military jargon: abbreviated form of (aerial) "reconnaissance", to describe one's mission. Originally British, from the UK English pronunciation of "reconnaissance" as "reck-con'-ess-ents". Compare "recon," which implies land-based reconnaissance.
Recce flyers have one of the most important "non-combat" jobs in the modern military: they collect the data that become tactical intelligence--primarily for the warrior in the field. The customer can be a pilot who took off an hour after the recce bird with full pylons, a mechanized infantry brigade about to pop over the ridge, or a "plans" weenie back home who wants to know exactly how many SAM sites there are before assigning the fighter jocks to go in there at dawn. Recce flyers often put themselves at great risk to collect the data that the warriors need; most recce platforms have to go light on armament in order to carry their payload, putting them at even more risk. While they may be equipped with jammers, flares, or chaff, recce platforms do not typically undertake electronic warfare missions, such as SEAD. The mission is to
Everything else is just style points.
- get in;
- take a picture of whatever-it-is-that-is-so-dangerous-we-won't-send-a-pilot-in-without-letting-him-have-a-good-look-first; and
- get out.
Calling a platform a "recce bird" implies electro-optical reconnaissance--photographs--but it is possible to measure an enemy's "signature" in other wavelengths, such as infrared or radar. Some American recce platforms include:
More recently, with the advent of satellites, a "recce bird" can mean any spy satellite as well. Soon, it will doubtless cover UAVs like the Global Hawk and Predator.
Since you lads coined the term, I'd appreciate any British aviation buffs /msg'ing me the names of a few of Her Majesty's recce birds. The ravens at The Tower of London don't count...