National Geographic : 1940 Jun
AERIAL COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY BECOMES A WAR WEAPON BY H. H. ARNOLD Major General, Chief U. S. Army Air Corps With Illustrations from Kodachromes by Major George W. Goddard COLOR cameras borne by speedy re connaissance planes are emerging as important weapons in modern war. Far better than black and white pictures, natural-color photographs pierce the artful disguise of camouflage. Experiments carried on by the United States Army Air Corps with the co-operation of the Eastman Kodak Company show that photographs in color can now be made suc cessfully from airplanes flying more than 200 miles per hour and at heights ranging up to about two miles. Major George W. Goddard, in charge of this experimental work, has taken several hundred aerial color photographs during the last two years, including practically every point of scenic note in the United States. Eight have been chosen for reproduction in the accompanying color plates. These pictures were taken at 1,000 to 3,000 feet above the ground. WORLD WAR METHODS NOW OUTDATED The art of camouflage is as old as war itself-even older, for Nature has used it for ages. Birds, beasts, and insects disguise themselves with shadings and patterns that harmonize with normal surroundings. Jun gle tribesmen use tree branches and bundles of grass as camouflage to stalk enemies and to get within killing distance of game. When the airplane and the keen eye of the aerial camera came into use in the World War of 1914-18, military strategists copied Nature's example on a larger scale than ever. Cannon, ammunition dumps, ware houses, hangars, and so on, were covered with strange markings and somber colors. Sometimes new weapons and roads were hidden by nets and branches, or by burlap and painted canvas. As long as enemy observers flew high and took black and white photographs, camou flage experts were fairly successful in dis guising military works and even in conceal ing the movements of large bodies of troops. Almost any combination of colors could be used, if the result changed the recognizable form of the object. In an attempt to "break through" camou- flage in World War days, army officers studied aerial photographs under magnify ing glasses. Shadows had to be separated from substance; natural and artificial colors distinguished. Experts were often deceived. In the present European war, airdromes are camouflaged in a variety of ways. Arti ficial roads and ditches deceive the aerial observer. Hangars located in clumps of trees and covered with branches and leaves become invisible from above. Factories, storehouses, depots all lose their distinct appearance with the application of false exteriors and roofs. Roads hide behind walls of wire and mattressed foliage. Old methods of camouflage, however, will soon be as out-of-date and valueless as last year's Easter bonnet. Like a magic eye, the natural-color camera penetrates the veil of camouflage. Variations of shade and tint are clearly defined; natural color also gives a sense of depth, or a third dimension. Color shots can even spot wilted vegeta tion resulting from a gun blast, although the battery may be disguised. Grass faded and leaves singed by fire no longer blend with surrounding fields or trees. A DECADE OF PROGRESS A little less than ten years ago the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE pub lished the first aerial color photographs. Melville Bell Grosvenor, Assistant Editor of THE GEOGRAPHIC, delved into its mys teries when he took direct color photographs from the Navy airship ZMC-2 and from the Goodyear blimp Mayflower in 1930.* It was not until 1936, however, that the United States Army Air Corps entered into a development and research program of aerial color photography. Tests were con ducted with the help of the movie industry at Hollywood and the Eastman Kodak Company at Rochester, New York. Early aerial experiments had to be carried out at plane speeds of less than 100 miles an hour. Improvements in the speed of color-sensitized film have made higher shut *See: "Color Camera's First Aerial Success," by Melville Bell Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1930.