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Wayfarer

Reconnaissance Flight Patterns

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First of all, it's terrible confession time ...

A chance mention of 'Rome Total War' in this forum last autumn triggered off my SAD. That's 'Seasonal Ancient-warfare Disorder'. It's my theory that it is usually prompted by the the appearance of many images of the ancient middle-east on cards and such as Christmas approaches!

I fought it off the year before as I still had to fit game time inbetween many people's coursework, and OFF missions just slotted in nicely. But, towards the end of October last year, for the first time in the 19 months since I received OFF I played some other computer game!

I only resumed OFF missions last week. Flying RE8s with 5 RFC, having reached November 1917. Today I flew a straight reconnaissance mission, not a photographic mission ( I use Bletchley's mods) which detailed me to remain in the area for 17 minutes.

With these type of missions, I usually circle around the objective point for the allotted time, adjusting height to put off the AA and scanning the sky for enemy machines.

Whilst so occupied the thought occurred; were there any recognised methods or patterns of flying for reconnoitering an area, intended to produce the most effective or thorough results, or did crews do whatever seemed best at the time?

Edited by Wayfarer

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Whilst so occupied the thought occurred; were there any recognised methods or patterns of flying for reconnoitering an area, intended to produce the most effective or thorough results, or did crews do whatever seemed best at the time?

 

From what I understand (and I'm certainly no expert), I think a lot depended on what the airplane was looking for and what it was supposed to do if it saw anything. I'm assuming this is a pure recon mission with no intention to attack, which gives several possibilities.

 

As I understand things, different recon missions with different objectives covered the tactical, operational, and strategic zones. Often, these recon missions would take photos, but generally only in the tactical zone was it necessary to fly in a straight line to get overlapping pictures. Also, there was a sort of overlap between pure recon and arty spotting (in the counterbattery form--finding enemy guns, not directing friendly guns).

 

In the tactical zone, one of the main tasks was mapping the enemy trench system because it could change on a daily basis. This would usually involve creation of a photo-mosaic with long, straight legs along the front. In the process, if any enemy batteries were noticed, they'd be marked down, too.

 

In the operational zone, I think the main objective would have been to spot emeny troop and supply movements. Most of this would have been on foot or in wagons, effectively standing still compared to the airplane. Thus, if the plane got to a point and didn't see anything, there was no purpose in waiting around there. So I think most times planes would sweep through an area, perhaps following key roads and checking junctions. In the process, they'd look for heavy artillery batteries, supply dumps, etc., and no doubt check activity at any enemy airfields along the way.

 

In the strategic zone, planes were looking for major troop movements, perhaps hinting at a pre-assault build-up. Most of this was done by train. All these trains ended up in mashalling yards and there were usually several such feeding any sector of the front. What the planes were looking for was more boxcars on the sidings than usual and a quick glance was all that was needed for that. So one plane would often fly over several such railyards in a single sortie and, if the idea was to bomb them later, probably also look at suspected enemy airfields in the vicinity. If the bombing mission was to be at night, the daylight recon flight might also try to determine a route with landmarks to help the bombers find the target.

 

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Apart from 'close reconnaisance' (not sure if that was an official term) to take the overlapping photo-mosaic of enemy positions to which Bullethead refers, for at least the middle part of the war, if not throughout, the RFC flew a different type of mission, the 'Long Reconnaisnce' (that IS an official term, there are regular references to them in different memoirs and histories).

 

Here is a description of one, from 1916, in Duncan Grinnell-Milne's 'The Wind in the Wires', which reveals some details, applicable to 16 Sqdn in 1916, flying the BE2c:

 

" 'There's nothing to laugh at' I was told...'This squadron does the Long Reconnaisance next week next week and it's the turn of our flight to go.'...I asked to be enlightened, for this particular reconnaisance was known to me by name only...'You fly south from here' he explained, 'cross the lines between Lens and Arras at the greatest height your machine can get to, pass over Douai, Orchies, Denain, Anzin and Valenciennes, circling each place - slowly, mind you - so that your observer can take notes and count the rolling-stock in the railway stations. Then, you turn around and come back, well to the south so as to avoid Douai like the plague, recross the lines if you're lucky and come home.' 'Sounds rather tiresome,' said Wilhelm, 'But what's the matter with Douai?' Rare Earths chuckled. 'Well, it happens that the Germans have put a full-size aerodrome there. When they see you go over on the way out, they stand by to wait for you on the return. And it's not very nice to find half-a-dozen Fokkers sitting on your tail when you're heading back against a strong westerly wind and running short of petrol!' 'Short of petrol? Why, how long does this show last?' 'About four hours from start to finish. More if there's anything worth seeing at Valenciennes.' "

 

The mission as described by DG-M was flown with two BE's, one to do the work, the second as an escort

 

Things like tactics will have varied as the war progressed but I think the practice of the RFC/RAF Corps squadrons (the 2-seaters) flying a regular Long Reconnaisance on a rota basis to cover a prescribed set of targets (probably mostly the same set each time, so patterns could be spotted), with notebook as much as camera, continued.

 

On a slight tangent, has anyone ever seen moving trains in OFF? You did see them in CFS3, and they would be a nice thing to see on recces, and to bomb or strafe on occasion. I don't recall ever seeing a moving train, and they were such a prominent feature of the WW1 Western Front scene. If they are not often present, maybe a 'train mod' could be made.

Edited by 33LIMA

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Thanks both. The following of roads and railway lines certainly makes sense, rather than just circling one area. It would be more interesting to fly as well.

I don't ever recall seeing a moving train, but then I probably haven't paid so much attention before. I'll keep a closer eye next time and see if I spot anything.

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Thanks both. The following of roads and railway lines certainly makes sense, rather than just circling one area. It would be more interesting to fly as well.

I don't ever recall seeing a moving train, but then I probably haven't paid so much attention before. I'll keep a closer eye next time and see if I spot anything.

 

I have seen moving trains on a handful of occasions and even attacked them. From what I can tell they can't be damaged.

 

shot061711162324.jpg

 

shot061711162336.jpg

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That's interesting. Nice pics, too, tho the loco is missing a tender (it's obviously not a tank engine).

 

A mod enabling them to be damaged, and to be a regular sight, would be good. I see there are 3 different locomotives (by nationaliy?) and several different wagons in the 'Vehicles' folder (none prefixed 'off'). It may be ok that rifle-calibre MGs don't cause them visible damage, but bombs may be another matter. I have no idea what controls the frequency of their appearance in a campaign, tho. They are appearing, so the disabling of 'spawns' in OFF isn't killing them, I wonder what could be tweaked to make them more common.

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As far as I remember, you can damage at least the box cars. Not sure about the lokomotive though.

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Here is a description of one, from 1916, in Duncan Grinnell-Milne's 'The Wind in the Wires', which reveals some details, applicable to 16 Sqdn in 1916, flying the BE2c:

 

That was a good book. IIRC, the Long Recon was highly dreaded because so few came back, and they just kept on doing it. And the author was eventually forced down by flak on such a mission, wasn't he?

 

The IAF did very similar things. It carried out its own recon between major raids to help with target selection. In their case, the job fell to the DH4 squadrons because its planes had much better performance and much more reliable engines than the DH9 squadrons. The IAF was usually limited to 1 raid every 3 to 5 days due to damage and engine maintenance after a major effort. During this downtime, they'd have a couple of DH4s available and the squadron and/or flight leaders would take them out on these long recon trips. They did these at about 20,000 feet and I don't think they ever lost a plane this way.

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Like Bullethead, I've not studied the tactics of reconnaisance aircraft. But I have read that, particularly early on when that was virtually the only role of the various air services, pilots were enlisted men and the observers were officers. This was because the observer was the more important crew member, since he had to be able to recognize what he saw and report it reliably (much too important a responsibility to be entrusted to a mere enlisted man) and the pilots were considered aerial chauffers. Remember, von Richtofen's first job as an aviator was GiB (Guy in Back) and not pilot. Later, when aerial photograpy became better, the roles shifted, since the observer was then a combination camera-operator and gunner and the most important role was safely flying the plane and successfully navigating to the target and home (much too complicated a task to be entrusted to a mere enlisted man).

 

Gotta love how the barss hats can rationalize. :good:

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Duh!! It occurred to me that I hadn't mentioned how this would tie in with the original question of what type of pattern to fly.

 

It would depend on a combination of type of mission and when it was being flown. A photographic mission would best be done in long, straight lines at a fixed altitude and speed, so as to give pictures of uniform scale and in order to minimize gaps that might be created from random flight paths. Whereas, direct observation would be more of a loiter in a given area to provide the observer the opportunity to make his notes and verify everything was accurate as well as that he hadn't missed anything. That could, and probably would, include multiple passes over the target from different angles and possibly even different altitudes, the latter to provide varying perspectives. And since most, if not all, observation was direct in the early stages, one can assume loitering would be the prevalent tactic at that time. This would also lend itself to defense from AAA (constant changes in direction and altitude would confuse their aim and the timing on the rounds) and there would be no concern about giving enemy fighters time to hunt you down since there weren't any. Of course, the introduction of the Eindekker would elevate that particular risk.

 

Later missions, partiuclarly after observation aircraft started being fitted with wireless sets (about 1916, I believe..surely by mid 1917), would be dictated purely by the type. I would distinguish between only two types, though: tactical and strategic.

 

Tactical missions are those in which the results must be in the hands of the commanders who need them as close to real-time as humanly possible. I'm talking about command needing to know what's happening immediately in order to impact a highly fluid, highly dynamic situation: i. e. an active battlefront or an artillery barrage. If this information has to wait until an airplane can land, photographic film or plates are processed and analyzed and conclusions delivered to a general or a local commander, it's too late. All that info is completely wrong. This is one of, if not the main, cause of patricide, even today. Areas that were recently occupied by the enemy have been taken over by friendly troops and the first thing you know it's, "We regret to inform you...". Those missions would be carried out by wireless-equipped machines (when available, later in the war) and would utilize the loiter...and possibly have two or even more individual target areas in one flight. They would also require fighter escort to protect them from intercept. Most of these missions would probably not extend beyond five miles or so behind enemy lines, depending on how deep a targetted artillery battery (if the mission was to direct counter-battery fire) was. It would be likely that these would have no more than two, three at the most, planes: one primary and the others backups, just in case.

 

 

Strategic missions, otoh, would be the gathering of general intelligence for the purpose of planning an attack or divining when and where the enemy intended to do the same. These missions would best be done with photography so the results were a matter of record and could be consulted whenever necessary, and indeed aerial reconnaisance advanced the science of photography during WWI, as other innovations did many others. The resolution of cameras improved considerably once they had to take clear images from two or three miles (10,000-15,000 feet) or more. If I'm not mistaken, the British developed strip flim during WWI, making it possible to take one continuous picture covering several miles of ground, lessenning the chances of a gap but increasing the need for a steady flight in altitude, direction and speed (a FLAK gunner's dream). Since everything that an enemy does can have a bearing on strategic intelligence these missions could literally be from the front lines to the maximum range of the aircraft. Multiple planes flying in line abreast or echelon formations would also increase coverage of the target area.

 

I think I've covered it.:heat:

 

ps..I repeat that I have not actually studied the matter and that these are my own conclusions based on supposition and a kind of reverse engineering alone. Anyone who has looked more deeply into the matter, feel free to correct me whereever I've made mistakes.

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As far as I remember, you can damage at least the box cars. Not sure about the lokomotive though.

 

I put at least 500 rounds into that locomotive and it didn't do a thing as far as I could tell. Next time I see one I'll try to damage the box cars.

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Yes, shoot at the one behind the locomotive - I think they even get shot off, and roll out.

Then you can destroy them one after the other. (Or did I only dream that? Not sure...)

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As I understand things, different recon missions with different objectives covered the tactical, operational, and strategic zones. Often, these recon missions would take photos, but generally only in the tactical zone was it necessary to fly in a straight line to get overlapping pictures. Also, there was a sort of overlap between pure recon and arty spotting (in the counterbattery form--finding enemy guns, not directing friendly guns).

 

 

The RFC began using wireless equipment for directing friendly guns already in 1915. The first squadron to receive such equipment was the No. 9. The system was a relatively simple one, based on clock and alphabet.

 

"The clock code for signalling the results of artillery fire was first used in 1915 and afterwards generally throughout the war. The target was taken as the centre of a clock and imaginary lines were circumscribed around it at distances of 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 yards. These lines were lettered Y, Z, A, B, C, D, E, F, respectively. Twelve o'clock was always taken as true north from the target and the remaining hours accordingly. An observer noted the fall of rounds with reference to the imaginary circles and clock-hours and signalled the result, for instance, as Y 4, or C 6. A direct hit was O.K, and there were other signals. Messages from the battery or any other ground station were signalled to the observer in the aeroplane by means of white strips which were laid out on the ground to form the letters of a code."

 

(Walter Raleigh: The War in the Air. Being the Story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force. Volume one, page 342.)

 

This series of books has a huge amount of historical information about the air war. The problem is finding it from the many volumes and hundreds of pages. By luck, I remembered the volume that contained this bit about the wireless code.

 

"The institution of wings was a great step in advance, and made it easy to provide for later additions to the strength of the Flying Corps. When the newly-formed squadrons began to appear in number, they were formed into wings, and the wings themselves, in the winter of 1915-1916, were combined in pairs to form brigades. The brigade became a self-sufficient unit, to work with an army; it was commanded by a brigadier-general, and comprised, besides the two aeroplane wings, a third wing for kite balloons, an aircraft park, and everything necessary for a complete aerial force. Further, when fighting in the air became all-important, whole wings were made up of fighting squadrons, and these wings were symmetrically paired with other wings made up of squadrons designed for artillery co-operation, close reconnaissance, and photography. The wing which carried out the long reconnaissances and offensive patrols, bombing the enemy, attacking him in the air, and, in effect, protecting the machines which did their observation work above the lines, was called the army wing, and worked for army headquarters. The wing which observed and photographed for the corps command, reporting on the character of the enemy defences, the movement of troops, and, above all, the effects of our artillery fire, was called the corps wing, and worked for corps headquarters."

 

(Walter Raleigh: The War in the Air. Being the Story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force. Volume one, page 436.)

 

I'm sure there's much more about the details of recon work in the books, I just can't remember where to find it.

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Good info here; mostly new for me, who has only read about fighter squadrons - thank you guys! :good:

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Von Baur and Hasse Wind, thanks for your views and information. It's all given me ideas on how to fly what might be somewhat more realistic reconnaissance missions. I get the impression that with OFF2/P4 we may get a more objective way of assessing the success of reconnaissance missions. In the intervening 2 weeks, however, I'll try using some of the suggestions people have posted here.

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The Germans did pretty much the same stuff as the British, but more defensively, as they spent most of the time defending against Entente offensives and launched their own major attacks less often. German recon aircraft would generally try to stay closer to their own lines under the protection of their AA guns and fighters, and artillery observation could be handled just as well by balloon and ground observers, when the purpose was to defend their own well-prepared positions against Entente attacks. It was of course different when attacking enemy positions. Then air support was needed much more, and in the big offensives of 1918, German aircraft had to act very aggressively indeed. Germans also had special high altitude photo reconnaissance detachments, which did recon work deep behind the Entente lines. These aircraft, the most famous and successful of which was probably the Rumpler C.IV, stayed so high that it was extremely difficult to intercept them effectively. As Germany was the world leader in optics, they had access to some excellent cameras and could take detailed photographs from very high altitudes.

 

Unfortunately I don't know much about the French methods and tactics of reconnaissance, or their other similar activities.

 

Here's an example of a German recon camera, made by the Zeiss and Goerz companies:

 

Goerz%20Kamera%202.gif

 

Something else than our modern digital toys, eh? :grin:

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Looking rough outside, but when it was from ZEISS you can bet it was top notch hightech in those days.

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Hasse Wind, I've just revisited the website of "Jasta11", where you can see original parts and the restauration

progress of a Rumpler C.IV - seems Koloman Mayrhofer is doing the job. Has anyone more info on this?

See here:

 

http://www.jasta11.co.uk/page3.htm

 

There I also found this excellent photo of three Albatros (type?) recon aircraft in flight:

 

 

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Looking rough outside, but when it was from ZEISS you can bet it was top notch hightech in those days.

 

And it looks like it was designed to take some hard knocks and still keep functioning.

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Duh!! It occurred to me that I hadn't mentioned how this would tie in with the original question of what type of pattern to fly.

 

Tactical missions are those in which the results must be in the hands of the commanders who need them as close to real-time as humanly possible. I'm talking about command needing to know what's happening immediately in order to impact a highly fluid, highly dynamic situation: i. e. an active battlefront or an artillery barrage. If this information has to wait until an airplane can land, photographic film or plates are processed and analyzed and conclusions delivered to a general or a local commander, it's too late. All that info is completely wrong. This is one of, if not the main, cause of patricide, even today. Areas that were recently occupied by the enemy have been taken over by friendly troops and the first thing you know it's, "We regret to inform you...". Those missions would be carried out by wireless-equipped machines (when available, later in the war) and would utilize the loiter...and possibly have two or even more individual target areas in one flight.

 

I'm fairly sure that at no stage in WW1 was wireless used to communicate the results of a recce of any kind. For sure, RFC/RAF wireless was wireless telegraphy not wireless telephony* (and was definitely one way - air to ground, not ground to air ie the planes had a transmitter not a receiver, generally to a single battery who- having set up their aerial to receive the plane's signals - communicated with it by laying out stips of cloth on the ground which the crew could see).

 

The more complex and/or varied messages needed to transmit accurately the results of a visual recce would not I think have been practicable with wireless telegraphy, one-way or two-way. The simpler messages used to range artillery, as described above by Hasse Wind, are probably at about the limits of what was possible with WT at the time.

 

Even if the Germans (or the French or British, experimentally) had tried 2-way wireless telephony, I doubt very much if it would have been sufficiently reliable to replace the early-war expedient of getting any urgent messages back by dropping a message bag at, or even landing back at, Corps HQ.

 

* to cite just one source, in an undated article written I think for the 1919 'Janes' (but definitely written after the war) the author, a serving British General Staff officer, described the introduction of the radio telephone as something which will (in future) make 2-way communication feasible and improve speed and accuracy.

 

If we want to get it reasonably right, there's no substitute for contemporary sources (like 'Wind in the Wires' cited above, possibly also accounts online). These provide reliable details of the sort of missions flown and I would recommend consulting these, which make speculation or even educated guesswork pretty-well un-necessary.

 

To take another example from a book readily and cheaply available now; Joshua Levine's good (if melodramatically and inaccurately-titled) 'Fighter Heroes of WW1' contains extracts from many letters written for 'the folks back home' in which aircrew, not just scout pilots, describe their work in laymen's (but authentic) terms. On pp.226-9 (of my Collins PB edition) he quotes just such a description by an 8 Sqdn observer describing an artillery shoot.On pp. 131-137, there are similarly-useful accounts of photo-recce work. Peter Hart's 'bloody April' is another good recent source, as is Ralph Barker's 'A Brief History of the RFC'

Edited by 33LIMA

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33LIMA, I never meant to imply that air-to-ground voice communication might have been carried out. In fact, that's why I specifically chose the word "wireless" instead of "radio", the former being a shortened version of "wireless telegraph" (which was used, as Hasse Wind pointed out, as early as 1915) and the latter generally implying voice. And while I admit I'm not up on WWI era equipment, I know from working as a radio (voice) maintenance technician in the Air Force that transmitting is far more demanding on a system than receiving. I'm not saying that the sets were two-way, I don't know. But I would be more surprised to find that it wasn't tried than that it was.

 

Regardless, the question posed was how to fly the mission. And whether the method used to get the information back was dropping a bag (which sounds familiar now that you mention it, as if I may have read many years ago that that was done) or wireless (and don't underestimate the speed of a skilled telegraph operator), the likelihood is that such tactical missions would have been flown with a less rigid pattern than a photographic mission.

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... Joshua Levine's good (if melodramatically and inaccurately-titled) 'Fighter Heroes of WW1' ...

 

Just wanted to second that, especially for people who, like me, don't have an extensive library of WW1 air-warfare literature. That title put me off completely, but I discovered it is basically a brief account of the RFC/RAF generally in WW1, not just fighter squadrons. The chapter about reconnaissance crews really impressed me and is largely responsible for me flying reconnaissance aircraft in OFF.

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Regardless, the question posed was how to fly the mission. And whether the method used to get the information back was dropping a bag (which sounds familiar now that you mention it, as if I may have read many years ago that that was done) or wireless (and don't underestimate the speed of a skilled telegraph operator), the likelihood is that such tactical missions would have been flown with a less rigid pattern than a photographic mission.

 

As I understand things, most single-engined 2-seaters could carry a camera, or a wireless, but not both at once. So, I was thinking that on a recon mission, they'd probably have a camera, and any arty they saw along the way would be jotted down in pencil on a map.

 

Anyway, as to how to fly the missions, I think that if you're over the trenches, you fly along them in long, straight lines. If you're not that far behind the front, you fly along roads in the general area of your objective. If you're way behind the lines, you'd fly over several separate, specific points (like railyards) and maybe circle each one a time or 2, depending on whether you had a camera or just a notebook.

 

On the use of wireless, I think that was pretty much entirely for realtime adjustment of artillery fire. The reason this could be done with Morse was that it was in a standard, pre-arranged message format, which greatly reduced the amount of info needing transmission. Basically, to the receiver, it was just filling in the blanks on a message form without having to send the whole sentences. But this sort of thing doesn't work so well with spotting reports, which might cover any subject.

 

As I understand things, using wireless also required the plane to fly in long, straight lines. This is because the extremely low frequencies used in that day required very long antennas. In most planes, this was a long piece of wire carried on a spool, which had to be reeled in and out. But then the airplane had to fly in a straight line to keep the wire straight behind it (or possible flew in a circle with its nose just behind the end of the wire). This is because radio waves come off perpendicular to the wire's axis, and if you've got a bend in the wire, it tends to screw things up on the inboard side. So a plane flying in a straight line would probably be parallel to the front, to talk back to the guns in the rear. OTOH, a plane chasing its tail could talk in any direction. I know this is sometimes used today but I've never heard of it from WW1.

 

So, assuming WW1 planes flew straight while transmitting, I'd expect an artillery observer to fly racetrack patterns. Each straight leg would consist of observing the fall of shot and transmitting the adjustment, then making a U-turn in time to do so again for the next salvo, the object being to stay more or less in the same general area relative to the target, thus keeping the observer's line of sight more or less constant.

 

 

 

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