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. (Note the camera opening on the side in the photo below.)
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.
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.
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 flew 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.
- Association Member, Jude BK Pao, was a part of the Chinese Air Force Reconnaissance, and he has an interesting story to tell.
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 Zazzle Store.
A poem written for and dedicated to “Photo Joes”
To: Photo-Recon Joe
By: Tom McGuire
Of all the Air Force pilots that I most deeply admire,
I give my top-notch vote to Photo-Recon Joe
Who goes it alone, unarmed, and braves the enemy’s fire
By taking crucial photos which spell doom to the Axis foe.
Ahead of his Lightning’s sound, his F‑5 zips in at tree-top level;
Too late they hear him coming, now he’s already gone past
A flashing form, a blast of wind, the Fork-Tail Devil,
His photos taken, speeds home, no higher than a mast.
On lists of fighter aces, his name is never placed,
And sadly, he’s soon forgotten after the war has ended,
But war historians know that priceless F‑5 photos based
The Normandy invasion so air, sea, and land attacks all blended.
“Unescorted, unarmed, and unafraid” Joe wings his gutsy way
Into the lethal Axis Reich, where death waits in that murky air.
But he presses on, he shoots his films, and dearly earns his pay
By these “dicing,” flack-filled missions that only he would dare.
So now I raise a grateful toast to Photo-Recon Joe,
And, Joe, I also bow to you-and believe me, I bow low.