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Early Photo Jet Recon10751 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Airforce After a year in Peru in 1946 teaching Peruvian pilots to fly P-47’s, I returned to the U.S. in 1947, was assigned to the 161st Tac Recon Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia, which operated new RF-80’s. I was delighted, but when Lt. Col. Jim Rose the Squadron C.O. had to offer someone for a base headquarters assignment, he picked me — I was out.

Nine months later I volunteered for fighter jet training at Williams Field, Arizona, then was reassigned back to Langley to the newly organized 160th Tac Recon Squadron (RF-80s). The 160th and 161st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons, together with the 12th Squadron in RB-26's, made up the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group headed by Col. James Smelley.

Fighter pilots look down their noses at recon pilots (called "Recce Pukes") since recon is not a gun/rocket/bomb type business. However in peacetime I learned that recon can be more productive than fighters. We flew mapping photography and provided aerial photos of U.S. military installations, military cemeteries greatly expanded by WWII, nuclear weapons sites, etc. Jets were new and requirements for air shows were many. The RF-80 was the most reliable source since it had a radio compass that allowed it to be flown safely through weather to destinations while abiding by Air Traffic Control rules. F-80 fighters had no instrument navigation system and could not do this.

After WWII the average fighter pilot knew little about instrument flying procedures, about cruise control or about high altitude weather like icing - 100-150 mph jet streams aloft and about the sonic barrier. The lack of this knowledge and training led to the death of numerous jet jockeys. We learned mainly through experience. Keep in mind, the late 1940's were formative years for jet operations and jet pilots. In the 160th and 161st Squadrons at Langley from 1947 through 1949 we lost probably as many RF-80 pilots in operations and training accidents as we did in the Korean War.

There were air shows almost weekly in the late 1940's. One of the more interesting air show demonstrations was at Randolf Air Base, Texas, for the School of Aviation Medicine in mid 1948. Two RF-80s were to pass in opposite directions head-on in front of the viewers at speeds to demonstrate 1,000-mph rate of closure. I had separated six aircraft into two flights of 3, which flew in two spread-out string formations. The flights passed each other head-on flying on the deck using the main runway as a separation line. Timing to get two of the six aircraft to pass the reviewing stands at the same time was tricky. On the second fly-by attempt two passed head on at 475 mph each for 950-mph rate of closure in front of the reviewing stand.

A 36 RF-80 aircraft formation led by Col. Smelley ran through a large formation of B-29's at the opening of Kennedy Airport celebration on Long Island, New York. President Truman was there and the news columns read that F-80 aircraft performed intricate maneuvers over the grandstands. The weather was lousy and a variety of aircraft were operating uncontrolled under 1,000-foot ceiling. It was an aerial mess without a catastrophe.

In 1948, a multiple pass, four aircraft fly-by was scheduled over a Boy Scout Camp celebration. The aerial trick was to find its location under a large oak tree in a forest in Ohio. We were on time at the right place and put on a good show.

A cut back in the Air Force units in April 1949 caused the deactivation of the 160th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Langley and the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at March Air Base in California. This left two squadrons of RF-80s in the Air Force, the 161st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron which had moved to Shaw Air Base in South Carolina and the 8th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Yakota Air Base in Japan near Tokyo. An RB-26 night Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron remained at Langley and was re-designated the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron when it moved to Korea in the Fall of 1950. During the Korean War the 161st Squadron trained replacement pilots at Shaw and became the nucleus on which the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was formed.

Note: by Colonel Jean K. Woodyard, USAF Retired
Squadron Commander, 8th TRS.


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Re: Early Photo Jet Recon
by Anonymous
on Aug 02, 2005

Great read


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