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24 March 2018

National Collection of Aerial Photography gives RAF the Hollywood treatment

To help mark the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP) opened up its vault of 26 million images with Scottish actor Ewan McGregor

A black and white photograph take from above of a plane flying over a bombed landscape

To mark the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP) opened up its vault of 26 million images to help Scottish actor Ewan McGregor celebrate the many heroes that took to the skies.

In a new BBC programme Hollywood star Ewan and his brother Colin, a former RAF pilot, take to the skies in some of the world’s most iconic planes - including the Spitfire - and explore the origins, role and impact of the RAF in its first 100 years.

To tell the story of the RAF, the BBC enlisted the help of NCAP, who provided aerial photographs taken on reconnaissance sorties during WWII by pilots flying Spitfires. The photographs were used by interpreters at RAF Medmenham to obtain intelligence about the enemy and their activities. These were recorded in an early form of 3D called stereoscopy.   

A stereoscopic aerial photograph taken as a bird

An example stereoscopic aerial photograph over Edinburgh's New Town.

NCAP, part of Historic Environment Scotland, holds one of the largest collections of both military declassified and non-military aerial photographs in the world, covering 103 countries. The huge archive grew from the photography taken by RAF pilots during WWII and includes such seminal images of the Bismark and the Dambuster raid. In addition, reconnaissance and survey flights flown during peace time and the Cold War by RAF pilots have added to the collection as have allied photography and captured German Luftwaffe images.

There are many modern uses of the collection. From identifying unexploded bombs in Germany, aiding climate change scientists and recording land use changes, this vast record of the world from above has evolved beyond its reconnaissance roots.

NCAP works with partners around the globe, such as the US National Archives and Records Administration, to digitise tens of thousands of their as yet unseen WWII images of Europe, Russia and Japan preserving them for future generations.

Dr Allan Williams, Head of NCAP, said:

"The NCAP collection is a testament to those who created it and those recorded within it."

"We are pleased to have been able to contribute to the BBC’s RAF at 100 and to assist with demonstrating the importance of aerial photography to the RAF, and the role it continues to play in peacetime to capture the changing face of the planet."

Viewers are urged to help celebrate these archives by visiting the NCAP website and exploring our various collections.

RAF at 100 is on at 8.30pm on Sunday 25 March 2018.

Explore NCAP

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES)

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of Historic Environment Scotland.
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About the National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP)

  • The Collection contains over 26 million images featuring historic events and places around the world dating back as early as the 1930s, making it one of the largest archives of aerial photography in the world
  • The Collection's archival material comes from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Ordnance Survey, Governments, commercial survey and aerial photography companies, allied countries and NARA
  • The NCAP team are specialists in digitising and conserving aerial photography and archival materials, and sourcing and adapting equipment to enable this process to be carried out efficiently and effectively
  • The Collection is accessible to the public through the NCAP website and also can be searched in person in the HES library
  • NCAP holds images from the Second World War including detailed stereoscopic photographs of Auschwitz, the Dambusters Raid, D-Day, Peenemünde and some of the earliest aerial coverage of Russia

Year of Young People 2018

The Year of Young People (YoYP 2018) will inspire Scotland through its young people aged 8 to 26, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contributions to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally. Over 200 young people throughout Scotland will become #YOYP2018 Ambassadors, ensuring their communities know about local opportunities to celebrate young people.

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