities. SAC viewed its early Emergency War Plans as an extension of the strategic bombing campaigns of the Second World War, and it planned for them to last for months if not years. Accordingly, attrition rates were calculated and the base force planned accordingly to sustain air operations until replacement aircrews arrived from training bases and replacement aircraft came from factories. (31)
According to SAC's 1951 war plan, the few RB-36s on hand would be committed to the European theater and recover in the UK for film processing. Medium reconnaissance units would operate from either the UK or Lajes Air Base in the Azores, although Goose Bay and Ernest Harmon AFBs in Canada were to be the points of departure for the mediums' initial strikes. No additional reconnaissance forces were planned for the Pacific, as the wartime scenario envisioned using the 91st SRS' existing assets were already deployed in theater. The plan's overall concept was for a night or all-weather strike. This necessitated that the bomber crews would already have the radar scope photographs required to find their targets. The medium bomber and reconnaissance assets would deploy over a 13 day time period, with the major movement occurring in the first three days after receipt of the war order. (32) Although SAC tasked its forces to strike all JCS-named targets, it still did not have all of the exact locational data needed to find every target on JCS' list. As a result, SAC would undoubtedly have had to fly high-attrition daylight missions to visually search for and acquire the targets if called to war. (33) Reconnaissance operations to acquire imagery of the war plan targets became a high priority mission.
The JCS assigned SAC three wartime tasks: destruction of vital elements of the Soviet war-making capacity, attacking massed advancing Soviet ground forces (or "retardation" in the terminology of the day); and counter-force targeting of Soviet atomic bombers. Target lists in all three categories were developed and assigned to SAC by the JCS. Naturally, each target set had its own unique intelligence challenges. Industrial facilities were the easiest targets to resolve in that they were fixed in place and once located could be accurately attacked. Unfortunately, efforts made since the late 1940s had done little to increase SAC's holdings of target imagery in this category, which relied mainly on German photography captured in 1945. (34) Though some industrial targets and military bases would be imaged in the coming years through overflight of denied territory by Department of Defense aircraft, the majority of the facilities on the JCS target lists consisted of little more than names and geographic coordinates.
The retardation mission was tactical in nature and did not require the assembly of pre-hostility target folders per se. Soviet ground forces could be attacked in garrison or, once hostilities commenced, SAC could wait until adversary ground forces were massing for attack to initiate a bombing offensive. Either way, the intelligence requirements were not terribly stressing. The same could not be said for the counter-force targeting ("blunting") of the Soviet atomic bomber fleet. In late 1951, SAC was still unsure of how to locate the Soviet atomic bomber fleet as it shuttled between bases. According to LeMay, in peacetime this task required "a freedom of initiative not likely to be provided a military commander in a democracy." (35) The targeting of mobile assets such as bombers would continue to bedevil SAC--and the USAF--throughout the rest of the Twentieth Century.
Command and control proved to be a thorny challenge for SAC when its medium reconnaissance wings were required to deploy to another command. In mid-1951, SAC established two forward headquarters--SAC (X-Ray) in the Far East and SAC (Zebra) in Europe--to control SAC forces deployed to those theaters and "for coordination and control of operations to secure desired prestrike target coverage." (36) The coordination staffs not only commanded SAC forces during wartime operations, they also worked the details of the integration of theater air components into SAC's war plan. SAC planners integrated theater tactical reconnaissance capability with their own to develop a complete air campaign that utilized other organization's forces to augment areas of SAC weakness, such as low altitude BDA collection. Operations orders were sent to the theater commands containing both bomber targets and reconnaissance targets to be serviced in the case of an all-out nuclear war with the Soviets. (37) Though the Joint Staff outlined SAC supremacy when it came to war plans, friction still abounded between SAC and the geographic theater commanders.
As wartime plans were being drawn up in late 1950, General LeMay became concerned that his command lacked the means to test its ability to gather and distribute intelligence. In January 1951, LeMay ordered Maj. Gen. Sam Anderson, the commander of the Eighth Air Force, to demonstrate his organization's reconnaissance capability in an exercise in the UK that SAC had scheduled to start just two weeks later! (38) The 55th SRW dutifully responded and deployed eight RB-50E aircraft in little over a week for what turned out to be a four-month deployment. SAC continued to exercise its reconnaissance assets thereafter, usually by having aircraft fly long duration missions from their wartime bases that closely simulated wartime taskings.
In addition to overseas deployments, SAC also exercised units at their home stations. Mandatory Unit Simulated Combat Missions (USCM) were mounted often with less than a month's notice and necessitated 70 percent of a wing's assigned aircraft to launched on a single mission to replicate the generation of aircraft for wartime taskings. US-based fighters provided an aggressor force, with a tasked wing's assets flying from either home station or deploying to another base in the United States. In one instance, the 28th SRW had the "good fortune" to conduct a USCM in mid-August 1953, and then send six aircraft to the UK for a ninety day deployment in mid-September. Within a week of receiving its aircraft back from their TDY, the 28th SRW found itself conducting yet another USCM. (39) LeMay was serious about readiness.
The 1953 plan stated the focal point of the air war was the "heartland of the USSR" and involved attacks against "war sustaining resources" and Soviet bomber assets. However, other than accounting for new fielded forces, the plan was little changed from the 1951 edition. (40) The Korea War validated the plan's base doctrine--the necessity of reconnaissance forces to find targets--and highlighted the need to acquire more survivable platforms, but SAC's war plan reflected what was in inventory and what must be done, not what should be in the inventory and what tactics were to be employed. Routine overseas deployments were maintained for both the medium and heavy reconnaissance wings under Project ROUNDOUT, with aircrews practicing flying out of their wartime bases. (41) SAC was still at center stage, conducting strategic air reconnaissance in support of its bombing campaign with Air Force components in Europe and the Far East being directed to support SAC's requirements. (42)
As SAC continued to plan for wartime employment, the signals intelligence aircraft of the 343d SRS were providing daily intelligence about the Soviet defenses they would face. SAC viewed its electronic reconnaissance mission in two phases: pre-hostilities and wartime. Pre-hostility missions included the development of enemy order of battle, determination of defense networks, and technical information on enemy radars for programming radar jamming systems. Wartime reconnaissance focused on gathering and rapidly evaluating intelligence for use in follow-on bombing missions. (43) Beginning in 1953, the 343d SRS maintained a presence in the Far East and Europe to monitor Soviet forces and their client states via six month overseas rotations. (44) SAC upgraded its SIGINT fleet in 1955 with new RB-47H aircraft, keeping the RB-50Gs for another year in the newly-activated 4024th Bombardment Squadron before passing them on to theater air forces. (45) The 55th SRW continued to maintain a forward presence, keeping RB-47H detachments with (KC-97 tanker support) in the Far East, the UK, Alaska and Greenland. (46)
Though SAC's heavy reconnaissance fleet was young in years, there were concerns about its wartime viability. Even before the RB-36 was delivered, there were rumblings about its inadequate performance. A 1949 memo noted that the RB-36 would operate at "extreme altitudes" and would therefore require excellent weather in order to perform an imagery mission. Perpetually cloudy days over the Soviet Union, coupled with the impracticability of diving an RB-36 under a cloud deck to take photos, caused SAC to look at using drones launched from the RB-36 to perform needed reconnaissance missions. (47) This drone concept would evolve to become the GRB-36 fighter conveyor or FICON.
U.S. interest in the FICON concept dated back to the 1930s. The U.S. Navy had two rigid airships, the USS Akron and USS Macon, which operated small scout aircraft that were carried within their fuselage. (48) After the Second World War, the concept was revived for use with large fixed wing aircraft. First generation jet aircraft were range-limited and the USAF looked into the concept of equipping long range bombers with their own escort fighters. The original FICON aircraft, the purpose-built XF-85 Goblin, proved to be unable to mate with its carrier due to severe aerodynamic challenges. The USAF had more successes in follow-on testing using an F-84E and an RB-36F beginning in 1952. Though the tests were never spectacular, SAC saw them as a way ahead not for an escort fighter, but as a way to field a survivable reconnaissance platform that could get under Russian cloud cover. RB-36s modified to GRB-36D configuration would carry the nuclear-capable RBF-84F to the border of the Soviet Union, launch the fighter for either a reconnaissance or a nuclear strike mission, and then recover it while remaining at a safe, standoff distance. In January 1954, the USAF ordered ten RB-36Ds to be modified to support 25 newly-ordered RBF-84Fs. The RBF-84Fs would be integrated with the rest of SAC's fighter reconnaissance order of RF-84F aircraft to form a fighter reconnaissance wing. (49)
The FICON RBF-84F soon turned out to be a technological dead-end, and the concept was terminated within six months of delivery of the first aircraft. (50) The death of the FICON concept left SAC squarely in the bomber reconnaissance business with no other viable options. In September 1953, RB--47E aircraft started to flow to SAC reconnaissance units, with the initial production aircraft using an interim camera suite which caused multiple headaches. (51) The same month the last RB-36H was delivered, and SAC was already in the middle of planning for a replacement heavy reconnaissance aircraft. By mid-1954, the USAF had 85 B/RB-52B/C aircraft on order with an anticipated delivery to the heavy reconnaissance wings in Fiscal Year (FY) 1959. The RB-52 was built as a bomber aircraft that, like the initial RB-47B aircraft, could accommodate a reconnaissance capsule in the bomb bay. (52)
While the RB-52s were being put on the order books, SAC came up with a procedure it called "Indirect Bomb Damage Assessment". After a bomber had committed its weapon to a target, it would take a photograph of the radar scope. In theory, this would indicate where the bomb would land (assuming it functioned as advertised) and BDA could be drawn from the image. SAC staffers reckoned that one bomber successfully performing this task could obviate the requirement for five-to-ten follow-on reconnaissance sorties. (53) This method seemed to be an answer to the many reconnaissance woes SAC was facing in the spring of 1954. In April 1954, the Air Staff issued a message that deemed the RB-47E and its interim camera suite unable to perform the peacetime reconnaissance missions, let alone its wartime tasking.54 That same month, the Aircraft and Weapons Board at USAF Headquarters struck a killing blow to SAC's imagery reconnaissance fleet. The Board noted that reconnaissance variants of fighter aircraft could carry sufficient reconnaissance equipment to perform target photography and unlike their bomber brethren they could perform both high- and low-altitude operations. Further, fighter reconnaissance aircraft had "considerable greater survival expectancy than RB aircraft." The Board determined that due to the "meager ability" of the RB-52 to perform the reconnaissance mission, no further development was justified. (55) The planned testing of the RB-52 reconnaissance capability never came to pass, and the camera pod only flew once before it was placed in storage. (56)
The realization that bomber reconnaissance aircraft were neither survivable nor entirely useful in a reconnaissance role soon had a chilling effect on the existing heavy reconnaissance wings. On May 1, 1954, SAC decided to modify all its RB-36 aircraft to carry nuclear weapons and by June 16 the primary mission of the four heavy reconnaissance wings was bombardment, with reconnaissance as a secondary mission. On the following October 1, 1955 the RB-36 wings' mission was changed to bombardment only, retaining only a latent reconnaissance capability. (57) By the time the RB-36 was retired in 1958, it had been completely stripped of its reconnaissance capabilities and was essentially just another B-36 bomber. The heavy reconnaissance force, used to target conventional bombs and low-yield nuclear weapons, fell by the wayside as SAC followed an approach that appeared to center on mass vice precision.
SENSINT and a Shift in Focus
The decision in 1954 to not pursue a replacement bomber reconnaissance platform started the transformation of SAC reconnaissance, but other external factors were also acting upon the Command. After the Chinese intervened in the Korean War in December 1950, President Truman agreed to approve overflights of China and Pacific Russia to monitor communist forces. These overflights enabled the national leadership to monitor the situation and to ensure that the fighting was not going to extend beyond the Korean Peninsula. His successor, President Dwight Eisenhower, continued the flights, now called the Sensitive Intelligence Program or SENSINT, based on the utility demonstrated by the initial overflight missions.
SENSINT missions were conducted in one of two variants--either USAFE or FEAF theater assets flying shorter length missions into the border areas of the Warsaw Pact, China, and the Soviet Union or SAC-conducted longer range strategic reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union to support its war planning requirements. Operations commenced in 1954 and soon after SAC planned a bold daylight sortie over western Russia. The mission, flown on May 8 by Maj Hal Austin in an RB--47E of the 91st SRW, resulted in a running gun battle between his aircraft and Soviet MiG-17s. (58) Though Austin survived, this action highlighted the questionable wartime survivability of the still-new RB-47 platform in these types of scenarios, and it underscored the need for a special aircraft to perform such missions.
In May 1953, the Air Force Council directed the Air Research and Development Command to undertake a new program to meet USAF special reconnaissance needs. This resulted in the ordering of six twin-jet RB-57D high altitude aircraft in June 1954. The RB-57D program took Tactical Air Command's B-57B aircraft and extended the wings from sixty-four feet to 106 feet, inserted reconnaissance systems, and added more powerful engines. After much politicking by General LeMay, SAC was designated as the sole operator of all USAF special reconnaissance platforms (to include the RB-57D) in February 1955. (59)
In parallel to SAC's RB-57D program was a much more sensitive, closely-held program called Project Aquatone--the Central Intelligence Agency's U-2 spy plane. Developed in a rapid manner by the CIA and Lockheed's Skunk Works, the program (and overflight operations in general) received the President's personal attention. Eisenhower insisted the U-2 program remain a civilian intelligence collection program, rather than a military reconnaissance operation, in order to better reduce tensions if an aircraft was shot down over Soviet territory. (60) Beginning in 1956, U--2 imagery taken over the Soviet Union started to find its way into SAC's target folders. (61) This helped immensely with the targeting of fixed military and industrial facilities, thereby closing a large gap in SAC's strike intelligence requirements.
As SAC's target folders filled up with current imagery, the pre-strike reconnaissance missions envisioned for the medium and heavy reconnaissance forces rapidly became unnecessary. The U-2 program also aided SAC in an unintended way: CIA's imagery analysis from its overflight missions put to death the myth of vast fleets of Soviet bombers waiting to strike the US. (62) With only a small Soviet bomber force to deal with, and a robust air defense posture in the US, the pressure for SAC reconnaissance to find the Soviet atomic bomber fleet was greatly diminished.
This was all still in the future when the first RB-57D was delivered to SAC's 4080th SRW on May 1, 1956. Activated coincident with the arrival of the first RB-57D, the 4080th SRW was similar to the 55th SRW in the sense that it, too, was given a special global reconnaissance mission, though the 4080th's included very high altitude pre- and post-strike imagery reconnaissance. (63) Command of the unit was initially kept within SAC's fighter community: the first commander was Col Gerald Johnson, a World War II fighter veteran who reported to the 40th Air Division, commanded another World War II fighter veteran (and Johnson's former commander from when they had served in the 56th Fighter Group), Col Hubert Zemke.
Even though SAC was starting to be concerned about the survivability of the RB-57D, planning for operational employment continued apace. (64) The 4080th SRWs 4025th SRS deployed in September 1956, to Yokota AB, Japan to operate against the Soviet Union under the BLACK KNIGHT program. (65) On December 11, 1956, the 4025th SRS flew a bold daylight mission involving three RB-57Ds over Vladivostok, which caused a massive political protest from the Soviet Union. (66) President Eisenhower, who approved the concept of the mission, was angry with its aggressive execution. After enduring the political storm it had caused with Soviet diplomats, he cancelled the SENSINT program in December 1956. (67) The RB-57D aircraft would return home in August 1957, after spending eight months flying nothing more than pilot proficiency missions while waiting to see if permission for further sorties would be given. (68) In June 1957, SAC started to receive its own U-2 aircraft, which were also assigned to the 4080th SRW. After the termination of the SENSINT mission, the 4080th SRW's U-2s concentrated on high altitude air sampling and training for their wartime imagery mission while its RB-57D-2 SIGINT birds conducted two deployments to Europe and one to Alaska to fly peripheral collection missions against the Soviet Union. With the U-2 established as SAC's high altitude reconnaissance platform, SAC shed its RB-57D imagery aircraft in June 1959, and its RB-57D-2 SIGINT aircraft in April 1960. (69)
The emergence of high altitude reconnaissance platforms gave SAC imagery reconnaissance a way forward. Even though the FICON concept was dead, SAC's fleet of three RF-84F squadrons continued to fly in a conventional role, but their utility to SAC due to their rather short range was limited. The 71st SRW (Fighter), activated on January 14, 1955 to operate the RF-84F, was deactivated effective July 1, 1957, along with SAC's other four fighter wings. (70) Though the official reason for deactivation of the 71st SRW (F) and SAC's other F-84 wings was the impending retirement of the B-36 and its requirement for escort fighters, the USAF was also under pressure by DoD to shrink by nine wings by the end of FY 58. The fact that the RF-84F was late in delivery, short of range, and only existed at a single wing made it an easy target for SAC budgeters. (71)
Death and Rebirth
In late 1957, with an aging RB-47 fleet and concern over the U-2's vulnerability to Soviet defenses, SAC Commander General Tommy Power wrote to Air Force Chief of Staff General Tommy White to ask about the prospects for a replacement reconnaissance aircraft. General White responded that "the programming exercises of recent months have indicated a reduced priority for reconnaissance forces in the future," and that SAC would be reduced to one light and one medium reconnaissance wing by FY 1962. (72)
General White's predicted future for SAC reconnaissance actually happened faster than he stated in his memo. In November 1957, the 91st SRW was inactivated. The pace started to quicken, and by the end of June 1958, the 70th and 90th SRWs converted to a training mission with a secondary reconnaissance capability, but with no war plan tasking. On July 1st, the 26th SRW was deactivated, leaving the 55th SRW as one of only two remaining reconnaissance wings--and the only bomber reconnaissance wing--in SAC. This dramatic downfall was driven by the SAC need to increase aircrew training in support of SAC's new bomber alert concept. Given the strict fiscal and manpower limitations imposed by the Eisenhower Administration, reprogramming the personnel associated with an RB-47E fleet facing questionable survivability in a wartime scenario seemed the easiest solution at hand. (73) Though there were ongoing studies for new reconnaissance aircraft, no decision had been made as of yet, and there was a reason for delaying it.74 What was offered was another choice--satellite reconnaissance from above the atmosphere.
During the same time that the CIA's U-2 was starting to fly over the Soviet Union, the USAF began to investigate the concept of a satellite reconnaissance system. Designated WS-117L, the program started development in October 1956, with a contract to Lockheed, but it soon slowed as technical difficulties were encountered. Eventually a low resolution mapping camera was pulled from the program and separately funded as Project CORONA. Test launches started in June 1959, and by August 1960, the first successful mission was accomplished after a trying series of 13 failures. (75) With the U-2 collection in hand, CORONA's priority target list was already refined and centered on Soviet ballistic missiles, heavy bombers, and nuclear research and test facilities. (76)
In the end, SAC's reconnaissance evolved to meet changing circumstances. Though the USAF had invested in large numbers of reconnaissance platforms such as the RB-36, RB-47, and RB-50 to support a drawn-out strategic air campaign, within the span of a decade nuclear war plans evolved into a shorter brute force slugging match. Once the large industrial centers and bases of the Soviet Union had been found with CIA U-2 missions, it was a simple matter of monitoring their development and evolution with newly-fielded imagery satellites. There was no need for a vast fleet of reconnaissance systems to seek out targets for follow-on strike forces; what SAC needed was a large bomber force to be able to muscle through Soviet defenses to deliver a killing blow. Manned, medium-altitude airborne assets taking precision photographs were extraneous to the mission and in an era of reduced budgets, were slashed in order to provide a larger nuclear bomber force. The reconnaissance force that did emerge was composed of specialized platforms that could monitor Soviet defenses from international airspace and be used for limited pre- and post-strike high altitude photography.
Air Force leadership of the 1950s recognized this shift in requirements and altered the force structure accordingly. As the USAF shifts away from fighting a counterinsurgency in South Asia and enters yet again an era of constrained budgets, hopefully its leaders and staff will be able to divine the reconnaissance requirements of the coming decades and alter the current fielded force accordingly.
(1.) John Farquhar, A Need to Know (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 2004), p. 32.
(2.) Ibid, p. 37-38.
(3.) 311th Air Division. Monthly History, Sept-Dec 1948. N.d., p. 8. AFHRA, DIV-311-HI, Sep-Dec 1948, Maxwell AFB, Ala.
(5.) Alwyn Lloyd, A Cold War Legacy (Missoula: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1999), pp. 63, 68; SAC History-1946 Organization, Mission, Training and Personnel, Vol. 1, April 1948, p. 25. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Mar 21, 1946-Dec 31, 1946, Maxwell AFB, Ala.
(6.) SAC History 1948, Vol. I. 1949, p. 240-45. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1948; SAC History Jan-Jun 1951, Volume II. N.d., p. 1. AFHRA, K416.01 V.2, Jan-Jun 51.
(7.) Maj. Gen. Partridge, Dir of Tmg & Rqmnts. Memo for General McDonald, Dir of Intel, DCS/OPS. Subj: Strategic Reconnaissance. Jan. 31, 1948. TS Control 2-848, Folder 3, Box 40, Entry 214, Intel General File, Jun 45-Dec 54, RG 341, NA
(8.) DCS, Material. Memo to other Deputy Chiefs of Staff; Dec. 7, 1948. Subj: B-49 and RB-49 Presentation to Chief of Staff Reconnaissance Aircraft, Strategic Folder, Box 27, Entry 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, Strategic Air Group, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA
(9.) DCS, Material; Dir. of Research and Development. Memo for Record. Nov. 17, 1948. Subj: Tentative Equipment for New Strategic and Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft. Reconnaissance Aircraft, Strategic Folder, Box 27, Entry 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, Strategic Air Group, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA; DCS, Material; Dir. of Research and Development. Memo to Requirements Division, Dir. of Research and Development. Jan. 18, 1949. Subj: Review of Strategic Reconnaissance Aircraft Program. Reconnaissance Aircraft, Strategic Folder, Box 27, Entity 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, Strategic Air Group, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA; DCS, Material; Dir. of Research and Development. Memo to CG, Air Material Command. Mar. 25, 1949. Subj: Strategic Reconnaissance Aircraft Development. B/RB-50 Folder, Box 28, Entry 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, Strategic Air Group, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA.
(10.) HQ 311th Air Division, letter to Headquarters SAC dated Jun. 4, 1948 with the subject, "Proposal for Study of Reconnaissance," located in SAC History 1948, Volume IV. 1949. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1948.
(11.) SAC History 1949, Vol. 1, May 10, 1950, page 121. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Dec 1949.
(12.) 311th Air Division. Monthly History, May-August 1948. N.d, p. 32-33, p. 58-59. AFHRA, DIV-311-HI, 1 May -31 Aug 1948.
(13.) A-2, Headquarters SAC Appendix C, Photo Reconnaissance Requirements Conference Notes. 18 August 1949. Located in SAC History January-June 1950, Volume 1. Unknown. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, January-June 1950.
(14.) SAC History 1949, Vol. 1. May 10, 1950, pages 7-8. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Dec 1949.
(15.) SAC History Study No. 5--Reconnaissance Activities. Oct. 15, 1950, p. 3, 6-8. AFHRA, K416.01-5, 1 Jan 1950-30 Jun 1950.
(16.) SAC History Jul-Dec 1952, Volume 1, 2, 3. Unknown. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 2, 3, Jul-Dec 1952.
(17.) John Fredriksen, The B-45 Tornado (Jefferson, NC: The McFarland & Co, 2009), p. 97.
(18.) SAC History Study No. 5--Reconnaissance Activities. Oct 15, 1950. AFHRA, K416.01-5, Jan 1, 1950-Jun 30, 1950, pp. 16-17.
(19.) Geoffrey Hays, Boeing B-50 (Steve Ginter, 2012), p. 227-28.
(20.) SAC History Study No. 5--Reconnaissance Activities. 15 October 1950. Pages 6-12. AFHRA, K416.01-5, 1 January 1950-30 June 1950; Rodrigues, p. 86-87
(21.) SAC History July-December 1950, Volume 2. Unknown, p. 23. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 2, 3, July-December 1950.
(22.) William Cahill, "The Korean War and the Maturation of SAC Reconnaissance," Air Power History, Vol. LIX, No. 3, Fall 2012, p. 38-53
(23.) DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development. Memo to CG, Air Material Command. Nov. 28, 1950. Subj: Development of Night Strategic Reconnaissance System. Reconnaissance Aircraft, Strategic Folder, Box 27, Entry 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, SAG, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA; Stratemeyer to Vandenberg. Personal message from CG FEAF to HQ USAF. Dec. 26, 1950. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Papers, December 1950 Folder, Box 86, MD, LC; Stratemeyer to Vandenberg. Personal message from CG FEAF to HQ USAF. Dec. 26, 1950. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Papers, December 1950 Folder, Box 86, MD, LC; Weyland to LeMay. Personal message from CG Far East Air Force to CG SAC Jul. 13, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B12642, Box 198, MD, LC.
(24.) According to LeMay, unfavorable weather will preclude high altitude photography at least 85 percent of the time in the area of Russia. See LeMay to Twining, Personal message from CG SAC to Acting CSAF. Jul. 24, 1952. Curtis LeMay Papers, B19503, Box 201, MD, LC. As late as December 1952 the commander of Eighth AF wrote CG SAC, noting the SAC (ZEBRA) Reconnaissance Forces committed against 91 European night targets in the current Emergency War Plan could not accomplish this tasking due to issues with RB-36 flash bombs and cameras. See CG, Eighth Air Force. Memo to CG, SAC, Dec. 9, 1952. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B22324, Box 202, MD, LC. LeMay to Vandenberg. Personal message from CG SAC to CSAF, Aug. 3, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B12453, Box 198, MD, LC; CG, Eighth Air Force. Memo to CG, SAC Dec. 9, 1952. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B22324, Box 202, MD, LC. The RB-45 did not receive proper tail guns until March 1953; its bomb bay was not modified to drop flash bombs until April 1952.
(25.) DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development. Memo to CG, Air Material Command, Nov. 28, 1950. Subj: Development of Night Strategic Reconnaissance System. Reconnaissance Aircraft, Strategic Folder, Box 27, Entry 170 DCS, Development; Dir. of Research and Development, SAG, Correspondence 1949-51, RG 341, NA
(26.) SAC Report of Deficiencies Affecting Combat Capability. November 15, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B13999, Box 198, MD, LC; LeMay to Vandenberg. Personal message from CG SAC to CSAF. 5 December 1952. Curtis LeMay Papers, B22149, Box 202, MD, LC; CG, SAC Memo to DCS, Operations, HQS USAF. May 7, 1953. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B26400, Box 203, MD, LC.
(27.) Power to Coleman. Personal message from Deputy Commander SAC to Office Chief of Staff, GHQ, FEC, Mar. 14, 1952. Curtis LeMay Papers, B16973, Box 200, MD, LC.
(28.) By early 1951, SAC's reconnaissance force consisted of the following: twenty-one RB-50s, thirty-one RB-29s, twenty-three RB--45s, and ten RB-36s. Deputy IG, USAF. Report on SAC Capabilities to Initiate and Sustain Combat Operations. Mar. 19, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B10647, Box 197, MD, LC; DCS, Operations; Dir. of Plans. OPG 52-2. Feb 1, 1952. Box 30, Entry 337--DCS, Operations: Dir. of Plans, Executive office, records branch, RG 341, NA.
(29.) Weyland to LeMay. Personal message from CG Far East Air Force to CG SAC Jul. 13, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B12642, Box 198, MD, LC; Twining to LeMay. Personal message from VCSAF to CG SAC, Mar. 28, 1952. Curtis LeMay Papers, B17203, Box 200, MD, LC; Le May to Twining. Personal message from CG SAC to CSAF. Jan. 1, 1953. Curtis LeMay Papers, B23446, Box 203, MD, LC; Twining to LeMay. Personal message from CSAF to CINC SAC, May 6, 1953. Curtis LeMay Papers, B26814, Box 203, MD, LC.
(30.) Headquarters Air Material Command, Dir. of Procurement and Production. Memo to Dir. of Procurement and Production Engineering, HQS USAF. June 27, 1952. Subj: Model RB-47B Aircraft--Photographic Systems Configurations. Box 3--B-47. Entry 454--Air Force--Material; Bombardment-Configuration Data, 1949-1957, RG 341, NA; Headquarters USAF. Message to Commander, SAC Jan. 16, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS-4 Special Projects Folder, Box 71, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(31.) DCS, Operations; Dir. of Plans. OPG 52-2. Feb 1, 1952. Box 30, Entry 337--DCS, Operations: Dir. of Plans, Executive office, records branch, RG 341, NA; SAC History of SAC, January-June 1951, Volume II. n.d., p. 21. AFHRA, K416.01 V.2, Jan-Jun 51.
(32.) Deputy IG, USAF. Report on SAC Capabilities to Initiate and Sustain Combat Operations. Mar. 19, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B10647, Box 197, MD, LC; Curtis E. LeMay. Lecture at the Air War College. Jan. 9, 1952. Subj: Essential Considerations in the Conduct of Strategic Air Operations. Curtis LeMay Papers, B15376, Box 199, MD, LC.
(33.) Lecture at the Air War College. Jan. 9, 1952. Subj: Essential Considerations in the Conduct of Strategic Air Operations. Curtis LeMay Papers, B15376, Box 199, MD, LC; CG, Eighth Air Force. Memo to CG, SAC Dec. 9, 1952. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B22324, Box 202, MD, LC.
(34.) SAC Report of Deficiencies Affecting Combat Capability. November 15, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B13999, Box 198, MD, LC.
(35.) Curtis E. LeMay. Lecture at the Air War College. Jan. 9, 1952. Subj: Essential Considerations in the Conduct of Strategic Air Operations. Curtis LeMay Papers, B15376, Box 199, MD, LC.
(36.) Anderson to LeMay. Personal message from CG 8th ADVON, England to CG SAC Feb. 3, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B9590, Box 197, MD, LC; Briggs to LeMay. Personal message from CG FEAF BC to CG SAC Mar. 1, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B10122, Box 197, MD, LC; LeMay to Briggs. Personal message from CG SAC to CG FEAF BC. Mar. 21, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B10311, Box 197, MD, LC; Power to LeMay. Personal message from SAC element in Japan (SAC X-Ray) to CG SAC May 2, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B10856, Box 197, MD, LC. The differing views between Far East Command and SAC on the exact timing of wartime transfer were resolved with the JCS approval of SAC EWP 1-51, the global atomic war plan for SAC, and further discussions between FEC and SAC that resulted in the May 1, 1951 agreement. Under this agreement, CG FEAF BC was dual-hatted as DC, SAC (X-Ray), with verbal instructions given personally by CG SAC
(37.) Power to Coleman. Personal message from Deputy Commander SAC to Office Chief of Staff; GHQ, FEC. Mar. 14, 1952. Curtis LeMay Papers, B16973, Box 200, MD, LC; Deputy Commander, SAC Memo to Col Close, HQS SAC (XRAY). 21 June 1951. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B11702, Box 198, MD, LC.
(38.) LeMay to Anderson. Personal message from CG SAC to CG 8th AF. Jan. 4, 1951. Curtis LeMay Papers, B9066, Box 196, MD, LC.
(39.) 8th Air Force. Semi-Annual History, July-December 1953. N.d., p. 241-46, 282-87, 300-03. AFHRA, K-520.01, Vol 1, Jul-Dec 1953, IRIS 508551.
(40.) DCS, Operations; Dir. of Plans. OPG 52-2. Feb 1, 1952. Box 30, Entry 337--DCS, Operations: Dir. of Plans, Executive office, records branch, RG 341, NA.
(41.) CINCSAC Message to CG, 7th Air Division, South Ruislip, England. Aug. 26, 1954. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B39157, Box 205, MD, LC; 8th Air Force. Semi-Annual History, July-December 1951. N.d., P. 25657. AFHRA, K-520.01, Vol 1, Jul-Dec 1951, IRIS 508535; 8th Air Force. Semi-Annual History, July-December 1953. n.d., p. 241-46, 282-87, 300-03. AFHRA, K-520.01, Vol 1, Jul-Dec 1953, IRIS 508551; 15th Air Force. Semi-Annual History January-June 1953, Volume II. n.d., P. 401. AFHRA, K-670.01-14, Vol 1, Jan-Jun 1953, IRIS 511340.
(42.) DCS, Operations; Dir. of Plans. Worksheets for WPC 54-1. Jan 1, 1954. Box 24, Entry 337--DCS, Operations: Dir. of Plans, Executive office, records branch, RG 341, NA; DCS, Operations; Dir. of Plans. WPC 54-1. Jan 1, 1954. Box 30, Entry 337--DCS, Operations: Dir. of Plans, Executive office, records branch, RG 341, NA; Headquarters USAF. Minutes of Aircraft and Weapons Board Meeting #11. Mar 27, 1954. Box 1, Entry A1 (1032)--Minutes of Aircraft and Weapons Board Meetings, 1952-1957, RG 341, NA.
(43.) SAC History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. n.d., "Medium Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1 Jul 54-30 Jun 56; Headquarters USAF. Message to Commander ATRC. Nov 4, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS-6-8 Reconnaissance Folder, Box 72, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(44.) Hays, p. 110; SAC History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. n.d., "Medium Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1 Jul 54-30 Jun 56; Headquarters USAF. Message to Commander ATRC. Nov 4, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS6-8 Reconnaissance Folder, Box 72, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(45.) DCS, Material; Dir. of Procurement and Production Engineering. Memo to Commander, Air Material Command. Feb 18, 1954. No subject. Box 3--B-47. Entry 454--Air Force--Material; Bombardment-Configuration Data, 1949-1957, RG 341, NA; Hays, p. Ill; Lloyd, A Cold War Legacy, pp. 214, 222-24.
(46.) SAC History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. n.d., "Medium Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1 Jul 54-30 Jun 56; Headquarters USAF. Message to Commander ATRC. Nov 4, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS-6-8 Reconnaissance Folder, Box 72, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA; SAC History of SAC, Jan. 1-Jun. 30 1957, Volume 1. N.d., p. 94-96. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Jun 57.
(47.) 311th Air Division. Memo for HQS SAC 29 March 1949. Subj: Development of Strategic Reconnaissance Drone. Located in SAC History 1949, Volume 1. May 10, 1950. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, January-December 1949.
(48.) Hill Goodspeed, Curtis F9C Sparrowhawk, Wings of Fame Volume 17 (1999), pp. 198-205.
(49.) Dennis Jenkins, Magnesium Overcast (North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2001), p. 171-77.
(50.) On Jan. 14, 1955 the 71st SRW (Fighter) was activated under the command of Col Charles McKenna and assigned two squadrons equipped with RF-84Fs and one with RBF-84Fs (later re-designated RF-84K). The first RBF-84F aircraft were delivered to the wing in July 1955, conventional RF-84F deliveries following at a slow pace. Slipping delivery schedules and poor weather impacted training for the 71st SRW (F) and it wasn't until January 1956 that FICON training could start in earnest. On January 13, the Wing tried its first large scale check-out of FICON pilots with ten aircraft working with one GRB-36. Turbulent weather and pilot inexperience resulted in damage to three RF-84Ks and the GRB-36 probe receiver, forcing Col McKenna to suspend FICON operations. SAC terminated the program in February due to poor performance and the planned conversion of the 99th BW from RB-36/GRB-36 aircraft to the B-52. See 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fighter). History, Nov. 1955. n.d., p. 23, 34. AFHRA, KWG-71-HI, Nov 55; Headquarters, 99th Bombardment Wing. Memo to Commander, 57th Air Division. Nov. 10, 1955. Subj: FICON Phase II Training; Attachment 10 to 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fighter). History, Nov. 1955. N.d.. AFHRA, K-WG-71-HI, Nov 55; 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fighter). History, Jan. 1956. N.d., p. 40-59. AFHRA, K-WG-71-HI, Jan 56; 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fighter). History, Feb. 1956. n.d., p. 44-45. AFHRA, K-WG-71-HI, Feb 56.
(51.) Headquarters Air Material Command, Dir. of Procurement and Production. Memo to Dir. of Procurement and Production Engineering, HQS USAF. June 27, 1952. Subj: Model RB-47B Aircraft--Photographic Systems Configurations. Box 3--B--47. Entry 454--Air Force--Material; Bombardment-Configuration Data, 1949-1957, RG 341, NA; Headquarters USAF. Message to Commander, SAC Jan 16, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS-4 Special Projects Folder, Box 71, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA; DCS, Operations; Dir. of Operations and Commitments Division. Memo to DCS, Operations. Apr 5, 1954. Subj: RB-47E Reconnaissance Capabilities. AFOOP OPS-6-8 Reconnaissance Folder, Box 72, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(52.) History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. n.d., "Heavy Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jul. 1, 54-Jun. 30, 56.
(53.) SAC, Notes for Gen. LeMay. Jun. 10, 1953-Mar. 25, 1957. Curtis LeMay Papers, Box 104b, MD, LC.
(54.) Headquarters Air Material Command, Dir. of Procurement and Production. Memo to Dir. of Procurement and Production Engineering, HQS USAF. Jun. 27, 1952. Subj: Model RB-47B Aircraft--Photographic Systems Configurations. Box 3--B-47. Entry 454--Air Force--Material; Bombardment-Configuration Data, 1949-1957, RG 341, NA; Headquarters USAF. Message to CINCSAC Jan. 16, 1954. No subject. AFOOP OPS-4 Special Projects Folder, Box 71, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA; DCS, Operations; Dir. of Operations and Commitments Division. Memo to DCS, Operations. Apr. 5, 1954. Subj: RBJUE Reconnaissance Capabilities. AFOOP OPS-6-8 Reconnaissance Folder, Box 72, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(55.) Headquarters USAF. Minutes of Aircraft and Weapons Board Meeting #12. Apr 3, 1954. Box 1, Entry A1 (1032)--Minutes of Aircraft and Weapons Board Meetings, 1952-1957, RG 341, NA.
(56.) DCS, Operations; Dir. of Operations. Memo to DCS, Operations; Assistant for Programming. Nov 3, 1954. Subj: Requirements for RB-52 Aircraft. Box 78, Entry 345 (1954)--Air Force--Operations; Operations subject numeric files, 1954, RG 341, NA.
(57.) History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. N.d., "Heavy Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, 1 Jul 54-30 Jun 56.
(58.) Harold Austin, "A Daytime Overflight of the Soviet Union," in Early Cold War Overflights 1950-1956, Symposium Proceedings, Volume 1: Memories (Washing ton: Office of the Historian, National Reconnaissance Office, 2003).
(59.) SAC acquiring the RB-57 was due in no small part to Gen. LeMay securing concurrence from VCSAF Lt. Gen. Thomas D. White that SAC would perform all such special pre-hostilities reconnaissance missions. See CSAF, USAF, Memo to CINCSAC 10 August 1953. No subject. Curtis LeMay Papers, B29239, Box 204, MD, LC; Chairman, Air Force Council. Memo to CSAF. Nov. 29, 1954. Subj: Special Reconnaissance Systems. Nathan F. Twining Papers, TS General File Folder, Box 79, MD, LC; Headquarters Air Material Command. Memo to Assistant for Production Programming, HQS USAF. Jun 26, 1956. Subj: BLACK KNIGHT Program. Box 9--RB-57D. Entry 454--Air Force--Material; Bombardment-Configuration Data, 1949-1957, RG 341, NA.
(60.) Stephen Ambrose, Ike's Spies (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1981), p. 270.
(61.) Dino A. Brugioni, Eyes in the Sky (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010), p. 161-63.
(62.) Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbaeh, The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974 (Langley: CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1998), p. 316-17.
(63.) History of SAC, Jan. 1-Jun. 30, 1957, Volume 1. n.d., p. 97-102. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Jun 57; History of SAC, Jul. 1, 1954-Jun. 30, 1956, Volume 1. N.d., "Light Reconnaissance Force" section page numbers redacted. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jul 1, 54-Jun 30, 56.
(64.) LeMay to Power. Personal message from CINCSAC to Commander, ARDC. Jul. 5, 1956. Curtis LeMay Papers, B55115, Box 206/7, MD, LC.
(65.) History of SAC, Jan. 1-Jun. 30, 1957, Volume 1. n.d., p. 97-102. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Jun 57; 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Light). Monthly History, Nov. 1956. n.d. AFHRA, K-WG-4080-HI, Nov 1956.
(66.) Robert Hines, "Project Heart Throb in the Far East," in Early Cold War Overflights 1950-1956, Symposium Proceedings, Volume 1: Memories (Washington: Office of the Historian, National Reconnaissance Office, 2003).
(67.) Robert Jackson, High Cold War (Somerset: Patrick Stephens Limited, 1998), p. 100-01.
(68.) 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Light). Monthly History, Aug. 1957. n.d., p. 5-6. AFHRA, K-WG-4080-HI, Aug 1957. The aircraft certainly did not fly SIGINT flights as some articles indicate--this was only capable in the RB-57D-2 aircraft--nor did they fly air sampling missions as the RB-57D's deployed for HARDTACK sampling at Eniwetok Atoll had to be modified by Martin Aircraft Company for the mission.
(69.) 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Light). Monthly Histories for Jul. 1957, Nov. 1958, March 1959, Jun. 1959, Jul. 1959, Feb. 1960, and Jun. 1960. N.d. AFHRA, K-WG-4080-HI, Jul 1957-Jun 1960.
(70.) 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fighter). History, Jan. 1957. n.d., p. 2. AFHRA, K-WG-71-HI, Jan. 57.
(71.) History of SAC, Jan. 1-Jun. 30, 1957, Volume 1. n.d., p. 82. AFHRA, K416.01 V. 1, Jan-Jun 57.
(72.) Chief of Staff, USAF. Memo to CINCSAC Nov. 15, 1957. No subject. Thomas D. White Papers, TS General File-1957, Box 7, MD, LC.
(73.) History of SAC, Jan. 1-Jun. 30, 1958,Volume 1.N.d., p. 181-83. AFHRA, K416.01 V.1, Jan-Jun 58; History of SAC, Jun. 1958-Jul. 1959, Historical Study No. 76, Volume 1. n.d., p. 220-21. AFHRA, K416.01-76 V. 1, Jun 58-Jul 59.
(74.) CSAF. Memo to CINCSAC Nov. 15, 1957. No subject. Thomas D. White Papers, TS General File--1957, Box 7, MD, LC.
(75.) Kenneth Greer, "Corona," published in Corona: America's First Satellite Program (Langley: CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1995).
(76.) James Reber, "List of Highest Priority Targets, USSR," Aug. 18, 1960, published in Corona: America's First Satellite Program (Langley: CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1995).
Bill Cahill is a retired Air Force intelligence officer who contracts for DoD in the Washington D.C. area. An intelligence weapons officer with squadron and wing-level experience, he has also served on the Air Staff and in an inter-agency capacity outside of DoD. Mr. Cahill is a graduate of San Jose State University and has MS degrees from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and the National Defense Intelligence College. Mr. Cahill has been published in Air Power History, FlyPast, the USAF Weapons Review, and C4ISR Journal.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
|Previous Article:||"Ten seconds to impact" the B-52 air strike at Bagram, Afghanistan, November 12, 2001.|
|Next Article:||A German aircraft downed by Archie.|