From Shipboard Sighting to Airborne Reconnaissance and Beyond

Since 1914, when the Coast Guard was officially tasked with monitoring iceberg conditions in the North Atlantic, they have focused on continuous improvement in carrying out this mission. This article describes the various methods of iceberg detection that have been used through the history of the Coast Guard's International Ice Patrol. In the earliest years, shipboard reconnaissance and visual observation were the only methods for detecting icebergs. Following World War II, airborne visual reconnaissance was used. The Ice Patrol began experimenting with airborne radar reconnaissance as early as 1957, and in 1983 side looking airborne radar was used operationally for the first time. Forward looking airborne radar was added in 1993. Since 1972, the Ice Patrol has been experimenting with satellite imagery; however, at present it appears unlikely that satellites will replace aircraft as the Ice Patrol's primary means of iceberg scouting. The flexibility in directing the aircraft and the ability to visually identify ambiguous radar targets give the airplane a significant advantage over satellites in reconnaissance. Satellites do have realistic potential to augment aircraft reconnaissance in the near future. The Ice Patrol is also beginning to examine the possibility of using unmanned aerial vehicles for iceberg reconnaissance.


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  • Accession Number: 01000490
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: May 21 2005 9:06PM