During the Cold War, the Hycon 73B installed in the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, was an essential intelligence-gathering tool of the United States. As the world's premier high-resolution, high-altitude camera, it enabled the United States to conduct routine reconnaissance in relative safety and to observe global hot spots in astonishing detail. In October1962, this B camera, as it was also known, provided positive proof of the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, precipitating a crisis that led the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Shooting through seven glass encased windows in the belly of the U-2, the B camera recorded everyting along a 3,500 km (2,700 mile) course up to 200 km (125 miles) wdie, and it could provide up to 4000 pairs of stereoscopic photographs. The 36-inch focal length lens resolved features as small as .75 m (2.5 feet) from an altitude of 19.6 km (65,000 feet). The Central Intelligence Agency displayed this B camera in a 1972 Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit at CIA Headquarters and then, in 1977, transferred it to the Museum along with light tables and elevating tables used in photographic interpretation.
Transferred from the Central Intelligence Agency
Hycon Model 73B, but known as the B camera; used on U-2 reconnaissance flights over Cuba, October 1962; 36in. focal length, twin spool, high resolution, high altitude camera for panoramic photography; with support cart.
During the Cold War, the Hycon Model B panoramic camera, installed in the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, was an essential intelligence-gathering tool of the United States. As the world's premier high-resolution, high-altitude camera, it enabled the United States to conduct routine reconnaissance in relative safety and to observe global hot spots in astonishing detail. In 1962, this particular Model B camera, now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, provided positive proof of the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, precipitating a crisis that led the world to the brink of nuclear war. A second Model B camera (19820380001) is displayed directly beneath the Lockheed U-2 aircraft in the Looking at Earth gallery.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Dr. Edwin Land, an eminent photographic scientist, initiated the development of a new automatic camera design with a lens barrel capable of rotating from side to side and filming from horizon to horizon. By 1953, prototype cameras were being tested for use in the new reconnaissance aircraft, the Lockheed U-2, under development by "Kelly" Johnson and his legendary "Skunk Works." The development and application of this new technology were under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The panoramic camera was a revolutionary design with image-movement compensation that allowed for the motion of the aircraft and the vibration of the engine, as well as the movement of the highly sensitive, fast, and ultra thin Kodak film also especially designed for the project. Dr. James Baker, a renowned optics scientist, developed three camera designs for the U-2 and the B camera was chosen for its innovative panoramic technology as well as size, weight, and optics features. Shooting through seven glass encased windows in the belly of the U-2, the B camera recorded everything along a 3,500 km (2,700 mile) course, up to 200 km (125 miles) wide, and it could provide up to 4000 pairs of stereoscopic photographs. The 36-inch focal length lens, designed by Baker and produced by Perkin Elmer, resolved features as small as .75 meters (2.5 feet) from an altitude of 19.6 kilometers (65,000 ft). The camera imaged onto two 9 ½ inch wide frames of film through a single lens, producing an 18x18 inch exposure. The film was loaded onto two counter-rotating film spools, one located forward and the other aft in the camera body to maintain the center of gravity within in the aircraft. The Hycon Corporation, led by project engineer William McFadden, produced the complex B camera to Dr. Baker's specifications.
First deployed over Eastern Europe in June 1956, the Lockheed U-2 was immediately tasked with the search for Soviet military installations in a successful effort to resolve the perceived bomber and missile gaps between the United States and Soviet Union. The Lockheed U-2 known as Article 347 and its B camera (19820380001) displayed in the Looking at Earth gallery made the first overflight of the Soviet Union on July 4, 1956. When a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was downed by a Soviet missile on May 1, 1960, creating a major international incident, the film retrieved from that aircraft's Model B camera was developed and praised by the Soviets for the extraordinary quality of the photography.
In the summer of 1962, the United States watched as Soviet convoys delivered heavy equipment, shrouded in containers, to Cuba. In the summer and fall of 1962, U-2s overflew the island and photographed suspicious construction sites at San Cristobal, Cuba, with this B camera now in NASM's collection. Following the October flights, the film was rushed to the National Photographic Intelligence Center in Washington, DC, where intelligence officers saw evidence that Soviet SS-4 MRBMs (medium range ballistic missiles) were being installed on the island only 90 miles from the U.S. mainland. After final low-level reconnaissance confirmed active sites and launchers, President Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles and, after the most frightening two weeks of the Cold War, Soviet Premier Khrushchev capitulated, ending the crisis.
Following their service during the CIA's twenty-year manned high-altitude reconnaissance program, many U-2 aircraft and their B cameras flew reconnaissance missions for the U.S. Air Force and also for scientific missions. Over the years, Hycon Model B cameras recorded untold amounts of critical, classified photographs around the world shaping the course of the Cold War and today's world.
Ground resolution 2.5ft. 18x18in. format high altitude