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78 - August 2009
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Peacetime Airborne Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO)
By David Rose, Contributing
U-2's; SR-71's; Hot stuff. But what
about the myriad aircraft types and years of secret spy 'overflights'
conducted for decades preceding the now famous missions of
Lockheed's wonder birds?
The "Cold War" began in 1945. The 'Allies', were
suspicious of the motives of Premier Stalin
and ached to know what was going on inside the vast Soviet
Empire. None of the Allies had any real information gathering
networks within Russia; they relied primarily on some
limited personal contact and interpretation of information
from technical publication and newspapers.
The Allied powers recognized the need
for more sophisticated programs aimed at keeping abreast
of Soviet developments and their intentions. As early as
1945 they began recruitment programs within
the Soviet government; and more to our aviation interests,
they began flights along the borders of the Soviet Union
and its satellites, collecting electronic and photographic
Of course the U.S. had nuclear weapons and knew everyone
else had them in development. Concern over other countries
possessing 'nukes' spawned the National Security Act of 1947,
upon which the various intelligence agencies immediately
seized as grounds for requesting "overflights";
overflights that is of Soviet territories, especially those
western regions close to the U.S. which also included the
Soviet missal and nuclear test centers.
So it was that President Truman was first into the overflight
business, authorizing secret reconnaissance flights over
the Soviet Union homeland. The U.S. conducted aerial reconnaissance
flights over Siberia, Stalingrad, Murmansk, over Irkutsk,
Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Stavropol. These overflights
were all relatively easily as the locations lay close to
In those early days many aircraft
were pressed into the spy business. B-29's were modified
for the mission; B-47's were flying surveillance missions
even before going into squadron service; B-57's were heavily
modified for the mission and later, B-45's and even P2V-3W's
and RF-80As were found well suited to the task.
They utilized an array of electronic
surveillance and photographic equipment. Special pods were
fabricated for the bomb bays, wings were festooned with a
variety of pods, fuselage inserts and attachments were fitted;
towed vehicles were let out on cables. Clearly a purpose
built spy plane was needed; one who's long range, high speed
and extreme altitude capabilities would make surveillance
of the vast Soviet interior possible, and with it, all Soviet
nuclear, missal and bomber facilities. The U-2 was already
Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, and after his re-election,
Prime Minister Churchill for the U.K., as well as leaders
of many of the former "Allied" nations were involved
in these overflights. One of the highest kept secrets of
the time involved the support given these missions by several
avowed neutral nations who provided bases and allowed flights
through their airspace. This support was particularly available
after world events brought Soviet and Chinese nuclear testing;
when the Korean army's invaded the South, and when China
crossed the Yalu.The stories of the men, the planes and
the intrigue are fascinating. In depth accounts of the times
and spy missions are available in a number of places on the
internet, particularly so at http://data-freeway.com/plesetsk/overflights.htm from
which we have borrowed some of these images.
Here you will learn the details of SAC's modified B-47Bs
from the 306th Bombardment Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida.
How Col. Donald E. Hillman, the deputy wing commander, was
selected to plan the missions and pilot the primary aircraft
on some of these earliest flights; and what was to befall
the first of these aircraft.
Here you are let in on the extraordinary
plan, and are witness to how it was that on the night of
April 17, 1952, in absolute radio silence, three RB-45Cs
repainted in RAF colors took off from Sculthorpe, were air-refueled,
and entered the Soviet Union simultaneously at different
locations; learn what was the critical information they sought;
how the missions faired, and that intelligence altered the
course of U.S. Foreign Relations.
A world of understanding is available
on the internet. The complexity of international relations
is lain bare there. The secrets, myths, claims, and stories;
the lie and the truth; all there now, stripped of agenda,
stripped of self interest, of politics, of deceit. Naked
for the world to see how the participating factions changed
the course of their history, how things are and for better
or worse, how things might have been.
Learn the truths and the details of histories events. Gain
an appreciation for the influences which sculpted those histories.
It can never be overstated that we are doomed to repeat the
past if we ignore it.
It's all there now; use it; you will be fascinated by
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