Today's Frightening / Inspiring Aerial Videos

How fire-fighting looks from the tanker-pilots' point of view.

This is a segue back to the aerial view of Americana. Last week I posted a famous and frightening video of a Peruvian pilot skimming mountaintops en route to an airfield in the Andes. The piloting world is full of tut-tutting about that clip, since the pilot seemed to make the approach more hair's-breadth than he needed to; came in very low across a river before the runway; and touched down on the "displaced threshold" before the runway itself. In any case, all aboard made it, and he looked supremely calm.

The video below, also becoming famous, is both frightening and inspiring. It's of the fire-fighting planes that have been skimming mountaintops to drop retardants on the huge Rim Fire near Yosemite. The whole thing is dramatic, but it intensifies starting around time 4:00.

As you will guess, the repeated "Landing Gear! Landing Gear!" warnings from an automated voice are triggered because the plane, as it prepares for the drop, is going so slowly that its monitoring systems assume it is about to land. More on this effort from California public radio stations here and here.

While I'm at it, below is an interactive map of that fire from our friends at Esri, a version of which Rebecca Rosen posted yesterday.

On the extended aviation theme, he is a static shot of the current version of our route map. Reports on these cities are in the pipeline, with another swing beginning soon.

And here is the scene in central Wyoming, en route from Pinedale to Cheyenne, a few days ago, with nearly clear skies ahead and on the left side of the plane and a rain shower 25 miles off to the right and behind. 

For people in the aviation world, below are the METAR reports for Cheyenne at the time. It was a clear, light-wind situation at the airport and others along the VFR route, with dramatic-looking but isolated rain showers visible and avoidable from far away. We were at 9500 feet at this point, with no rain and high ceilings in front of us and to the right. 

METAR KCYS 232353Z 20009KT 10SM CLR 27/11 A3007 
METAR KCYS 232253Z 18007KT 10SM CLR 28/10 A3008

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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