The National Archives Cartographic Branch holds aerial photographs of foreign areas flown by the United States Air Force (USAF). This photography can be found in the series Aerial Photographs, 1935 - 1970, from Record Group 373, Records of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The indexes for these photographs are Overlay Indexes for Aerial Photography, 1935-1971. These overlay indexes are filed by degree square, which is an identifier used to denote a certain area by latitude and longitude. To search for a particular degree square, enter it directly into the main search bar in the National Archives Catalog as shown in the following examples. The latitude must be two digits and the longitude must be three digits (Ex: 48N002E; 56N003W).

To search for coverage using these index overlays, locate your area of interest on the map and place the overlays to line up the 30 minute line and corners to match the map. It can be helpful to place a sticky note on your computer screen on the area of interest on the map so that as you search through the overlays you can match up the area with available coverage.

Map for degree square 48N002E.

Each overlay represents a flight or part of a flight and each square on the overlays represents a single exposure. The scale, date, and mission number are almost always included at the top of the overlays.

Overlay for degree square 48N002E.

The numbered boxes on the overlays represent available photographs for the area. The lines connecting the boxes also represent coverage. You would need to estimate the exposure number based on the location between numbered boxes.

The overlays include a symbol for the exposures in the “Total Exp.” field. In this case the symbols are LSV and RSV. This indicates that multiple cameras were used for this mission.

To locate the photographs, you need a citation with the spot number and exposure number. In cases like this where the overlay includes multiple spot numbers, both film cans would need to be located and ordered as the photographs of interest could be filed under either spot number. Using this overlay as an example, a citation would look like the following:

Spot Number D5457 or Spot Number D5458, Exposure RSV-4026.

The spot numbers will lead to film cans using the RG 373 can locator, available digitally by request at and in the Cartographic Research Room.

RG 373 can locator

In this case, Spot Numbers D5457 and D5458 lead to cans ON012595, barcode T153925531 and ON021455, barcode T153941807.

Cans with a “DN” identifier can be ordered and viewed on-site. Cans with an “ON” identifier are original negatives which are stored at the Lenexa Federal Records Center. These cans can be ordered in the Cartographic research room and arrive within three business days. If you already have a researcher card, you can order ON cans ahead of your visit to our site. Some ON cans for this record group are onsite and these are noted in the can locator.

Once you order the cans at our facility, you can view and copy them in the Cartographic research room. We have light tables which allow you to view the film and take photographs on a personal camera. We also have aerial film scanners available. If you have a USB capable laptop, you can bring it to our research room and scan the photographs to your computer.

RG 373, Aerial Photographs, Spot Number D6304, OBL-50 (NAID 195954684)

NARA has a partnership with the National Collection of Aerial Photography, Scotland. The photographs scanned by NCAP are currently being added to the National Archives Catalog and can be viewed via the series description.

You can view a related blog post on The Unwritten Record blog here: Researching Foreign Aerial Photography.

If you have any questions regarding USAF aerial photographs from RG 373, you can email the Cartographic Branch at or the Aerial Photography Subject Matter Expert at