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  • Balloons to Blackbird: A Brief History Of Photo Intelligence

Balloons to Blackbird: A Brief History Of Photo Intelligence

  • 19 Jun 2018
  • 7:15 PM - 9:00 PM
  • USC, Sunshine Coast, Lecture Theatre 2

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RGSQ Lecture Series

Ken Granger, past President RGSQ

Venue: Lecture Theatre 2 (K Block) Parking area P6

During WW II, British air photo interpreters produced an in-house magazine with the very clever title “Evidence in Camera”. The title not only reflected the wealth of critical intelligence gleaned from the aerial photos obtained by specially equipped aircraft over occupied Europe; it also reflected the “behind closed doors” secret nature of their work.

A good example of this work is the way that photos obtained by an RAF reconnaissance aircraft over Germany’s Baltic coast in April 1943 were analysed to confirm the establishment of the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 ballistic missile test facility at Peenemunde. That analysis provided the intelligence that led to heavy air raids on the site as well as the targeting of V-1 launch facilities being built along the French coast. Had these weapons reached full operational status, the D-Day landings in 1944 may have been impossible and the outcome of the War made uncertain.

V2 test site, By No. 540 Squadron RAF Flight Sergeant E. P. H. Peek in a de Havilland Mosquito PR4[7] returned to Leuchars airfield on June 23, 1943 with Peenemünde photos showing a pair of low-loader vehicles[8] holding a pair of rockets.[2] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Neither the technology that acquired the photos nor the methods employed to analyse them were new. At the time, they were simply at the leading edge of an evolutionary stream that began as early as 1909 and continues to evolve to this day. In this lecture Ken Granger traces the history of aerial reconnaissance from the use of observers in a balloon during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794 during the French Revolutionary War, to the integrated use of high resolution imaging satellites, technologies such as GPS and GIS, sophisticated databases and spatial modelling routines to produce what is now called geospatial intelligence.

Ken is well placed to tell this story. He has been fascinated by the observation of the land from above ever since his first flight in a Tiger Moth as a 14-year-old in the mid-1950s. He was introduced to photo interpretation and simple photogrammetric tools in the early 1960s and went on to map the forest resources and land use of PNG over the next 8 years. During the 1970s and 80s he worked in the “black world” of strategic intelligence using a range of imaging systems as well as early database and computer mapping technologies. For the past 28 years he has applied these skills and knowledge to the analysis of the risks posed by a wide range of natural and anthropogenic hazards to communities and their critical infrastructures.

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