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Photo Joe Poem

Here's a poem written for and dedicated to "Photo Joes"

Squdron Insignias

Many of the P‑38 Squadrons had their own insignias, oftentimes created by the men from that squad.

We have a few of the Photo Recon Squadron insignia products available in our CafePress shop.

View them here.

Some Photo Recon websites.

34th PRS - P-38

9th PRS - P-38

5th PRS - P-38



P‑38 Photo Reconnaissance

P‑38 Photo Reconnaissance planes (called F‑4s and F‑5s) and their pilots were the "eyes" of the AAF.  Their only weapon was a camera.

Since the plane carried no armament it is under orders to avoid combat. Trips taken by these pilots preceded visits by other, fully-armed planes on combat missions.

The F-4 was the first version of the unarmed Lightning, and the F-5 was an extension of that design (based on the P‑38E).  The F-5 carried from 3 to 5 precision cameras in their nose, which could be operated by remote control from the cockpit.

Loading Cameras into the nose

One of the more well-known P‑38 Photo Recon pilots wasn't even an American. It was a man named Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French aviator and author of the much beloved children's book titled "Little Prince."

Much mystery surrounds his final recon mission, where he just disappeared in his P‑38 F‑5B. The mystery remained until 2004 when the remains of Saint-Exupéry's plane were recovered and confirmed to be his.

If you can speak French, there was a film drama produced about his last flight (appropriatedly called "The Last Mission") and you can see more about it -- and watch a clip of the last scene -- here on our site.

Drawing of Exupéry's P‑38


Nerves of Steel

Photo Recon pilots were affectionately called "Photo Joes."

Many people have said that photo reconnaissance pilots did everything the combat pilots did -- but they did it without any guns (other than the .45 they carried in the cockpit).  Speed and altitude were the only protection the Photo Joe's had.

They were tasked with:

  • Flying into enemy territory (without guns)
  • They had to participate in dog fights (without guns) -- basically by evading enemy aircraft who had spotted them.
  • They were valued for pre-strike intelligence gathering and post-strike damage assessment.

Because it has no armament, the F-5 was much lighter and, therefore, faster than the standard P‑38s, a definite plus in the unfriendly skies over enemy territory.

Association Member, Jude BK Pao, was a part of the Chinese Air Force Reconnaissance, and he has an interesting story to tell here.

They were the first on D‑Day and the last on VE-Day, flying essential, dare-devil, low-level photographic missions over the invasion beaches of Normandy and then in support of the Allied armies as they fought their way through the Ardennes, across the Rhine and into the Reich itself.

Larry Schmidt tells of serving in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, and how a combination of initiative and luck put him in the cockpit of a photo‑recon P‑38 and then brought him home again.

Written by our own P‑38 Association Historian, John Stanaway. Beginning operations in April 1942 with a shoestring flight of four Lockheed F‑4 Lightnings, the 8th Photo Squadron gave the American Army Air Forces its only aerial reconnaissance coverage of the Southwest Pacific.