Behind the Picture

Aerial shot of Cairo during the IAF raid in the 60’s Behind the Picture

A Camera Placed in the Nose of the Plane Behind the Picture

An Aerial Shot Almost every operational action succeeds or fails over preemptive intelligence information. Long before the sophisticated cameras of our day assisting the efforts, photographing from planes seemed almost beyond the realm of imagination

Tal Michael

Photographs of bombed sites and ruined rocket launchers are a matter of routine in the IAF. Almost always in black-and-white, a sharp flash dazzles the eyes and the pictures of devastation are revealed.

Around the world, Israel is known as a superpower in the aerial photography field and rightfully so. The ever-changing security needs require hundreds of brains to work on existing capabilities to allow the collection of photos and intelligence information that in the past were only in the realm of imagination.

The quick picture is the end of a long process that lasted decades. Since the founding of the State of Israel, tens of thousands meters of film reels constantly rolled down the Force’s corridors. Starting with film photographs taken by heavy cameras on old planes and ending with our time’s digital photos, transmitted in real-time from the planes to the ground.

“When I arrived at the Force as an aerial photographer, I was given a saw and sent to drill the underbelly of the “Argos F-24R” so that I could film through the hole in the floor”, remembers Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Aryeh Yaakobi, at 93 years of age, a former IAF photographer and one of the founders of the “Technical Support to Intelligence” unit.

Yaakobi was able to get his hands on the only camera left by the British in Israel before the “War of Independence”, thus declaring the founding of the “Aerial Photography Division”.

“In the beginning, we had to use the huge manual camera, lean our torso out of the plane and try to take pictures of the ground hoping that everything will go as planned”.
Technically, it sounds simple: take out the camera, aim the shot and press the button. Yaakobi says that reality was far from it. “We had to know very well where we were, recognize the point we were supposed to photograph and get as many pictures as possible. There were quite a few cases in which we had no idea where we were and just took arbitrary shots, hoping to catch the point we needed in one of the frames”.

The Picture Clears Up

Since then and until today, hundreds of planes have crossed the skies, using recent times’ entirely different photography. In the sixties, radars in the nose of the plane were replaced with new German cameras and were later changed when “Phantoms F-4” allowed significantly advanced photography methods. When the F-15 planes arrived, they were given unique photography missions.
“The planes were able to carry heavy weights, allowing the Force to install the photography pod on the underbelly and increase their weights significantly, unlike the previously used compact cargo, making it possible to take vertical and diagonal pictures. Diagonal photography makes it possible to take particularly far-range photos; the plane can fly very high and far from the target and photograph it without being directly over it”, Yaakobi explains.

The designated cargo, on the other hand, is usually installed on UAVs and provides live video footage. Even 3D imagery is no longer exclusive to cinemas. “These days, decipherers sit and evaluate 3D images created by the system with 3D glasses”.