PHOTO-RECCE SPITFIRE PILOT
SPEED & GUILE
Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce Flying the Spitfi re for photo-recce
DOUG TAYLOR uses the experiences of Joe Dalley to demonstrate how the lone Spitfi re photo-recce pilot had to be an airman, navigator and fl ight engineer
ABOVE Unsung hero — the Spitfi re photorecce (PR) pilot fl ew alone and unarmed, and was required to have a demanding set of skills to do the job to the high standards set by the RAF. MAIN PICTURE The Spitfi re PR.XI was almost immune from enemy fi ghters when introduced in 1943, such was its speed and agility. BELOW A member of the PRU groundcrew inspects one of the PR.XI’s fuselagemounted F24 cameras.
THE ROYAL AIR Force policeman gently shook the sleeping pilot awake and slipped out of the room in the
bombed-out building. The pilot, Plt Off Joe Dalley, had a job to do. It was Friday November 13, 1942, and the place was the Mediterranean island of Malta.
Dawn on Malta . . . Dressed in shorts and a shirt, Joe walked to the fi eld kitchen for breakfast and then on to the operations room in the bombdamaged Intelligence building. In Joe’s experience a successful sortie was down to planning, even such detail as using the Air Almanac to work out the azimuth and position of the sun. This helped avoid gross navigational errors and could help with photography over the target,
avoiding shadows, particularly on early-morning and lateevening sorties near mountains such as Etna.
The intelligence offi cer had given him the “Form Green” the previous evening, identifying the targets as airfi elds at Cagliari, Monserrato and Decimomannu in Sardinia. The last-named was a major Axis airfi eld, with Italian torpedo-carrying aircraft which could threaten the supply lines for Operation Torch — the Allied landings in French North Africa. At the same time Joe had notifi ed the fl ight sergeant in charge of the groundcrew and spoken to the meteorological offi cer to ask for a forecast of his route and target area, to be ready for his early departure.
The weather forecast predicted varying cloud cover over the intended fl ightpath and the targets, necessitating the preparation of two fl ightplans against varying winds at 15,000 and 30,000ft. While Joe would carry maps — 1:1,000,000 for transit and 1:250,000 for local work — the lack of space in the cockpit would preclude their use except under extreme circumstances. Their main use was in the planning stage, and to point out prominent land features that could be used for obtaining fi xes. The fl ightplan was committed to a small notepad to be strapped to his right thigh, and covered the outward and inward fl ightpaths plus the details of each target.
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AEROPLANE JUNE 2009 AEROPLANE june 2009