Skip to content

‘Spy in the Sky’ Headlines Speaker Series Program

The December 5 Flight Path Speaker Series program will focus on the Hexagon KH-9 reconnaissance satellite, also known as the CIA’s “Spy in the Sky.” Project engineer Phil Pressel will speak.

The 2015 Flight Path Speaker Series will conclude on Saturday, December 5, with project engineer Phil Pressel’s program, “The Hexagon KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite,” covering development and design of the satellite for the CIA. The program will begin at 10 a.m. at the Flight Path Museum in the LAX Imperial Terminal, 6661 W. Imperial Highway Los Angeles. Admission and parking are free.

The Hexagon KH-9 was the last orbiting reconnaissance camera (spy in the sky) that used film for photography. It played an important chapter in U. S. intelligence and aerospace history.

The December 5 event is a follow-up to a similar program presented last year by Col. Stephen Soukup (USAF-ret.), according to Nancy Niles, the museum’s president. “There was so much interest in last year’s space satellite presentation,” said Niles, “that we are offering yet another opportunity to learn more about this fascinating subject.”

John McCone, director of the CIA in 1965, wanted a new spy satellite that could achieve broad area coverage of the entire landmass of the earth and high resolution stereo photos of local areas. As the program was highly classified, the initial study for the Hexagon program, conducted by Pressel’s company, the Perkin-Elmer Corp., was presented to the CIA at night in a deserted looking safe house in Washington, D.C. The CIA thought highly of the concept and Perkin-Elmer eventually was awarded the job.

This orbiting spy camera turned out to become a huge success. Pressel’s talk features interesting anecdotes, personal stories and some technical details about this complex camera system that was capable of distinguishing objects two to three feet in size from an altitude of 100 miles above the earth.

The Hexagon satellite was acknowledged to have been an invaluable asset providing intelligence information and was said to be responsible for President Nixon signing the SALT treaty and allowing President Reagan to “trust but verify” what the Russians were doing during the cold war. The first launch was on June 15, 1971, and the last of 19 missions sadly exploded 800 feet above the pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base on April 18, 1986, just a few months after the Challenger’s tragic explosion.