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Morning Lineup – March 1

Friday Morning – What's That Down There?

Welcome to March… the entrance to Spring that begins in a few weeks.  On the other hand, that stupid daylight savings time starts in ten days, too.  But the good outweighs the bad, I think.  Anyway, heating bills will start to decline and heavy coats will give way to jackets and sweaters for a while.

On another subject, have you ever seen one of these?

Probably not.  The only way you can see them is from the air and they are located in remote U. S. Air Force bases where they are painted on asphalt slabs.  For that reason they are largely unknown because they just aren't visible to the public.  But with the advent of the Google Earth and Satellite web programs allowing us to "fly" over almost everywhere, they are starting to be discovered by home explorers.

Google Earth View

In fact, an organization called the Center For Land Use Interpretation has collected a pretty good supply of aerial photos, and some ground shots, of these mysterious displays that are actually remnants of the Cold War.  Popular Science magazine tells us:

Consider it a barcode for bombers–an eye test for spy planes. Across empty stretches of the United States, an odd Cold War artifact persists. It is a series of asphalt rectangles coated in patterns of black and white paint. Based on the 1951 U.S. Air Force resolution test chart, the barcode-like patterns were used to test the ability and resolution of film cameras carried by airplanes.

Known as tri-bar photo targets and largely concentrated in the Mojave desert, they were used for half of a century to test the reliability of American surveillance equipment. This began with the U-2 and SR-71 spyplanes of the Cold War and continued more recently, with satellites and camera-equipped drones. According to the CLUI:

The targets function like an eye chart at the optometrist, where the smallest group of bars that can be resolved marks the limit of the resolution for the optical instrument that is being used. For aerial photography, it provides a platform to test, calibrate, and focus aerial cameras traveling at different speeds and altitudes.

The pattern was adopted as a uniform way for the Air Force to test cameras in 1959, and has been updated several times. In 1998, after almost 50 years in use, a military code manual deemed the pattern an outdated standard for new cameras parts and insisted that it only be used as a way to test replacement camera equipment. In 2006, after 57 years as the standard for Air Force cameras, the test pattern was retired; non-film cameras had become more common, and the tri-bar didn't adapt well to digital photography.

The CLUI website goes on to tell us:  There are an unknown number of other isolated photo calibration targets across the country, mostly inside restricted groundspace at military areas, such as at Eglin AFB, Florida; the Nevada Test Site; around Walker Field, a Navy drone airport in Maryland; and an especially exotic one at Fort Huachuca, in Arizona. Several others are painted on existing taxiways and runways, such as at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio; Travis AFB, California; Beaufort Marine Corps Base and Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

CLUI photo

Have you ever heard of such a thing before?  Amazing.  Read the article in Popular Science HERE and the relevant webpage in the CLUI website HERE.  They both have more photos and further descriptions of the program.  The CLUI page also goes into what the military is using now with their digital imaging cameras.

We'd better get this equipment checked out before you grab a computer console and start looking for more optical targets.  I'll see that we have plenty of coffee ready when we get back to the day room in a little while.

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