Question about IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) use

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Lou IV

Sep 16, 2005
Hello all! I wanted to make sure that I completely understand how the IFF (Identification Friend of Foe) Recognition Lights were used during WWII :?: (Please see panel illustration attached at bottom)

For example, I understand that if the toggle switch marked "AMBER" was set to "STEADY", then the amber light would light (without flashing) until it was turned off.

But if the same toggle switch was set to "KEY", the amber light would remain off until the "KEYING SWITCH" was pressed, and would only light when the "KEYING SWITCH" was pressed, allowing Morse-Code like signals to be sent. Is this correct?

The reason I have doubts is because I heard some conversations where it was said that the IFF's could "strobe" or "flash" in such a way that it implied that they could flash by themselves at a certain setting. But the IFF control panel does not appear to indicate that type of operation.

I also have doubts because it seemed a bit cumbersome for a single (fighter) pilot to have to fly his plane with one hand on the joystick, and have to continually press a button in a certain sequence, fairly precisely, for a longer period of time until he was sure that he was not going to be mistaken for an enemy aircraft and shot at.

If the code given for a particular mission was a particular "steady" color, then the IFF use seems practical. But if the code required a certain flash sequence, it would seem to me that it might make flying more difficult if there were other things going on at the same time which required the flyer's attention (not to mention both hands!).

So I was wondering how exactly they were used. Any information or comments are very welcome and would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time!

Reference: IFF/Recognition Lights -1 white (upper) and/or a set of 3 colored (lower) lights used for identification of Allied Aircraft during WWII. Could be steady or "keyed" (coded). Those installed on the lower surface of the wings or fuselage (parallel to line of flight) and were in the following order (starting from the front: red, green, amber). Some aircraft also had one white light installed on the upper surface of the fuselage (Spec. No. 32366; usually teardrop shaped) which functioned as an IFF. They were controlled in the cockpit from a panel with three (or four) 3-position toggle switches (one switch for each color); installed on some . . .
A-29 Lockheed Hudson, PV Ventura, Harpoon
B-17 (E, F, G)
B-24 Liberator
B-25 Mitchell
B-26 Marauder (perpendicular to line of flight)
B-29A (only two lights under right wing seen; colors function unknown)
B-34 Lexington
C-46 Commando
C-47 Dakota
F4U Corsair
F6F-3 Hellcat
P-38 Lightning
P-47B, C, D Thunderbolt
P-51 Mustang
P-82 / F-82 Twin Mustang
SB2 Helldiver

-Lou IV


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