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ISSUE 78 - August 2009
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The Peacetime Airborne Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO)

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

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 intelligence.

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 the boarders.

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 afoot.

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 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 it.

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