NCAP is The National Collection of Aerial Photography. In 2008, after almost fifty years, it relocated from Keele University and became part of RCAHMS. The move was an initiative to secure the long-term preservation and continued development of the Collection.
NCAP holds UK Government declassified and released aerial photography of places around the world (except England, Northern Ireland and Wales). It is a centre of excellence in managing aerial photography, preserves the collections in its care, and makes them accessible to the public in its Edinburgh search room and online.
During the Second World War, the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU), based at RAF Medmenham, was the Allied headquarters of Photographic Intelligence. The work undertaken at the ACIU had far-reaching implications for the conduct of the war. It was involved in the planning stages of practically every operation and aspect of intelligence. The stereo photographic techniques used made it possible for the Allied Photographic Interpreter to view enemy activities in 3D, and to prepare highly detailed intelligence.
During the immediate post-war period one of the major tasks for the Unit was the plotting and analysis of captured Luftwaffe reconnaissance photography. What had not been destroyed, or captured by the Soviets, was discovered by the British and Americans. This even included Berchtesgaden, where attempts had been made to burn it. The joint UK/US work on this imagery provided unique intelligence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the early Cold War years before satellite imagery. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this key NATO asset was declassified and transferred to NCAP.
At the end of the Second World War, millions of aerial reconnaissance images of the world had been accumulated at the ACIU. The vast archive contained a visual record of the world at war. Postwar, interest in the wider use of the imagery grew amongst many of the University academics who had been wartime Photographic Interpreters. There followed a long series of discussions between Professor Beaver of the University College of North Staffordshire (now Keele University) and the Air Ministry. These led to the transfer of 5.5 Million ACIU reconnaissance photographs of Western Europe to Keele from RAF Medmenham over a 14 month period in the early 1960s.
For decades the ACIU Archive was mainly used by European bomb-disposal experts as a means of locating unexploded ordnance. In recent years, Keele University undertook a major cataloguing and digitisation programme that developed improved finding aids, now accessible via the Search Room and Paid Search Service. This work has opened access to ACIU Archive imagery to an increasingly wide range of customers.
Since 2004, and in tandem with work on the ACIU Archive, the UK Ministry of Defence declassified and released millions of additional images. These show places throughout the world from the Second World War to the late 1980s. This imagery is held as the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC) Archive but is largely uncatalogued.
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 of world history it records.
At the end of the Second World War the Royal Air Force was tasked with undertaking Operation Revue. This provided the Ordnance Survey with aerial imagery of the entire UK for the first time. The imagery allowed the creation of new mapping and informed postwar planning and reconstruction. Several squadrons experienced in photographic reconnaissance undertook this work throughout the late 1940s. Around 500 sorties were flown over Scotland, resulting in a collection of over 280,000 images. From creation, copies were held by the Scottish Office in a specially created Air Photograph Library in Edinburgh.
During the 1960s the Library was renamed the Scottish Office Air Photographs Unit (APU). The Unit grew significantly with the transfer of Ministry of Defence and Ordnance Survey imagery of Scotland dating from the Second World War onwards. It commissioned aerial surveys and advised the Scottish public-sector on the application of aerial imagery from its offices in New St Andrews House, Edinburgh. It also maintained the Central Register of Air Photographs for Scotland (CRAPS), a register of all known aerial imagery covering the country. In 1993 the APU was transferred to RCAHMS and in 2008 the archive became part of NCAP.