Tuesday, February 17, 2015

World War I, the start of aerial photography


The first use of an airplane war was a reconnaissance flight performed on 23 October 1911 by Captain Carlo Maria Piazza in a Blériot XI during the Italo-Turkish War in Tripolitania. Piazza, of the Italian forces, had a camera fitted to his aircraft, pointing vertically downwards, as it was a plate camera and the pilot could not reach it, only one image per flight could be taken.
Military aerial photography began that December. Reconnaissance was widely perceived as the only practical use of airplanes. While most of the combatant countries possessed a few military aircraft in August 1914, these were almost exclusively devoted to reconnaissance and artillery spotting of the enemy. Leaving balloons and kites behind, balloons could ascend to as high as a mile, but were easy to shoot down. Furthermore, they were unstable observation platforms in any wind, leading to attempts to stabilize them with kite-tails or drogues attached to the basket. Aircrafts at this time flew at about 12,000 to 18,000 ft. over the ground. Every country tried to spy and look over their enemies. Pilots average lifetime after enrolling war was 11 days. It was not much better than being in the battlefield.

In Britain, the Royal Flying Corps was founded in April 1912 and it was not until March 1913 that a Unit was set up to look at the 'novel' theories of aerial photography. Funds at this time were very short and if it was not for a few enthusiastic amateurs, aerial photography could have never started in the RFC.

Members of 3 Squadron RFC had to purchase their own cameras, they devised a Pan-Ross type camera with a 6in lens, this was to become the standard RFC camera until 1915. The crews had to developed the grass plate negatives in the air, so on landing they would be ready to print, the faster the information was spread the better.

When the RFC sail to France at the start of World War I, they had only six cameras in their inventory.


There were nor many types of camera, in fact, the working process was the same in every camera, they had no view screen and most of them were plate cameras. Every country developed their cameras in different ways, so they were larger or in different forms.

France had the deMaria cameras, a 50cm one and a larger one, 120cm.
North America had a called type M camera.
Britain with its type C camera, started to change the form, it was more compact and in a different shape.
Italy was the first country that had an anti vibration camera, the Lampertini, this was very helpful, as these cameras were attached to the aircraft and pilots could not see what they were photographing.
The German cameras were very similar to the French; they had in their inventory the F70, F50 and F25.


In 1915 the 'A type' camera was developed, being a hand-held device, the user on a number of times almost fell out of the aircraft taking photos. Mostly there was a one-person aircraft and taking pictures at the same time as piloting was a challenge.

In the summer of 1915 the 'C type' was developed, it used the body of the 'A type' however, it had a semi-automatic plate changing system made up of two magazines placed on top of the camera. Now that magazines were fitted, imagery could be taken in rapid succession and if a 60% overlap was obtained between each frame, pairs of images could be viewed through a stereoscope to produce a 3D effect.

After some more developments the British forces came with the L type camera that could be placed inside the aircraft making this task easier and faster. The aircraft had a hole on the bottom so the camera was placed between the user legs and facing downwards, vertically to take the pictures.


Major James Bagley brought his recently invented tri-lens camera to France, where it was used to make one vertical and two oblique images from airplanes.

These images were used to overprint enemy trenches and gun emplacements over existing maps for precision targeting.

 Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation built the production model of the T-2 and T-2A four-lens camera, which improved upon the T-1 tri-lens mapping camera developed by Major James Bagley of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The T-2A had one vertical lens and three oblique lenses set at 35 degrees, which provided a 120-degree field of view at right angles to the direction of flight.  This was a huge development in photography and helped to understand better the context and battlefield and its surroundings.

Aitana Pérez Palmerín

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