Aerial Photography in Record Group 263: Records of the Central Intelligence Agency (U-2)

The Cartographic Branch holds roughly 1.9 million U-2 and similar reconnaissance photography. These photographs, from Record Group 263: Records of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1894 - 2002, can be found in the series Reconnaissance Photography, 6/19/1956 - 12/4/1981

Other reconnaissance photography from this time period, such as SF-71, may also be found in this series, but they are all filed under the heading of U-2 photography.

The finding aid for U-2 photography includes location, dates and mission numbers for available coverage. The location provided is by country or region.

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RG 263 Reconnaissance Photography, U-2 Can and Mission Locator

This finding is available digitally by contacting the Cartographic Branch at or visiting our research room.

You can search the database by country/region, mission number and date. You can then see a range of film cans within your search criteria.

Unfortunately, there is no graphic index or finding available to locate specific missions. You can use the CIA's CREST search tool to research specific missions which can then be translated to film cans in our holdings.

These film cans 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. Cans with a “DN” identifier can be ordered and viewed on-site.

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. You can learn more about aerial film reproductions here.