Camera, Aerial, Hycon 73B, Lockheed U-2C

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Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

During the Cold War, this Hycon Model B panoramic camera was installed in the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft displayed directly above it in the Looking At Earth gallery as an essential intelligence-gathering tool of the United States. In 1956, the Museum's U-2C (then a U-2A) equipped with this Model B camera made the first overflight of the Soviet Union. In 1962, another Model B camera in the collection provided positive proof of the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, precipitating a crisis that led the world to the brink of nuclear war.

As the world's premier high-resolution, high-altitude camera, the Hycon B camera (officially the 73B camera) enabled the United States to conduct routine reconnaissance in relative safety and to observe global hot spots in astonishing detail.The B camera had a 36-inch focal length and resolved features as small as .75 meters (2.5 feet) from an altitude of 19.3 kilometers (65,000 feet). Designed by Dr. James Baker, the panoramic B camera had revolutionary 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. 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.

Collection Item Long Description:

During the Cold War, this Hycon Model B panoramic camera, installed in the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft displayed directly above it in the Looking at Earth gallery, 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 1956, the Museum's Lockheed U-2C (then a U-2A)equipped with with this Model B camera made the first overflight of the Soviet Union. In 1962, another Model B camera also in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (19771125000) provided positive proof of the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, precipitating a crisis that led the world to the brink of nuclear war.

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 73B camera, its official designation, 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-2C 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. On October 14, a U-2 overflew the island and photographed suspicious construction sites at San Cristobal, Cuba, with another B camera in NASM's collection. Following the flight, the film was rushed to the National Photographic Intelligence Center in Washington, DC, where intelligence officers confirmed that Soviet SS-4 MRBMs (medium range ballistic missiles) were being installed on the island only 90 miles from the U.S. mainland. 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.

Data Source

National Air and Space Museum

Restrictions & Rights

Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Credit Line

Transferred from the Central Intelligence Agency

Materials

Metal overall with optical glass.

Dimensions

Approximate: 128.27 x 127 x 95.25cm (4ft 2 1/2in. x 4ft 2in. x 3ft 1 1/2in.)

Physical Description

panormaic high-altitude camera

Type

EQUIPMENT-Photographic

Inventory Number

A19820380001