Reconnaissance aircraft

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A USAF SR-71 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft SR-71A in flight near Beale AFB 1988.JPEG
A USAF SR-71 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft

A reconnaissance aircraft is a military surveillance aircraft designed or adapted to perform aerial reconnaissance with roles including collection of imagery intelligence (including using photography), signals intelligence, as well as measurement and signature intelligence. Modern technology has also enabled some aircraft and UAVs to carry out real-time surveillance in addition to general intelligence gathering.

Military aircraft Aircraft designed or utilized for use in or support of military operations

A military aircraft is any fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft that is operated by a legal or insurrectionary armed service of any type. Military aircraft can be either combat or non-combat:

Surveillance aircraft aircraft designed for sustained observation over time by onboard persons or sensors

A surveillance aircraft is an aircraft used for surveillance—collecting information over time. They are operated by military forces and other government agencies in roles such as intelligence gathering, battlefield surveillance, airspace surveillance, observation, border patrol and fishery protection. This article concentrates on aircraft used in those roles, rather than for traffic monitoring, law enforcement and similar activities.

Aerial reconnaissance

Aerial reconnaissance is reconnaissance for a military or strategic purpose that is conducted using reconnaissance aircraft. The role of reconnaissance can fulfil a variety of requirements including artillery spotting, the collection of imagery intelligence, and the observation of enemy maneuvers.


In years prior to the development and common use of sophisticated electronic image recording devices and sensors such as radar, reconnaissance aircraft were also relied upon by military forces for distant visual observation and scouting of enemy movement. An example is the PBY Catalina maritime patrol flying boat used by the Allies in World War II: a flight of U.S. Navy Catalinas spotted part of the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway. [1]

Radar object detection system based on radio waves

Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.

Artillery observer military role for observing artillery strikes and directing them to their targets

A military artillery observer,spotter or FO is responsible for directing artillery and mortar fire onto a target and may be a Forward Air Controller (FAC) for close air support and spotter for naval gunfire support. Also known as Fire Support Specialist or FISTer, an artillery observer usually accompanies a tank or infantry manoeuvre unit. Spotters ensure that indirect fire hits targets which the troops at the fire support base cannot see.

Reconnaissance military exploration beyond the area occupied by friendly forces

In military operations, reconnaissance or scouting is the exploration outside an area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about natural features and other activities in the area.


Balloon used for reconnaissance by the French during Battle of Fleurus (1794) Early flight 02562u (10).jpg
Balloon used for reconnaissance by the French during Battle of Fleurus (1794)
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service Nakajima C6N Saiun carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft NakajimaC6N.JPG
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service Nakajima C6N Saiun carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft
USAF TR-1 version of the U-2 Usaf.u2.750pix.jpg
USAF TR-1 version of the U-2
RC-135U Combat Sent reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft USAF Combat Sent.jpg
RC-135U Combat Sent reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft
US Navy RA-5C Vigilante carrier-based supersonic reconnaissance aircraft RA-5C RVAH-6 in flight 1970.jpg
US Navy RA-5C Vigilante carrier-based supersonic reconnaissance aircraft
RCAF CP-140A Arcturus maritime reconnaissance aircraft CP-140A Arcturus.jpg
RCAF CP-140A Arcturus maritime reconnaissance aircraft
MiG-25RB reconnaissance version of the MiG-25 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25RB, Russia - Air Force AN2195954.jpg
MiG-25RB reconnaissance version of the MiG-25
ScanEagle reconnaissance UAV on its catapult launcher ScanEagle UAV catapult launcher 2005-04-16.jpg
ScanEagle reconnaissance UAV on its catapult launcher

Prior to the 20th century machines for powered and controllable flight were not available to military forces, but some attempts were made to use lighter than air craft. During the Napoleonic Wars and Franco-Prussian War, balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance by the French. [2]

Navigation The process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another

Navigation is a field of study that focuses on the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. The field of navigation includes four general categories: land navigation, marine navigation, aeronautic navigation, and space navigation.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Franco-Prussian War significant conflict pitting the Second French Empire against the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and later the Third French Republic, and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

In World War I, aircraft were deployed during early phases of battle in reconnaissance roles as 'eyes of the army' to aid ground forces. [2] Aerial reconnaissance from this time through 1945 was mostly carried out by adapted versions of standard fighters and bombers equipped with film cameras. [3] Photography became the primary and best-known method of intelligence collection for reconnaissance aircraft by the end of World War II.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

An army or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-based military branch, service branch or armed service of a nation or state. It may also include aviation assets by possessing an army aviation component. In certain states, the term army refers to the entire armed forces. Within a national military force, the word army may also mean a field army.

Fighter aircraft Military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat against other aircraft

A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat against other aircraft, as opposed to bombers and attack aircraft, whose main mission is to attack ground targets. The hallmarks of a fighter are its speed, maneuverability, and small size relative to other combat aircraft.

After World War II and during the Cold War the United States developed several dedicated reconnaissance aircraft designs, including the U-2 and SR-71, to monitor the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. [4] Other types of reconnaissance aircraft were built for specialized roles in signals intelligence and electronic monitoring, such as the RB-47, Boeing RC-135 and the Ryan Model 147 drones.

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. A common historiography of the conflict begins between 1946, the year U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Moscow cemented a U.S. foreign policy of containment of Soviet expansionism threatening strategically vital regions, and the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and ending between the Revolutions of 1989, which ended communism in Eastern Europe, and the 1991 collapse of the USSR, when nations of the Soviet Union abolished communism and restored their independence. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Lockheed U-2 airplane

The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is an American single-jet engine, ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, high-altitude, all-weather intelligence gathering.

Since the Cold War much of the strategic reconnaissance aircraft role has passed over to satellites, [5] and the tactical role to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This has been proven in successful uses by Israel, and by the United States in Desert Storm operations. [6]

Reconnaissance satellite satellite collecting intelligence

A reconnaissance satellite or intelligence satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications.

Unmanned aerial vehicle Aircraft without a human pilot aboard

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard computers.

Israel Defense Forces combined military forces of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces, commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal, are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force, and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel. The IDF is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Defense Minister of Israel; Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi has served as Chief of Staff since January 15, 2019.

See also

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Consolidated PBY Catalina maritime patrol and transport flying boat

The Consolidated PBY Catalina, also known as the Canso in Canadian service, is an American flying boat, and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations.

Aerial warfare is the battlespace use of military aircraft and other flying machines in warfare. Aerial warfare includes bombers attacking enemy installations or a concentration of enemy troops or strategic targets; fighter aircraft battling for control of airspace; attack aircraft engaging in close air support against ground targets; naval aviation flying against sea and nearby land targets; gliders, helicopters and other aircraft to carry airborne forces such as paratroopers; aerial refueling tankers to extend operation time or range; and military transport aircraft to move cargo and personnel. Historically, military aircraft have included lighter-than-air balloons carrying artillery observers; lighter-than-air airships for bombing cities; various sorts of reconnaissance, surveillance and early warning aircraft carrying observers, cameras and radar equipment; torpedo bombers to attack enemy shipping; and military air-sea rescue aircraft for saving downed airmen. Modern aerial warfare includes missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. Surface forces are likely to respond to enemy air activity with anti-aircraft warfare.

Military aviation use of aircraft by armed forces in combat or other military capacity

Military aviation is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling aerial warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Airpower includes the national means of conducting such warfare, including the intersection of transport and war craft. Military aircraft include bombers, fighters, transports, trainer aircraft, and reconnaissance aircraft.

History of unmanned aerial vehicles aspect of history

UAVs include both autonomous drones and remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs). A UAV is capable of controlled, sustained level flight and is powered by a jet, reciprocating, or electric engine. In the 21st century, technology reached a point of sophistication that the UAV is now being given a greatly expanded role in many areas of aviation.

13th Intelligence Squadron

The 13th Intelligence Squadron is part of the 548th Intelligence Group at Beale Air Force Base. It is one of the exploitation units for the Lockheed U-2, MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

32nd Intelligence Squadron

The 32d Intelligence Squadron is a unit of the United States Air Force 707th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group located at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

United States aerial reconnaissance of the Soviet Union Wikimedia list article

Between 1946 and 1960, the United States Air Force conducted aerial reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union in order to determine the size, composition, and disposition of Soviet forces. Aircraft used included the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber and—from 1956—the Lockheed U-2 spy plane specifically designed for high-altitude reconnaissance flight. The overflight program was ended following the 1960 U-2 incident.

Aerial reconnaissance using heavier-than-air machines was an entirely new science that had to be improvised step-by-step. Early operations were low-level flights with the pilot often dismounting from the plane to report verbally to the nearest officers. Photographic support was urgently developed, initially requiring a full-time photographer on board to handle the heavy, awkward equipment. The interpreting of aerial images was an important new speciality, essential for accurate mapping. By 1915, air-to-ground radio was in use for reconnaissance pilots.

Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike 2013-2016 United States Navy development program

The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) was a United States Navy program to develop an autonomous carrier-based unmanned combat aerial vehicle providing an unmanned intelligence and strike asset to the fleet. After debate over whether the UCLASS should primarily focus on stealthy bombing or scouting, the Pentagon instead changed the program entirely into the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) to create a UAV for aerial refueling duties to extend the range of manned fighters.

The Northrop Grumman RQ-180 is an American stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance aircraft intended for contested airspace which has been described in several news articles and confirmed by the U.S. Air Force.


Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (VQ-1) is an aviation unit of the United States Navy established on 1 June 1955. Its role is aerial reconnaissance and signals intelligence. The squadron is nicknamed the "World Watchers" and is based at NAS Whidbey Island, flying Lockheed EP-3E Aries II aircraft.

The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray is a planned aerial refueling drone that resulted from the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) program, which grew out of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

TAPAS-BH-201 is a long endurance Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which used to be previously referred as Rustom-II, being developed by India on the lines of the American Predator drones. First flight of the UAV took place in November 2016 after a 3-year delay. It was revealed at that time that the UAV has been renamed from Rustom-II to TAPAS-BH-201, an acronym for Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance-Beyond Horizon-201. Rustom-II was commonly believed to be an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle(UCAV) but at the press conference S Christopher, Director General of DRDO stated "Media reports are incorrect. Tapas is an UAV and not an UCAV."

The Aequare was an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company for the United States Air Force. It was intended for launch from a F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber, and would carry a remote sensor array and laser designator for use by the launching aircraft. The system was evaluated in the mid 1970s, but did not enter operational service.


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  2. 1 2 "Air Power:Aerial Reconnaissance in World War I". Archived from the original on 18 March 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  3. "During World War II, "F-Planes" Weren't Fighters - Defense Media Network". Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  4. "Air Power:Aerospace Power and the Cold War". Archived from the original on 10 October 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  5. "Satelite.Com Spy Satellites". Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  6. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-04-04.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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