On July 23, 1942 the 17th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (17th PRS) was activated at Peterson Field in Colorado as part of the 2nd Air Force (2nd AF). Also known as the 17th Photo Recon Squadron or simply 17th Photo Recon. The squadron was equipped with the F-5 Lightning, the photographic reconnaissance version of the P-38G Lightning, with cameras installed in the nose compartment instead of armament.
During late 1942, the 17th Photo Recon Squadron departed overseas bound for the South Pacific. Assigned to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF), 13th Air Force, 4th Photographic Reconnaissance
Group (4th PRG) later designated the 4th Photographic Reconnaissance and Mapping Group (4th PRMG). On December 2, 1942 the headquarters squadron and air echelon A Flight and B Flight and their disassembled F-5 Lightnings arrived at Nouméa. (The air echelons of C Flight and D Flight remained in the United States until January 1944). The squadron's Commanding Officer (C. O.) was John E. Murray.
On January 16, 1942 transfered to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The squadron flew its first combat missions on February 5, 1943 and the next day was redesignated the 17th Photographic Squadron (Light) and began operating from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal.
In early 1943, the the squadron flew photographic missions over the Central Solomons, Northern Solomons and Bougainville, photographing Japanese airfields and bases. Often, these missions were very dangerous as pilots usually flew alone and faced bad weather and difficult navigation. Over targets, pilots flew steady course often at lower altitude to get quality photographs and experienced anti-aircraft fire or were intercepted by enemy fighters. The photographs taken were used to create aerial maps and target documentation for combat missions.
On February 14, 1943 F-5A Lightning 42-12678 piloted by 2nd Lt. Ardell A. Nord went Missing In Action (MIA) on a visual and photographic reconnaissance over Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville. After take off, this aircraft was never heard from again or seen again. In fact, he was shot down by four A6M Zeros from the 252 Kōkūtai.
On February 20, 1943 an Air Forces Film Report 48-A recorded "With The 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron on Guadalcanal"
at depicting F-5A Lightings and pilots from the 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron operating from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal. The footage includes ground crews performing radio checks on their aircraft and a chalk board showing pilot assignments. Next, 1st Lt. John A. Mancini is assigned to fly a reconnaissance mission over Buka over Bougainville and New Georgia. The film also shows the 17th PRS developing film and providing prints to plan combat missions.
17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (17th PRS) officers pose at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal
Photo sometime between February–April 1943, a group photo of officers was taken at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal. Pictured were (standing, left to right) Lloyd R. Marsh, Daniel A. Hirschler, Jr., Kenneth Hyman, Martin J. Elle, Albert E. "Doc" Meisenbach, John E. Murray (Commanding Officer), Joseph M. Bricker, Victor Dykes, John A. Mancini and John M. Bane (Kneeling, left to right) Albert C. Mathias, Richard D. Burns, Harry E. Davis, Jr., Eugene R. Brown, Homer A. Baker, Jr., William A. Bailey, Darold K. Barker, Harris C. Andrews, Lon B. Berry and John A. Reynolds (Seated, left to right) Charles B. Roberts, Jr., Harold W. Davis, Jr., Frederic E. Ford, Cantrell L. Craig, Allan L. Weckel, Allen F. Carpenter, Frank W. Spaulding, Richard O. Stamm and Edward F. Hanks.
On April 22, 1943 F-5A Lightning 42-12967 pilot 1st Lt. John A. Mancini went Missing In Action (MIA) on a photographic and visual search mission. That morning, the weather in the northern Solomons was poor with thunderstorms and a cloud ceiling down to 700'.
On May 8, 1943 F-5A Lightning 42-12680 pilot 2nd Lt. Charles B. Roberts, Jr. went Missing In Action (MIA) on a photographic and visual search mission. That morning, the weather low broken clouds from 1,000' to 12,000' in the northern Solomons and a low overcast with ceiling of zero.
On May 5, 1943 F-5A Lightning pilot Weckel after experiencing engine problems, he successfully ditched into the sea southeast of Santa Isabel Island and swam ashore. On May 13, 1943 he was rescued by a PBY Catalina and returned to duty. Afterwards, he was interviewed by a United Press (UP) reporter. His experiences were reported in an article titled "Lt Weckel Saved From Tropic Island After Believed Lost" that was published on June 4, 1943.
On July 2, 1943 F-5A Lightning 42-12983 pilot 2nd Lt. Fred H. Baird went Missing In Action (MIA) on a photographic and visual search mission.
On July 10, 1943 F-5A Lightning piloted by 1st Lt Lt. Eugene R. Brown took off from Guadalcanal on a photo reconnaissance mission over Kahili, Ballale and Shortland. Over the target area, he was intercepted by two Zeros from the 582 Kokutai based at Kahili that shot out his left engine at 9:45am local time. Brown managed to dive to 500' and escaped and was able to land safely back at Guadalcanal.
On August 17, 1943 F-5A Lightning 42-12977 pilot 1st Lt. Roy L. Peterson went Missing In Action (MIA) on a photographic and visual search mission. The weather was .5 to .6 cloud coverage to 22,000' with a squall line in the central Solomons.
On September 7, 1943 the 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (17th PRS) held a memorial service on Guadalcanal to honor the members of the squadron MIA/KIA to date including: 1st Lt. Harold W. Erwin, 1st Lt. John A. Mancini (MIA April 22, 1943 piloting F-5A 42-12967), 2nd Lt. Ardell A. Nord (MIA piloting F-5A 42-12678), 2nd Lt. Charles Roberts, Jr. (MIA piloting F-5A 42-12680) 2nd Lt. Fred H. Baird (later MIA piloting F-5A 42-12983), 2nd Lt. Roy L. Peterson (MIA piloting F-5A 42-12977) and Pvt Edward P. Gray.
On October 13, 1943 a detachment of the 17th Photographic Squadron operating from Munda Airfield on New Georgia until January 31, 1944 when it returns to Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal.
On March 9, 1944 another 17th PRS detachment begins operating from Munda Airfield until April 1, 1944 when it returns to Guadalcanal.
On December 6, 1943 F-5A 42-12972 pilot James G. Reed went Missing In Action (MIA) on mission over southern Bougainville / MACR 1254
On December 11, 1943 the entire squadron moved from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal to Bougainville.
On April 18, 1944 F-5A Lightning 42-67328 pilot Herzog went Missing In Action (MIA) on a photographic mission over Kavieng on New Ireland.
On May 19, 1944 Sgt Wilbert H. Sann went Missing In Action (MIA)
as a passenger aboard R4D-5 Dakota 39073.
On July 7, 1944 lost was F-5B Lightning pilot Deutschman (survived) force landed intact on Bougainville.
Between October 8, 1944 to October 23, 1944 a detachment of F-5s from the 17th PRS operated from Kornasoren Airfield on Noemfoor.
Between October 13, 1944 until November 5, 1944
a detachment of F-5s from the 17th PRS operated from Sansapor Airfield (Mar) on the north coast of western New Guinea.
On August 28, 1944 F-5E 43-28327 piloted by Stanley Alexander went Missing In Action (MIA) on a local test flight from Guadalcanal / MACR 10781
On January 12, 1945 F-5E 43-29036 piloted by 2nd Lt. Hubert C. Brown went Missing In Action (MIA) / MACR 11509
On January 25, 1945 F-5E 44-23239 piloted by Bradshaw went Missing In Action (MIA) on a flight to south Borneo / MACR 11896
On February 1, 1945 the squadron moved to Wama Airfield on Morotai Island. On February 9, 1945 sent a detachment of F-5s and B-25s to Dulag Airfield on Leyte. Finally, on May 7, 1945 the rest of the squadron moved to Puerto
Princesa Airfield on Palawan. During April 1946, the squadron was deactivated.
To this day, the 17th Photo Recon squadron has a total of 15 pilots that remain listed in Missing In Action (MIA) from World War II. Each is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Several also have memorial markers in the United States.
During 1951, reactivated at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina as a photo-reconnaissance training squadron. Equipped with several reconnaissance aircraft including the McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo. In 1959 deployed to France and during 1966 to RAF Upper Heyford, United Kingdom. In 1970 to Zweibrücken, West Germany operating the McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II until 1979 when inactivated due to Department of Defense budget reductions.
On March 1, 2002 again reactivated as the 17th Attack Squadron (17 ATKS) based at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. Today, the squadron operates MMQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones and conducts conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, including flying missions for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over Pakistan.
With The 17th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron on Guadalcanal
7th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, 13th U.S. Army Air Force, 1945 [Squadron Yearbook]
Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) 17th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron 7/23/42 - 6/30/43 IRISNUM: 00065281
Drone (2014) by Tonje Hessen Schei mentions 17 ATKS operations for the CIA over Pakistan
Thanks to Justin Taylan, Edward Rogers, Richard Dunn, Donna Esposito and Minoru Kamada for additional research and analysis