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Three months after Pearl Harbor, a mission to photograph industrial targets in and around Tokyo was flown by U.S. photo-recon planes. The story is told in ‘Top Secret Flight’ by Dale W. Cox. So secret was the project that it was never revealed in any military history nor reported to the American public.
The source of this information was a captain in the Army Air Corps; an eye witness, he was based at Wright Field in the Engineering Division in charge of modifying three B-17s into the first U.S. photo-recon planes; their mission was to provide aerial photos of Japan for the planned Doolittle Raid.
Before the war, the Japanese had been paranoid about foreigners filming military targets and in January 1942, there was not a single aerial photo of Japan in America.
Flights of this distance, a total of 18,000 miles in three stages, had never been attempted; the longest ever flown before 1942 was Lindberg crossing the Atlantic in 1927, 3600 miles. The longest flight by a standard B-17 was only 2500 miles.
The flight was so classified that the Air Corps captain was not cleared for any operational facts; he did not know the names or numbers of the crews, the take-off dates nor the final results. Regular military channels were deliberately uninformed and intentionally not cleared. Nor was President Roosevelt informed until after the triumph of the Doolittle Raid, launched one month after obtaining the photos; the success of the Doolittle Raid raised the morale of the American people.
Fifty years later, the Air Corps captain, now a Vice President of Lockheed, retired; his last job was as director of the famous Skunk Works. He subsequently revealed his WWII participation to a friend, Dale Cox, whose novel, ‘Top Secret Flight,’ is based on the complexity of planning a pre-emptive strike against Japan in January 1942.
The author, a graduate of the US Naval Academy, was pilot of a photo-reconnaissance plane during the Korean War, overflying China for the CIA.