Traditional aerial photography is generally created using a large-format camera mounted on the underside of a fixed-wing aircraft. The resulting negatives reveal a straight-down (vertical) view of the landscape. Photographs are taken sequentially at set intervals, often with a significant amount of overlap. When two images overlap at least 60% this enables a stereoscopic, or 3D, view. The overwhelming majority of our aerial photographs fall into this category.
An individual set of photographs is referred to as a flight or a mission. A flight is often just that: a single takeoff and landing. Some flights are created over the course of a few days or, less frequently, over the course of a season. On very rare occasions, a flight may refer to a multi-year project (for example. our NAPP flights). A flight may contain a single photograph or tens-of-thousands. MIL has more than 3,000 flights which add up to more than 2.5 million individual images.
MIL's aerial photography collection dates back to the 1920s and we can generally provide one photograph per decade for anywhere in the southern half of California. Non-UC users: please consult our Aerial Imagery Research Service pages for information regarding licensing copies of our imagery.
Aerial Map Industries (AMI)
This was a Santa Ana-based aerial photograph company, which was later sold to Landiscor Aerial Information. In 2002 MIL purchased the collection from Landiscor. The AMI photography covers several Southern California counties, from Los Angeles County to San Diego County.
Cartwright Aerial Surveys (CAS)
The acquisition of this portion of the imagery collection came after Cartwright was sold to Geonex. The original owner gave part of his film library to the California State Library, who in turn gave it to us. This collection is particularly useful for coverage of northern and central California cities.
CH2M Hill (Vestra Resources)
These 'rice photos' were taken between mid-1960s and mid-1990s by CH2M Hill, which is located in Redding, California. Vestra Resources acquired the collection from CH2M Hill. The collection was donated by Vestra Resources to MIL in 2007. Areas covered in this collection vary, but concentrate on the rice-growing areas of the northern Central Valley--hence our colloquial name for the photos. All of the photographs in this collection are held as rolls of film.
The Citipix Collection covers 64 US major metropolitan areas in the United States and was flown by Hauts-Mont, Inc. for Kodak Global Imaging between 1999 and 2002 at a scale of 1:10,800 in natural color film. We received the 822 rolls (ca. 370,000 photographs) of original color negatives in 2008 from Pacific Western Aerial Surveys.
Fairchild Aerial Surveys (FAS)
Fairchild imagery came to MIL as part of a 1986 gift from Teledyne Geotronics (see below) and California State University at Northridge. FAS flight ID numbers will have the prefix C or NY, determined by the office in which they originated. (The California office prefaced flights with the letter “C”, and the New York office prefaced their flights with the letters “NY.”) Most of the photography from the California office covers areas in southern and central California between the 1920s and 1960s. The New York office produced early flights of the eastern seaboard states, and most of the Massachusetts flights in the catalog are Fairchild. The photography from the FAS collection is held in MIL as rolls of film, paper prints, cut-frame negatives, and/or positive transparencies. The earlier part of the FAS imagery collection was on unstable nitrate film. In order to preserve the imagery, these negatives were reproduced onto positive transparency film and the original film was destroyed. Other portions of the Fairchild collection are located at UCLA and CSU-Northridge. MIL purchased the Fairchild air photo collection held by Whittier College in late 2012. A list of flights received from Whittier College with descriptions of the areas covered can be downloaded here.
Mark Hurd Aerial Surveys
This collection includes large scale and site-specific photography from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s of the tri-county area of Santa Barbara Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, as well as some coverage of other California counties and areas outside of the state of California. Mark Hurd photography flight ID numbers have the prefix HA, HB, HO, or TA, and the photographs are 9”x 9” and 9”x 18” paper prints. There are no original negatives remaining for any of these photographs, and MIL owns the only archive of this collection. Most of the photographs are in vertical format, but there are some oblique photographs.
NAPP, NAPP 2nd Cycle and NAPP 3rd Cycle
These are three projects, each one superseding the other, produced by the U.S. government. The goal of the project was to have complete un-classified aerial photograph coverage of the entire U.S. We have in our collection mainly the photography of urban areas of California in positive transparent or color infrared film formats, in either cut frame or roll film format. NAPP 3rd cycle is often the most recent photography in the collection outside of our core collecting areas.
Pacific Air Industries (PAI)
Pacific Air Industries flights (filed as PAI) are held in the collection in paper print and/or roll film negative transparency formats. These flights are organized and filed by a roll number, and most end with the letter V (e.g., PAI-150V). When researching PAI flights it is important to remember that more than one flight/roll number may be represented on a PAI index. (see below)
Pacific Western Aerial Surveys (PWAS or PW)
Santa Barbara Flood Control (-SBFlood)
This collection of aerial photography was donated to MIL in 2012 by the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District. The collection consists of imagery from a variety of sources, including Horizon Surveys, Mark Hurd, Pacific Western Aerial Surveys, and the Bureau of Reclamation. Most of the collection has been cataloged with the suffix “SBFlood” added to each flight number. Included in this collection are flights covering the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez rivers as well as other flood areas. This is also a great source for imagery showing the aftermath of wildfires, including the Piru, Romero, Coyote, Sycamore Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Gap, Painted Cave, and Tea fires.
Teledyne Geotronics was the aerial photograph component of Teledyne, Inc.; their office was located in Long Beach, California. The flight ID numbers for the imagery from these two companies have the prefix TG, and there are a few flight ID numbers in this part of the collection that end with a “V” (e.g., TG-77V). The photography from these agencies is held in paper print and/or roll film negative formats.
The Teledyne Geotronics aerial photography was part of a major gift from the Teledyne Foundation to MIL in 1986. This gift comprises most of our photography from the following companies, many of which are also listed individually on other parts of this page:
- Fairchild Aerial Surveys
- Pacific Air Industries
- Geotronics of Monrovia
- Universe Air
- International Mapping
- Watson Photo Studios
Included in the gift were the original California aerial photography job logs. These logs are housed off-site at the Library's Annex.
This commercial firm is based in Oregon and has fairly complete coverage of California. We purchased black & white paper prints of their photography for our local area, which is filed in our collection by county name. Although we have copies of WAC photographs, the company owns the copyright for their photographs. AIRS customers must contact WAC in order to purchase copies of this imagery.
Watson Photo Studios
This historical collection of film in print and transparent formats dates back to the 1930s and includes aerial photographs mainly of southern California, postcard images and advertising stills.