Aerial photography in KLM history

People all over the world love aerial photography. This is borne out by the many books published on the topic. Should you ever run into a bird’s-eye view of the Netherlands, there’s a very good chance that the photo was made by KLM Aerocarto. Even in the early days, KLM was already taking cameras up into the air. Our Photo-Technical Cartographic Service FCB, the forerunner of KLM Aerocarto, was established just two years after KLM was founded.

In our 1921 annual report, KLM founder Albert Plesman predicted that aerial photography was going to be big, particularly in the business world, which had already commissioned FCB for numerous assignments. Aerial photography wasn’t entirely new in those days, but it had primarily been used for military purposes before KLM was founded. The First World War had given aerial photography a huge boost, and civil aviation was quick to leap on board afterwards.

Aerial panoramas

FCB was located at Waalhaven Airport in Rotterdam from its establishment in 1921, but the company moved to barracks at Schiphol Airport shortly after the Second World War. To most Dutch people, FCB was the company that made lovely aerial panoramas of the Netherlands, but few realised that the company’s expertise extended much further than that.

Aerial photography

Highly detailed

The chief task of FCB was aerial cartography, which allowed highly detailed maps to be produced. Working in collaboration with the government cartographical and topographical services, all sorts of maps were produced for the land registry office, the rivers and waterways services and for other infrastructural, topographical and commercial purposes. This private-public cooperation was already taking place before 1930.

569 assignments

The assignments weren’t only carried out in the air, but also on the ground, where FCB surveyors helped accurately map out the Netherlands, but also terrains elsewhere. KLM’s 1947 annual report stated that a total of 569 assignments had been carried out, including bird’s-eye-view photos of post-war reconstruction and aerial photos for businesses. The FCB completed assignments in Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, Suriname and even as far afield as Venezuela.

These photos were made with specially modified Dakotas that mapped out entire areas by flying back and forth, taking photos with a vertically oriented camera.

Aarial photography

Bird’s-eye-view photography

People were particularly intrigued by bird’s-eye-view photos, which were often made by hanging out of the plane, which was why it was also known as “overboard photography” in the Netherlands. Before 1940 this was done using a Fokker F-VIII A, aptly registered PH-OTO. This same registration was later used for a different KLM Aerocarto plane.

In those days and in the years thereafter, many cities and villages were photographed in this way. The pictures were highly detailed, which meant there was a lot to be seen. And it certainly wasn’t an easy job, because the camera weighed about ten kilos, which meant you needed quite a bit of muscle power to hang out of the plane and take a good photo. Fortunately, slightly lighter cameras gradually became available.

KLM Aerocarto

FCB was spun off in 1954 and became a wholly-owned KLM subsidiary under the name KLM Aerocarto. The company continued to do a lot of work for municipal and provincial authorities, but also took assignment further afield, from Central and South America to the Middle East and Indonesia. In 1989, the US company Stewart Technical Services acquired a 40% share in KLM Aerocarto and cooperation was intensified to strengthen its position on the international market.

The remaining 60% of the shares were sold to the Dutch company Heidemij in fiscal 1995-96. Heidemij changed its name to ARCADIS in 1997, and in 2003 it loaned a selection of KLM Aerocarto’s aerial photography archive to the Aviodrome aviation museum in Lelystad. Many of the photos from this archive have now been digitised and are therefore easily accessible.

Aerial photography

Google Earth

These aerail photos are especially intriguing from historical point of view, documenting the world as it was before Google Earth. People have always wanted to know where they are, see where they lived, getting a bird’s-eye view of familiar places. Aerial photography has always fascinated humanity, and KLM Aerocarto produced a wealth of visual material to keep the imagination ticking over.

Arial photography

Posted by:   Frido Ogier  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

Glyn A Clarke

What a marvelous piece of history

Frido Ogier

Thanks Glyn!

Kind regards,


Sasja van Rijsewijk

Very interesting part of the history of KLM. Thanks for sharing!

Frido Ogier

Thank you again, Sasja!

Kind regards,


Babette Wijsman

I like it, that lots of people have not forgotten our history with KLM Aerical Photography.
I have been working at KLM Aerocarto for 32 years, the last years it was taken over by the Aviodrome in Lelystad. Sadly enough the Aviodrome went bankrupt in 2011. And the new owners are not interested in it. We all lost our jobs and where asked to come in again as volunteer!!!
There are approx. 80.000 glass negatives, 45.000 bl/wh and colour negatives, and the last years of their existance about 10.000 digital files. There is a huge database ofh all the photographs taken with description and dates. It took me years to get it right.

Frido Ogier

Dankjewel Babette en goed te lezen dat je nog zo betrokken bent bij het geheel en dat kan ik me goed voorstellen. Daarom vond ik het tijd worden om er eens aandacht aan te besteden. Luchtfotografie is zo interessant! Hopelijk heeft mijn blogje weer een bijdrage aan de bekendheid van de mooie collectie gegeven.

hartelijke groet,


Lolita M. Balboa

Your sharing about KLM is really fantastic – very educational. Kudos! Many thanks.

Frido Ogier

Thank you too for your compliment Lolita!

Kind regards,



Amazing story. thx.

Frido Ogier

Thanks Bonnie!

Bonnie Parren

More history blogs please! ;-)

Walter Bakker

What a lovely read. Where can one view some of those historical photographs?

Frido Ogier

Thanks Walter!

If you look up the site of Aviodrome you can find the entrynto the KLM Aerocarto archive. There you can find an essential part of the photographs taken through the years. Not everything is digitalised yet.

Kind regards,


Peter Waldhäusl

Dear Colleague!
Who was the Director of KLM Aerocarto in the 1970th and 1980th? I lost the name, he was a practitioner here in Vienna just when Prof Schermerhorn visited us in 1964, he was a pioneer in digital methods of photogrammetry.
Could you please help me with the name?

Frido Ogier

Dear Peter,

this is what I’ve found: in 1973 Dr M.S. Kamminga became director of KLM Aerocarto. He succeeded then mr J Bos, who retired.

Kind regards,


Babette Wijsman

Toen ik daar kwam werken in 1975 was de heer Wim Sonnenberg, directeur, tot ergens in de 90-er jaren.


Hello Frido,
A family member was a stewardess for KLM 50yrs ago or so. I have a large photograph 5×6 of the Netherlands. Is there a way to find out it’s age? Is it a puzzle piece to a larger photograph? I would love to know more. Thank you. Alan S.

Frido Ogier

Hi Alan,

Would you please ask your question via Facebook? Our service agents will send your question to me, so I can look if I know the answer.

Best regards,


Rob Grootveld

Nice to see this historical story about a great KLM Department where my KLM carreer started almost 37 years ago and from which I still share good memories.

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