Graflex K-20 aerial camera file photo [32978]

Fairchild K-20 Camera

Country of OriginUnited States
Weight8.155 kg


ww2dbaseSherman Fairchild was born in 1896 and worked throughout World War One to develop an aerial camera suitable for military use. Unfortunately, his first workable model was not completed until 1920. Fairchild's breakthrough was his development of a between-the-lens shutter that made for clear images with fast shutter speeds. He founded the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation dedicated to further develop his cameras. Several models were created but with World War II looming, the United States Government selected the Model K-20 for purchase.

For production, the design was licensed to George Eastman's Folmer Graflex Corporation who made 15,000 for the United States armed forces. Lenses were produced (also under license) by Kodak, Ilex, and Bausch & Lomb. The cameras had a rugged, cast aluminum camera body with a fixed 161-millimeter lens. The 8.5 x 9.25 x 10.75-inch body was fitted with oversized side handles that would allow for a firm grip and easy operation while wearing heavy gloves. The camera included a diaphragm that applied a vacuum to hold the film flat during exposure. The K-20 created 4 x 5-inch exposures on 5.25-inch-wide film on a 20-to-200-foot roll, although a roll of 50 feet was most typical. The camera had to have its film loaded and unloaded in complete darkness, since there was no enclosed film cartridge.

Perhaps the most famous wartime photographs taken with the Fairchild K-20 were taken by Staff Sergeant George Robert "Bob" Caron, the tail gunner in the B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay." On 6 Aug 1945, using a K-20, he took the only surviving photographs of the cloud rising from the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan.

Fairchild designed several other aerial camera models during the war and the sheer number of airborne cameras in the combat areas is a large part of the reason there are so many striking images from World War II.

Missouri University of Science and Technology
Flogging English Blog
National Museum of Forest Service History
The USAAF 20th Combat Mapping Squadron
Alaska Aviation Museum

Last Major Revision: Mar 2024

Fairchild K-20 Camera Interactive Map


United States Army Captain Robert Smith of the Alaskan Survey in Jun 1931 holding a Fairchild F-8 aerial camera, predecessor to the K-20 model used in WWII.An aerial photographer with his Fairchild F-56 camera, based on Fairchild’s K-20 design, but with a 20-inch lens.An aerial photographer with a descendant design of the Fairchild K-20 aerial camera.US Navy photographer Lieutenant Charles Kerlee dismounting a TBF Avenger aboard USS Yorktown (Essex-class) after photographing a raid on Wake Island, 6 Oct 1943. Note his two K-20 cameras.
See all 15 photographs of Fairchild K-20 Camera

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Fairchild K-20 Camera Photo Gallery
United States Army Captain Robert Smith of the Alaskan Survey in Jun 1931 holding a Fairchild F-8 aerial camera, predecessor to the K-20 model used in WWII.
See all 15 photographs of Fairchild K-20 Camera

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