S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Fairchild Aerial Survey Page keywords = Fairchild Aerial Survey Sherman photo aviation air plane Roosevelt Field Curtiss Mitchel Floyd Bennett Cradle museum

Updated:   19 Mar 2013, 09:35  ET
[Page created 03 Jan 2002; converted 19 Mar 2013

    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]
URL:  http://sbiii.com/fairchld.html
[was at "home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/fairchld.html"]

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
"changing materials with high-intensity sound"

[consultation is on a fee basis]

Technical and Historical Writer, Oral Historian
Popularizer of Science and Technology
Rail, Auto, Air, Ordnance, and Model Enthusiast
Light-weight Linguist, Lay Minister, and Putative Philosopher

note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's


Fairchild Aerial Survey

See also the Aviation Page, et seq.

World War I Eberhart SE-5E
(American-built Version of the Royal Aircraft Factory's SE-5a)
Image from USAF Museum Site.


For aviation matters in general, see the main Aviation page.

On the Aviation Humor Page:
    Good Chute!.
    Clutch-Starting a Jet!.
    Good Stretch!
    Kulula Airlines
  new.gif (20 Jul 2011)

Nota bene - I am a passenger; NOT a pilot!  Although I logged many hours in the Link trainer at NYC's late (and, by many, lamented) Museum of Science and Industry, I only had the command controls once, ca. 1980, in the right-hand seat of a Cessna 210, when our pilot seemed determined to B-25 the Empire State Building and I conned us away from that fate.

You might visit my other pages which are replete with aviation-related historical information, such as railroads, Emile Berliner and his son Henry A. Berliner*), Chrysler and SS and Jaguar, the ordnance page, and the Fairchild Aerial Survey page.



This page is unindexed (so far); scroll on down!

You may also wish to view my several AVIATION pages, starting with the main Aviation page.

You might visit my other pages which are replete with aviation-related historical information, such as railroads, Berliner families (not just mine, but especially that about Emile Berliner and his son Henry A. Berliner*), Chrysler and SS and Jaguar, and the ordnance page, et seq..


There was once a fabulous company that documented Long Island, New York City and its environs, and beyond, from the air.  Started around 1920 by aviation pioneer Sherman M(ills). Fairchild, its vast collection has been dissipated and the purpose of this page is to stimulate interest in the photos and, hopefully, document where they ended up (not in the trash, one trusts!).

We know, for an instance, that at least some of the 1930 Fairchild Aerial Survey, Inc. (New York, New York) "Aerial Views of Washington" are on file at the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.  In November of 1927, there was a crash of a small airplane at takeoff near Odessa, Texas; it was to have surveyed the terrain between there and Crane and was a 12-cylinder DeHavilland owned by Fairchild Aerial Survey, Inc., of Dallas.  In 1931, FAS took pictures of the Forth Point Channel Bridges in or around Boston harbor (Library of Congress).  And so it goes.

Here's a 1931 (maybe early 32) FAS aerial view of mid-Manhattan looking East-Northeast, from a post card about to go up on eBay (ID #71953), a fabulous example of a Fairchild Aerial Survey photo; I was asked to help date it (21 Feb 2003):

FAS #133 mid-Manhattan
Postcard with "No. 133   Aerial View of Mid-New York   Fairchild A. Survey", undated.
(Thumbnail image; click on picture to view a larger image)

Dating this one turned out to be a snap!  Ranging is unnecessary, but the top of the Empire State Building (upper right) has the original dome (the mooring mast for dirigibles), with no radio antennae or much-later TV mast, the Chrysler Building (upper right center) already has its spire (added in a vain attempt to try to beat out the E.S.B.) and that huge construction site uptown on the west (near) side of 5th Avenue (upper left) almost has to be for Rockefeller Center.

Of course that's the Rockefeller Center site!  There's St. Patrick's Cathedral across Fifth, as plain as day!

A quick search and - Bingo! - "Construction of the Rockefeller Center America's largest privately owned business and amusement complex of the pre-war period began in 1931. - - - on a block that lies between New York's busy 5th and 6th Avenues and 48th and 51st Streets - - - In total, ten different units were constructed on the twelve-acre site, - - - . The great RKO motion picture theatre was the first building completed (designed by the main architects {Raymond Hood} with Corbett, Harrison) and MacMurray, Hood and Fouilhoux) and opened in 1932.  It seats over 3,500 patrons and has a full stage."

from Dennis Sharp, Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History, p. 257.

So, no earlier than 1931 and not far into 1932, because there's no RKO Building yet.

The photo spans about 74th or 75th Street in the far upper left to 31st Street in the near right and 9th/Columbus Avenue in the lower left to the East River in the upper right.  The Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge is in the upper center left and you can easily spot the brand-new (gleaming white) Rockefeller Institute (right/south) and New York Hospital - Cornell Medical College Center (left/north) between 63rd and 71st Street at the far upper left with Blackwell's/Welfare Island (today's Roosevelt Island) beyond.

Almost all of fabulous old Pennsylvania Station shows in the lower right, with the Hotel Pennsylvania across 7th Avenue and Broadway cutting diagonally a block further east.

I doctored a copy of the Manhattan image to highlight the features noted:   added.gif (19 Mar 2013)

Annotated FAS #133 mid-Manhattan
Annotated image of postcard with "No. 133   Aerial View of Mid-New York   Fairchild A. Survey".
(Thumbnail image; click on picture to view a larger image)

Hope that helps.

The primary source for Fairchild Aerial Survey photos since about 1965 has been THE FAIRCHILD AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION AT WHITTIER COLLEGE and "is one of the largest libraries of aerial photographs in North America".  "The Collection is estimated to consist of at least 500,000 items - - - ".  [How embarassing!  Whittier's Website predates this page and never turned up in my search!]  However, the Whittier photo collection is almost entirely composed of California images.  Whittier shares the collection with the MAP & IMAGERY LABORATORY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SANTA BARBARA.  Other repositories include UCLA and California State University at Northridge.

On 12 Aug 2003, I heard from UCLA Air Photo Archives, where they describe their holdings as: "The Fairchild Aerial Surveys - A variety of oblique low altitude black and white aerial photographs of Southern California between the years 1927 and 1964. - - - Limited coverage of Arizona, Nevada and other states."  However they also "have four filing cabinet drawers of NY Fairchild obliques, and three filing cabinets of NYC obliques.  The cabinets are about 30 inches deep and contain photos".  They "also have even more negatives (w/o the photos) than developed photos stored elsewhere on campus.  Apparently most of the Cities from the Sky book's photos are from their collection, so while they specialize in Southern California, they "also have a large collection of Fairchild obliques for NYC/NY and even the rest of the US".  They have to charge for access and research there to pay operating costs {quite reasonable - SB,III}, but they "do have a pretty nice collection".

Then, on 06 Jan 2005, the Map and Imagery Laboratory of the Davidson Library at UCSB further clarified who holds what as follows: "The oblique aerials by the New York office of FAS are now held at the New Jersey State Archives.  The vertical aerials by the New York office are held by us.  We share the vertical aerials by the California office of FAS with Whittier College."

The primary motivation for this search is the need to document aspects of the Long Island Motor Parkway, one of the world's first limited-access, reinforced concrete highways, both for the record and for myself, and also for the Motor Parkway Panel, which I convened to "keep the Long Island Motor Parkway alive in Situ and in Minds and Museums".

Sherman Fairchild developed an aerial camera during World War I, famed early on for being used in Polar flights and such.  He started using it over Washington, D.C. ca. 1920, and eventually formed a company for this work and had crews fanning out all over the U.S.  Unfortunately, this vast collection was dissipated after the Fairchild Aerial Survey Company closed its doors ca. 1970.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum houses the Sherman Fairchild Collection; their Website tells about the 1920s Fairchild K-3, "a revolutionary new aerial camera".  It was driven electrically and had "a new shutter and magazine which advanced the technology of aerial photography".   "Fairchild later started an aerial survey and map making company (one of many Fairchild companies to come)."

Fairchild Aerial Survey Book

There is a book about the survey photos, "Cities from the Sky: An Aerial Portrait of America", by Thomas ("Tom") J. Campanella, October 2001 (14½" x 12½", 128pp, 125 duotone, hardcover), ISBN 1568982992.

The book is available from MIT, where Tom Campanella is a lecturer in the Urban Studies Program.  It ain't cheap; the list price is $50.00 (Amazon.com offers it at $35.00).

It documents in incredible detail roads, rails, and marine terminals and is an invaluable reference to same.

Gen. Billy Mitchell used the early Fairchild camera to document his pioneering attempts to bomb battleships.  Fairchild also started Fairchild Aerial Survey of Canada in 1922, specializing in aerial timber surveys.  Two years later (1924), he did a photomosaic of Manhattan Island and all the surrounding boroughs of New York City, another one of Sherman Fairchild's many firsts.

We know that FAS moved into Mexico, as well, since the late (ca. 1996) Captain Elrey B. Jeppesen started out in 1928, managing Fairchild Aerial Survey Company's Mexican mapping program (from Seattle's Museum of Flight).  They also prospected in Central and South America.

Sherman Fairchild was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979 and they have a nice bio of him on their Website.

Obviously, the name continued in the field; witness the Fairchild All-Sky Camera of the late 1970's, with a 100x100 pixel array Fairchild CCD from which it took its name; it appears to be a product of Lockheed-Martin-Fairchild.

PLEASE!  If you have any information about the location of the FAS assets, especially those from Long Island, contact me.

However, also PLEASE(!); do NOT ask me about the planes, the cameras, or the successor firms; my interest is in the aerial photo collection (mostly those of the NY metro area) and, to a much lesser extent, in the Long Island firm and its founder.

As you are obviously air-minded (take that as you choose), you must see the Lion Air site!  I'd be Lion if I didn't warn you to keep your tongue in your cheek on this one!

On a more serious note, if you like aero engines, see Steve Vardy's Aero Engine Central.

Also, pilot Paul Freeman has an absolutely fascinating Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields site.

See also the Aviation Page, et seq.


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


See Copyright Notice on primary home page.

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