History of the Photomapping Commemorative Coin

By Gordon Barnes

  In April 2009 Photomapper Jim St. Clair was in the process of designing a Challenge Coin for a fighter wing of which he was a former member. He called to invite me to his home to view the final art work from the mint, and to try to convince me to design a Challenge Coin for the 1370th Photo Mapping Wing, of which we were both former members. His ulterior motive was to end up with coins representing all units to which he was assigned during his Air Force career. He had or could get all except the 1370th. As a collector of monetary coins, I looked at those he had and was very impressed with the detail and overall quality of the coins. I told him I wasn't interested in doing a Challenge Coin for just that unit, but I might be in doing a Commemorative Coin for all units that had been involved in Aircraft Photomapping. He was good with that and encouraged me to look into it. (Just for information, Challenge, Commander, and Commemorative coins are all the same type coins. They are given the different adjectives to designate their intended purpose. Challenge coins are minted for a particular military unit and are commonly used by its members to challenge each other for drinks. Commander Coins are used by the Commander of a particular military unit as rewards for noteworthy performance that is not of the caliber to merit an official military Award or Decoration. Commemorative Coins are meant to recognize a particular event or era of significance. The latter is what most clearly describes the purpose of our coin; although it certainly could also be used as a Challenge Coin!).

  I did some searching on the Internet until I was satisfied that I knew enough about the historical significance of such coins and about what mints were available to produce them. I also looked at each mint's on-line store and convinced myself I could tell which mints did the best work. I also studied a lot of their previously manufactured coins so I was sure I knew what I wanted. I knew I wanted something "classy" rather than "cartoonish". I wanted something "colorful" but not "gaudy". I wanted something that would be immediately identifiable to all Photomappers as representing Aircraft Photomapping; and I wanted a coin that would be affordable to any former Photomapper wanting one.

  By then I was enthused and couldn't wait to get started on designing the perfect coin. But there were two significant problems. The mints require a minimum order of 50 coins before they will put a coin into production and I had no idea if there were that large a market among former Photomappers. And, I had no idea what the "perfect coin" would end up costing. I wanted to press on so badly that I adopted my best "Field of Dreams" philosophy and decided, "If I mint it, Photomappers will buy". I resolved to underwrite the project myself and get with it! Getting with it involved designing the coin and at the same time trying to market it so I could recoup some if not all of my investment. My marketing began by putting a notification that a coin may be minted and a solicitation of interest on the Aerial Surveying and Photomapping History website and doing the same in the June 2009 issue of the Air Force Photomapping Association Newsletter.

  Then the design began in earnest. I quickly decided that the centerpiece of the coin should be some variation of the nearly common shield used by the 1370th Photo Mapping Wing, the Aerospace Cartographic and Geodetic Service (ACGS), and the Air Force Photomapping Association (AFPMA). I was sure that was the symbol most living Photomappers would associate with Photomapping. That was as far as I had gotten when I first called the mint I thought to be the best. I knew they had artists and designers who are willing to help people wanting coins but are new to the business. It took me about 10 minutes to realize I was in way over my head. The number of permutations and combinations that go into a coin's design are nearly infinite! What metal(s)? What metal finishes? What type of enamel? What colors of enamel? What lettering? What placement of the lettering? What fonts? What size fonts? What components should be metal and which should be enamel? What size coin? What weight coin? New dies for both sides or just one? And on and on. Since I have zero artistic talents my head was soon swimming.

  I quickly contracted for help with a small family company named Cold War Coins, which designs Challenge, Commander and Commemorative Coins and markets them on the Internet thru E-bay. The lady handling my project was just great. Over a period of a couple months she slowly and patiently walked me through every step of the design process one step at a time. We would take two steps forward and one step back. Every decision I was asked to make impacted every other I'd previously made and often we would have to back way up and start over as the coin artwork would start looking worse rather than better. Several times I had to remind her that she was the expert and not me, so SHE would have to dig me out from bad artistic decisions.

  My goal was to have the design completed and to the mint in time for me to have the coins minted and in my hands before the AFPMA Reunion in the fall of 2009. At that time I hoped to have orders for nearly the 50 coin minimum required by the mint and to sell the balance there.

  In that two month design phase we must have sent literally hundreds of e-mails back and forth and considered at least a couple dozen interim designs. Finally both she and I were satisfied with our design and we sent it to the Northwest Territorial Mint for them to prepare their final artwork. In our opinion this was the best mint available for such coins. Even then it took a couple more iterations before everyone was satisfied. It was then that I decided to have the standard Department of the Air Force Seal put on the reverse of the coin to cut down on the New Die Fees and keep the cost to something reasonable for anyone wanting a coin.

  By 31 July 2009 I had received orders for 63 coins. I decided to order 70 so I would have some extras to sell at the AFPMA Reunion. On 8 August I gave the mint the go ahead. By 31 August I had the coins in hand and was elated. To me they were even better than I had hoped, both in detail and overall quality.

  Between the time I ordered the coins and when I received them I had gotten orders for 23 more coins. I shipped the seven extras I had, leaving me none to sell at the Reunion and I still had orders for 16 that I could not fulfill.

  At the AFPMA Board meeting I proposed that the Association sponsor a reorder of at least the minimum of 50 coins required. The reorder would have a much lower per coin cost because there would be no new die fees and we would not require the help needed on the first order for design assistance and mint coordination. I was sure we could get the minimum order once the membership saw the coins and heard the favorable remarks that had come from all those who got coins from the initial order. If we sold the coins for the same $10.15 price, as on the first order, the Association could make a much needed profit. The Board approved.

  Subsequently we got orders for 71 coins and a reorder was placed for that number on 2 November 2009. It was placed at that time to assure delivery of the coins to those ordering in time to give them as Xmas gifts. From the first order it was found that many children and grandchildren of Photomappers admired them and wanted one as a symbol of what their Dad or Grandfather did while in the Air Force.

  The coins from the reorder were delivered as planned in early December. From their sale the AFPMA realized a profit of $337.84.

  There was sufficient interest at the 2010 Photomapping Reunion to order a third increment of the coins. By late January 2011 orders for 91 coins had been received and 95 were ordered. The mint sent an extra three gratis so 98 were available for sale. In early July 2011 the last of the coins was sold. The AFPMA realized a profit of $558.57.

In summary, during the entire Coin Project, 239 coins were sold and a total profit of $896.41 was realized.

In August of 2012, the Geodetic Survey Squadron/Geodetic Survey Group Veterans sponsored a minimum reorder of the coin from the NWTM. The members of this organization had been Photomappers for the first 13 years of their existence. Fifty one coins were received from the mint and the last was sold at the Photomapping Reunion in October 2012. The coins were sold for the established price of $10.30 each and that resulted in a profit of $239.33 for their group’s treasury.

  As noted above a total of 290 coins were minted, so approximately that many people have one of these brass, silver and enamel, 1.75 inch diameter, 2 oz. pieces of memorabilia. The dies for the Aircraft Photomapping Commemorative Coin are retained at the Northwest Territorial Mint. Should anyone ever desire to place another reorder and can get the required minimum of 50 coins, they can do so.

  In a companion piece to this article(below) I will document the symbolism of each element used on the coin as it ties-in to Aircraft Photomapping History.

  Updated October 2012

Photomapping Commemorative Coin Symbolism

  I'll begin by saying I had absolutely nothing to do with the design of the Shields used by the 1370th Photo Mapping Wing, The Aerospace Cartographic and Geodetic Service or the Air Force Photomapping Association on their patches, and therefore know nothing about the symbolism used on them. In designing the Photomapping Coin I did, however, borrow extensively from these shields which are nearly identical. I used a variation because I thought it would be the one most identifiable with Aircraft Photomapping to most living Photomappers and one on which all the elements held some symbolism TO ME. It is this symbolism I will discuss here.

  On the Reverse of the Coin is the Official Seal of the Department of the Air Force. This indicates that what we are commemorating is an U.S. Air Force Program. The "U.S. Air Force Photomapping" wording along the edge of the Obverse side of the Coin gives the Program Element within the Air Force that is being recognized.

  The "Aircraft Photomapping" wording on the banner below the Shield gives the name of the specific Era being commemorated; and on the metal banner at the bottom of the coin the dates given mark the period defining that Era.

  The 1941 date recognizes that although an Air Force Program, Photomapping's roots go back into the time of the Army Air Forces and Army Air Corps. With the advent of World War II, the Army had to make frequent flights into uncharted or poorly charted areas of the world. Because of poor onboard navigation equipment coupled with the poor charts, many early flights became lost. This was particularly true on long transoceanic flights and those into large uncharted areas. Often these flights ran out of fuel and crashed with the resulting loss of men and material. To solve this problem the Army realized it would have to produce a vast number of much more accurate aeronautical charts over vast areas of the world. The only way to do this in any sort of timely fashion would be to obtain accurately positioned or "controlled" aerial photography from which to produce the charts. Thus, on 10 June 1941 the Army activated the 1st Mapping Group and charged it with obtaining the photography, properly controlling it, and producing the charts. This event marked the opening of the era being commemorated and the birth of Aircraft Photomapping. The wings on the shield of the coin symbolize the wings of aircraft and that the obtaining of the necessary control and the photography is an aerial mission.

  The first job was to obtain the ground survey data needed to "control" the aerial photo. Many ground surveyors were dispatched to many of the isolated uncharted or poorly charted areas of the world. These men were called Geodets and were the predecessors to what were later called Ground Station Guys. They used an astronomical positioning instrument to position thousands of photo identifiable points on the earth's surface. Road intersections, river bends, radio beacons, small villages, and mountain peaks were typical. They confined their astronomic observations to the stars as that yielded more accurate results than observing the Sun, Moon or other planets. On the shield, the stars located along the top against a black, night-time sky represent the work of these early Geodets in solving the control problem.

  Once the "control" was established, the aerial photography could be obtained and then converted into aeronautical charts. The control was used to position everything else on the photos, and from the photos the charts were made. The large grey object attached to the wings on the shield symbolizes the aerial cameras used to obtain the photography. The white ribbon shown on the shield circling the spherical earth represents a photo flight line made up of individual aerial photos. The fact that it is circling the earth recognizes that the mission was world-wide in scope.

  The resulting charts from these early days were good enough for aircraft navigation, but soon more accurate maps (Note: maps differ from charts only in that they are more accurate and show more detail) were needed for various military applications such as targeting. Astronomic positioning was no longer adequate for these more stringent applications, so Photomappers looked into electronic positioning. They borrowed and modified an electronic system called SHORAN (SHort RAange Navigation) which was developed early in WW II to improve bombing accuracies. They put this system into Photomapping aircraft and used it to measure long survey lines from a known point to an unknown one, and thus extend "control" over long distances. There were accuracy problems with SHORAN so an improved system was developed called HIRAN (HIgh accuracy shoRAN). Still later another improved electronic system was developed named SHIRAN (S-band HIRAN). The role of these electronic surveying systems is represented on the shield by the lightening bolts emanating from the wings-signifying the electronic signals from the aircraft-and by the myriad of survey lines shown emanating from the ground station nodes on the earth shown under the camera. Also, very importantly, it shows these lines crossing large bodies of water and connecting the continents, which was imperative in developing a single, common coordinate system for the world; which is called a World Geodetic System or WGS.

  These electronic systems just measured line LENGTHS and not angles as is the case in conventional ground based surveying. These lines were collected to form triangles and then the triangles solved using spherical trigonometry to extend the control into the unknown areas. The triangle on the upper camera body on the shield symbolizes this use. The triangles were solved using a mathematical technique called trilateration which uses only lengths of sides. The fact that only lengths are used is portrayed on the coin by dividers (called a compass or compasses in school) being shown between the wings and behind the camera on the shield.

  With the resultant improvements in mapping and targeting capabilities as a result of these electronic systems, the military no longer needed any improved accuracies in positioning to satisfy the requirements of their weapon systems. What was then needed were more worldwide map coverage and faster production. Newly operational, man-made earth satellites could better provide the needed photo and survey data than could aircraft. So, the aircraft resources were gradually reduced from their zenith in about the 1968-1972 timeframe until the last dedicated resources were inactivated. The last unit was C (for Cartographic)-Flight of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing. This inactivation took place on 31 July 1975. It marked the end of the era of Aircraft Photomapping and that is symbolized by the 1975 date on the metal banner at the bottom of the coin.

  Finally, the shield and its banner are placed atop a compass rose signifying the mission was to all points of the compass or worldwide in scope.

© 2011 Aerial Survey and Photomapping History and AFPMA