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Early Techniques and Equipment

Many different cameras and technologies were developed in the early days of military reconnaissance in order to solve the problems of obtaining useful information from the air.

de Havilland DH-4

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The versatile de Havilland DH-4 played many roles in both military and civilian capacities. In addition to its bombing activities in World War I, the DH-4 was an observation and photoreconnaissance aircraft. Between the Wars, the "Liberty Planes", as the DH-4s were called, took on many different jobs, including forest patrols and geologic reconnaissance. For 10 years they served as the Army Air Service's standard airplane for aerial mapping and photography.

The DH-4 was introduced in England in 1917. Because of the War, time for new aircraft development was limited, so an American version of the already existing aircraft was produced in this country. More than 4000 DH-4s equipped with the American Liberty Engine were manufactured in the U.S. by 1919. The Air and Space Museum's aircraft is the first of these to be built.

Aerial cameras in the DH-4 could be hand-held or mounted either inside or outside the rear cockpit. The aircraft on display contains a Kodak L-4 camera positioned within the cockpit to take photographs through a small window in the floor.

A-2 camera
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The mannequin in the DH-4 is holding an A-2 camera. The A-2 was developed by Kodak and was used for aerial photography in World War I.


K-1 Camera

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The K-1 Camera was designed by Eastman Kodak for use in World War I. It used 6-inch film and had a built-in magazine.
Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

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Early aerial cameras were sometimes mounted rigidly on the outside of an airplane to obtain vertical views. Aircraft vibration, however, proved a serious problem.
Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

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In the 1920s, Sherman Fairchild designed the K-3, a revolutionary new aerial camera. Electrically driven, the K-3 had a new shutter and magazine which advanced the technology of aerial photography. Fairchild later started an aerial survey and map making company (one of many Fairchild companies to come).
From the Sherman Fairchild Collection

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Photographer preparing to take high altitude oblique shots with a 24-inch focal length K-3 camera.
Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

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This K-3 camera was used between the Wars for experiments in long-range aerial photography.
Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

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The K-5 camera was another version of the handheld oblique aerial camera.
Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

The Sky Spies Early Techniques (continued)

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