P‑38 Photo Reconnaissance planes (called F‑4s and F‑5s) and their pilots were the eyes of the AAF. Their only weapon was a camera.
The F‑4 was the first version of the unarmed Lightning, and the F‑5 was an extension of that design (based on the P‑38E). The F‑5 carried from 3 to 5 precision cameras in their nose, which could be operated by remote control from the cockpit.
Because it has no armament, the F‑5 was much lighter and, therefore, faster than the standard P‑38s, a definite plus in the unfriendly skies over enemy territory.
Many people have said that photo reconnaissance pilots did everything the combat pilots did -- but they did it without any guns (other than the .45 they carried in the cockpit). Speed and altitude were the only protection the Photo Joe's had.
They flew into enemy territory (without guns)
They had to participate in dog fights (without guns) -- basically by evading enemy aircraft who had spotted them.
They were valued for pre‑strike intelligence gathering and post-strike damage assessment.
- Association Member, Jude BK Pao, was a part of the Chinese Air Force Reconnaissance, and he has an interesting story to tell here.
A poem written for and dedicated to "Photo Joes"
To: Photo-Recon Joe
Of all the Air Force pilots that I most deeply admire,
Ahead of his Lightning's sound, his F‑5 zips in at tree-top level;
On lists of fighter aces, his name is never placed,
"Unescorted, unarmed, and unafraid" Joe wings his gutsy way
So now I raise a grateful toast to Photo-Recon Joe,