Our Work

What is NCAP?


NCAP is the National Collection of Aerial Photography. It is one of the largest collections of aerial imagery in the world, containing tens of millions of aerial images featuring historic events and places around the world. It is the role of NCAP to collect and secure the future of these records, both digital and physical, to preserve them for generations to come, and to make them as accessible and available as possible. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, our operational and development costs are funded through commercial enterprise.


Read our Brochures for more information:




Commercial Enterprise


The use of historical aerial photography by the European bomb disposal market forms the core of our current business. We supply the aerial imagery used to locate unexploded Second World War bombs and to identify contaminated land where development is being planned throughout much of Europe. We are increasingly diversifying our customer base beyond the risk management sector, beyond Europe, and to businesses working on environmental and land use change issues and to the media.


Read our case studies to learn more about how our images are used in both the private and public sectors.


What We Hold


An internationally significant cultural asset, NCAP holds over 26 million aerial photographs covering places throughout the world. The vast majority of the photographs have been declassified by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence and were taken during the Second World War and the Cold War. NCAP also holds the largest collection of both military declassified and non-military aerial photographs covering Scotland. Find out more about our Collections.


Who Are We?


The NCAP team have extensive experience of caring for historic aerial photography. Our backgrounds include digital imaging, geographic information systems, military imagery analysis, archive management, earth sciences, European history, town planning, record movement and photography. We are responsible for the long-term stewardship of the National Collection of Aerial Photography. We do this through record management, preservation, digitisation, cataloguing and research.


Records Management


The collection contains over 120,000 boxes of prints, photographic films and associated records housed in several locations. Each of these items has a unique barcode identifier which is linked to a database. This allows us to track the movement of individual items from their storage location to our public search room and imagery production facilities. We take great care to ensure that items are logged at each location so that we are able to find them again in an efficient manner. Find out more about record movement at NCAP.




When we digitise images for our website, we create a geographic centre-point for that image, so that we can show its location on the surface of the earth. This work involves lengthy study of original sortie plots, which show where the aircraft flew during its reconnaissance mission, and the orientation of the digital images so that north is uppermost. The digitisation of images and finding aids for our website is funded by our subscribers.


Read about our current digitisation programme to learn more about which images will soon be available.




We carry out searches of our holdings on behalf of customers from around the world. This involves studying original sortie plots and microfilms to find and select imagery appropriate to the customer's needs. We also carry out extensive research in other archives to help find imagery in our uncatalogued holdings.




NCAP is a living memorial to the military personnel involved in photographic reconnaissance and photographic intelligence work - in particular to the many reconnaissance pilots and aircrew who lost their lives. The imagery played a pivotal role in planning many of the key military operations of the twentieth century and provided information for UK Government foreign policy. In a wider sense, it has a significant memorial status given the many key moments in world history it records.



Statement of Public Task 


The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP) is a department of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), a non-departmental public body reporting to Scottish Government. NCAP is a place of deposit for declassified and released UK Government aerial imagery and associated records in accordance with the Public Records Act (1958) section 4(1).


It is the public task of NCAP to collect and secure the future of these records, to preserve them for future generations and to make them accessible. The operational and development costs of the public task of NCAP are funded through commercial income generation activities on the basis of full cost recovery. All information held as part of NCAP's public task is available for re-use under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005. See our licensing page for applicable terms and conditions.


This statement is regularly reviewed and is due to be considered again no later than 2017. If you have any queries on this public task statement you can submit them using the contact form. If you have a complaint about NCAP under the Re-use Regulations, you can submit it using the HES general complaints handling process.