The Collectors! ….Since the invention of the air balloon and the first flight with the heavier then air plane collecting information from the air was practised and certainly in case of a military conflict. However since the second world war gathering of information using aeroplanes was tilted to a higher level with special photo and reconnaissance flights. After the end of WW II the Americans decided to set up an organisation that should provide information about the position of aerodromes, radar sites and locations of important factories of war material especially from their biggest enemy the Russians.
The use of the famous B-29 Superfortress that tried to intercept radio messages from the Russians in order to locate the radio and radar stations was the first step. To achieve this they flew their missions as close as possible alongside the borders and territorial waters of the Eastern European Countries.
These intel flights were always planned with the utmost secrecy to avoid irritation and confrontation and possible violent contra actions. However it was unavoidable that many photo and electronic intel planes from the allied air forces were intercepted and shot down often still flying over international airspace. The public was not aware of these missions and the losses from the allied air forces were not published. Be aware there was no war going on because it mostly all happened in the period 1945 – 1955. The planes became more advanced and the propeller driven planes were replaced by fast jets like the B-47 Stratojet, KC-707, B-57 Canberra and the C-130 Hercules all equipped with more and more advanced cameras and electronic listening devices.
In this book the author is describing in detail the technicalities of the cameras and the systems that were installed in the intel planes mainly used by the American and British Air Forces. Politics played an important role in the preparations and planning of the intel flights. Whenever an intel plane was intercepted, the Russians were protesting forcefully and the Allies tried to avoid further escalation with all their resources. The result was that nearly every important and risky intel flight needed permission from the highest political levels. Later on the Americans developed the U-2 spy plane that was able to collect information and photo flights on higher levels and was used by more allied countries like the UK and was also used to gather information in other conflict territories like the Middle East and Far East countries
The Americans believed that enemy planes neither antiaircraft missiles were able to down a U-2, until the Russians proved otherwise by shooting down a U-2 over Russia with Gary Powers as pilot. The Russian Secretary General Chroesjtsjov used this incident to embarrass the American government and as a result the U-2 flight were scaled down. Meanwhile it could not be avoided that world wide several U-2 flights were intercepted and shot down.
This book contains many in depth stories of these flights that often ended in disaster and with the loss of many crew members on board the flights. When satellites took over the intel work from the air forces the flights were reduced significantly and the U-2 and SR 71 ( the successor of the U-2) were mothballed.
The book is rather technical with the detailed descriptions of cameras, organisations involved and political influence. Because of the small letter type and with 312 pages text it contains much information about this subject. It contains also many personal stories of crewmembers that were part of the flights. Interesting sometimes exciting and for the readers amongst us that are interested in this very special part of military aviation it contains much information. For me sometimes to much as aviation aspects are my priority. Despite this the author is very well informed and apparently did much research in order to produce this book.