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Planespotting: 1942

Planespotting: 1942

        Flying saucer at 9 o'clock!

July 1942. "Training high school boys to identify planes. There's no question about these young people's ability to recognize airplanes by their silhouettes. They're learning this and other essential facts of aviation at Weequahic High School, Newark, New Jersey, in a course designed to teach students the fundamentals of flying." Office of War Information photo. View full size.


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Radar Tell

As a 14 year old Sea Scout I did weekly tours (Sunday morning) at the Ground Observer Corps Filter Center in Oakland, California. The Filter Center maintained tracks on table maps that were directly derived from UK practice. My job was to call confirmed tracks into the installation call sign "Sunbonnet" which was the one radar on Mt. Tamalpias that covered (with many blind spots) the San Francisco Bay Area. Our call sign was "Sliphorn."
Those were the days of the Air Defense Identification Zones, where incoming pilots were given a sealed envelope with a pattern they were to fly in order to be recognized. Every once in a while an airliner ("one multi high") would get it wrong and we'd see the interceptors ("few single jet low") go out of Hamilton AFB after them. We would also occasionally track squadrons of B36s headed out over the Pacific. Every six months or so we'd get a morale tour of Hamilton and they'd scramble a jet for our entertainment. Heady and scary stuff for a young kid. Eight years later I sweated out the Cuban Missile Crisis on a SAC base. At my fortieth birthday party someone asked me how it felt to be forty and I said "amazed."

Don't shoot !

it's one of ours.

Ground Observer Corps

Some measures taken in response to perceived danger are more oriented toward improving morale and creating the impression that "something is being done" than they are intended to procure any substantive effect. Thus, this Boy Scout and a pair of Bausch and Lombs spent more than one chilly weekend shift on a rooftop in downtown Rochester, NY, scanning the skies for any impending aerial onslaught by the forces of Godless Communism. If, in fact, I had actually spotted a formation of Soviet bombers, correctly identified same, and managed to make it down several flights of stairs to a phone before being vaporized, it is highly doubtful it would have made any difference in the outcome. But, like the air passengers who eschewed carrying nail clippers post-9/11, I and my fellows were "making a difference."

Fortunately, the completion of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line of radar installations in Northern Canada intervened to save an entire generation from having permanently dislocated necks, a deliverance for which those responsible for administering Medicare are probably grateful.

And in Florida

They built a series of plane spotting towers up and down the coast. Story goes that the US would capture a Nazi plane and fly it Dayton OH via N.Africa, Brazil, and ultimately up the Florida coast -- which would set off all kinds of panic in he towers.

Last I checked, one of the towers still existed as a historical site in the Cape Canaveral area.

15 years later the skill became obsolete

I've just been reading a thriller set in the UK, one of the central components of which was a Royal Observation Corps bunker. The ROC started as a volunteer plane spotter service, but but by the mid 50s the speed of planes, combined with the threat from nuclear missiles meant that they had lost their raison d'etre, so they moved underground and became nuclear attack monitors instead.

That kid

One of them has to be Jimmy Olsen.

Ooooh! Pick me!

It's a B17!

Volunteer Plane Spotters

In the early 1950s my mother was a volunteer plane spotter in suburban Syracuse, NY. I was less than 10 years old, but as I recall she spent one afternoon a week in a spotting tower somewhere in the area. Seems funny now, but it was taken seriously at the start of the cold war.

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