Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week
FREE Admission & Parking

Shapes and Patterns: The Photo Interpreter's Evidence

Photo analysts used light tables like this one during the Cuban Missile Crisis to study negatives brought back by reconnaissance aircraft. Interpreters were trained to recognize shapes and patterns to identify objects such as aircraft, missiles, and structures. They could use either negative or positive images, and the best photographs came from early morning or late afternoon flights, when shadows made objects stand out in sharp contrast. Using measured photos of known shapes -- such as Soviet SS-4 missiles -- interpreters were able to conclude that the same types of weapons were being installed in Cuba.

This Richards model MIM-47701T light table could accommodate film rolls up to 1,000 feet long in various formats. Its electric motors wound the reels, which kept the film suspended just above the polished glass viewing surface. The glass was lit from below by fluorescent lights.

Photo interpreters used precision optical equipment to study negatives in minute detail. The instrument on the left is a Bausch and Lomb measuring magnifier that allowed interpreters to compare and measure two negatives at once. The instrument on the right is a Wild Heerbrugg stereomicroscope for close examination at up to 200x magnification.

Click here to return to the U-2 Overview.


Find Out More
Related Fact Sheets
Cuban Missile Crisis
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.