We use cookies to track usage and preferences. See Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
CA
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions >  Latest Articles > Photo-reconnaissance Spitfire Pilot

Photo-reconnaissance Spitfire Pilot
Aeroplane

Photo-reconnaissance Spitfire Pilot

Posted April 25, 2015   |   1612 views   |   Aviation & Transport   |   Comments (0) JAMES KIGHTLY focuses on the role of the pilots who flew solo, unarmed, at height, in radio silence for up to seven hours, and had to navigate by precise dead-reckoning

The Supermarine Spitfire, a short-range point interceptor, was modified into one of the best long-range photographic-reconnaissance (PR) aircraft of the Second World War. The aircraft's structure was basically unaltered, the main changes being the removal of armament, a hugely increased fuel tankage and the addition of the cameras required for the role. The PR.XI had a Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 engine and 66gal of fuel in each wing leading edge, as well as an enlarged undernose oil tank. Able to attain 400 m.p.h.-plus, it had a universal camera installation allowing a wide variety of cameras to be fitted, such as two F.52 cameras with 36in focal length lenses.
Alone, fast and high
The pilots of PR Spitfires flew solo, at height, in radio silence, and had to navigate by dead-reckoning precisely from base to the exact pinpoint location for their photographs. These missions could last up to seven hours. Complete surprise, altitude and speed offered their best chances for survival, vital for bringing back the photographs.

Death by sleep
The Spitfire's cockpit was cramped and uncomfortable, and early versions had no cabin heating. Later, heating and (later still) pressurisation made a huge difference. The PR Spitfires had additional oxygen tanks for the longer flights, but if a pilot's supply failed or was blocked, hypoxia would set in. First the pilot would lose awareness and then he would pass out, probably not awakening before the crash.

Contrailing
As well as flak, enemy interception was a constant risk, and pilots kept a close watch to the rear. As Gp Capt H.C. Daish recalled: "Our work in those early days necessitated flying at 30,000ft, and certain sorties had to be abandoned if we developed a condensation trail." The then-rare contrails, occurring (as the pilots found) over 27,000ft, were a major problem. Pioneer PR pilot Fg Off "Shorty" Longbottom noted: "From the ground, this trail appears to come to a point, sharply defined, at the exact point of the aircraft, so that although the machine itself may not be visible, every movement it makes is visible to the naked eye ..." On the other hand, a new contrail seen behind could reveal an attacking enemy fighter.

The cameras were normally mounted in the fuselage behind the pilot, and had electrically driven shutters. For mass coverage the normal set-up was two F.52 cameras with 36in lenses, arranged to shoot slightly off to the left and right of the aircraft's track. Once over the target to be photographed, a precise course and altitude was set and maintained. At 30,000ft each Tin x 8'/tin negative covered a square mile, but even a small deviation from straight and level could mean that the cameras could miss the target completely.

Dicing
Detailed shots of building-sized targets were undertaken at low level using an obliquely mounted camera in the radio compartment. These operations, known as "dicing", were exciting and risky. It was not glamorous work, and required a painstaking, patient temperament, but proved vital to winning the war.

For more great articles like this get the Aeroplane Sample Issue issue of Aeroplane below or subscribe and save.

Single Issue - May 2018 Replica Edition included
$5.49
Or 549 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 4.17 per issue
SAVE
24%
$49.99
Or 4999 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.99 per issue
SAVE
27%
$3.99
Or 399 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 4.66 per issue
SAVE
15%
$27.99
Or 2799 points

View Issues

About Aeroplane

The magazine of choice for aviation and history enthusiasts worldwide. Aeroplane is filled with aviation history, news on plane preservation projects and nostalgia from the 'golden age of flying'.

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this subscribe to Aeroplane today.

Most read articles this month


Christmas Gifts for Her

Christmas Gifts for Her

Stuck for gift ideas for the lovely lady in your life? The Pocketmags team have pooled all their best ideas for gifts for her this Christmas. Get ready to earn some serious brownie points! More...
Christmas Gifts for Him

Christmas Gifts for Him

Why are men so hard to buy for?! If you're looking for gift ideas for the deserving gent in your life, look no further; the Pocketmags team have found some amazing gifts for him this Christmas. Boring socks begone! More...
WHEN THE MUSE GOES MISSING!

WHEN THE MUSE GOES MISSING!

Nashville songwriter Mark Cawley shares some tactics for reviving those elusive creative juices when you’ve lost the flow More...
3 Free Reads for the New Year

3 Free Reads for the New Year

Spend all your money in December? Us too. We’ve pulled together our 3 favourite free reads available for you on Pocketmags. Everyone loves a free read! More...
How I got  published

How I got published

The author’s debut was actually her sixth novel, she tells Dolores Gordon-Smith More...
Christmas Gifts for Kids

Christmas Gifts for Kids

Treat the smallest (and loudest) members of the family to something fun this festive season! We've rounded up our favourite gifts for kids to help you (oops, we mean Santa) out - just call us the Pocketmags elves! More...
News from the world of the piano

News from the world of the piano

Argerich and Babayan in Cleveland More...
Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Here at Pocketmags we're all about going digital, but we know our relatives might not always feel the same. Why not treat someone special to a print subscription from our sister site magazine.co.uk? Buy 3 Christmas gift subscriptions and you'll get £15 off at checkout. That's Christmas sorted! Here are our favourites to pick up and flick through all year round... More...
Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Don't get pwned this Christmas - we've got a list of the greatest gifts around for the geekiest member of your household. Prepare to beat Santa at his own game - these beauties are just what they're looking for under the tree... More...
3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

We’ve all heard of the crazy exercises people are trying - from animal yoga to orange theory. But if one of your New Year's resolutions is to get fit and find some sort of exercise you’ll enjoy then maybe you will love one of these… More...
Vouchers Gift Cards A magazine subscription is the perfect gift but you'll need something to show on the big day. View All
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points