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America by Air
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Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows,How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via hello@theatlantic.com. (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.) Remaining states needed: CT, GA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, and WV.

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America by Air: Preserving a Piece of the Heartland

Cindy Wasilewski

Ray Wasilewski of Clive, Iowa, sends a perfectly framed photo that his wife recently took from the passenger seat of the plane he was flying:

In August, Iowa begins to change. We still have the beautiful green from the crops that thrive in our soil, while colors are beginning to change as we approach harvest. In this picture taken near Mason City, Iowa, you can see much of what it means to live in America’s heartland. The pride of the people who care for the land jumps out at you. Large farm equipment stands at the ready, and the classic car near the Quonset hut barn makes it easy to believe you are viewing a scene from the past. Seeing this perspective, both the history and the new growth, is a special feeling.

The farm has an aviation connection: In 2000, the Mason City Airport was planning an expansion, and the location of this farm—not far off the end of one of the runways (you can see one runway at the top-left of the photo)—meant it would need to go. But people fought back, and 16 years later the farm is still there. As a pilot, I’m a big supporter of airports, but I’m happy to have this view when landing at that great airport.

With their fantastic photo, Ray and Cindy also cross Iowa off our list of 50 states to cover for America by Air. We’re now down to single digits—CT, GA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, WV—so if you have a great aerial view from one of those states, please send our way.

America by Air: The Birth of the Costliest Wildfire in U.S. History

Christopher Baker

I wrote a post yesterday about the wildfire raging along California’s Big Sur coast that has surpassed the $200 million-mark to combat—and it’s only two-thirds contained. A reader in California, Christopher Baker, saw the fire when it started two months ago. He writes:

I saw your article and thought you’d find interesting the enclosed photo I took out the window of a Southwest flight on the evening of July 23 flying north from San Diego to San Francisco. It was extremely clear and I saw what I think is the first day of the fire out the window. The fire was very bright but still somewhat small, and I think I could see backfires started by the firefighters. It’s a remarkable sight because during my 50 years in California I’ve seen many brushfires from the air but never was the view this clear; normally they are obscured by the smoke.

At its peak last month, more than 5,600 firefighters were working to put out the blaze. It’s destroyed 57 homes and threatens another 400. And all of this because someone left a small campfire burning while visiting Garrapata State Park.

America by Air: Crater Lake

Jimmy Rollison

Here’s another beauty from Jimmy Rollison, one of the top contributors to this series (with views over the Continental Divide, Monument Valley and Lake Powell, Dinosaur National Monument, and the rolling hills of northern California):

How to start a Monday: Southbound at 10,500’ looking west, en route home from Hood River, Oregon, from a large antique airplane get-together once a year. As the song says: “Nothing but blue skies do I see.”

The lake—the deepest one in the U.S.—formed around 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama collapsed after a massive volcanic eruption, one that was 42 times greater than Mount St. Helens in 1980. The resulting caldera is what you see above (and in this Orbital View). Rain and snowfall fills the caldera, and no rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake, so it takes about 250 years for the total amount of water to cycle out.

A 33-mile road, Rim Drive, wraps around the lake, and my first long bike ride happened to be around it, in the summer of 2010. The gorgeous locale and sunny weather of that day was only dampened by the timing of the ride—just a month after my brother got into a terrible bike accident in Portland that resulted in several broken teeth and nearly a broken neck. His bashed-up face loomed in my head as I raced down Rim Drive to catch up with the more experienced cyclists. Every tiny rock on the road felt like a speed bump, and my clenched hands were sorer than my legs by the end of the ride. But my brother is braver than I am; he was back to his long bike commutes in no time.

We’re down to the final stretch of U.S. states in this series, so if you happen to have an aerial view above CT, GA, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV, please send it our way.

America by Air: Descending Into a Dust Storm

I just came off a two-week vacation that included six days at Burning Man—the art-infused, music-filled, drug-fueled festival held every year in the desolate Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. (This satirical video of a guy coming back from BM has a lot of truth to it, and this tumblr of Burner mockery is also pretty brilliant.) The 30th Burn attracted more than 70,000 people to this pop-up, semi-circle city:

By Jim Urquhart / Reuters. (My camp was right next to that fluorescent orange one in the middle right, the latter called “Comfort & Joy.”) More photos of Burning Man 2016 are compiled here by Alan Taylor.

But I could barely see Black Rock City myself during the short flight from Reno due to one of the sudden dust storms that are all too frequent in that desert. (I might have missed the dusty deluge if I hadn’t been delayed at the Reno airport for several hours because President Obama was in nearby Tahoe for an environmental summit and Air Force One was on the tarmac freezing flights … Thanks, Obama!) So instead of getting an aerial photo similar to the one above, all I got was this dust-shrouded scene:

America by Air: Gliding Over Idaho

Graham W. Hankey

We usually prefer images that include a piece of the plane or other aircraft, but reader Graham—hovering here over Ketchum, Idaho—included his own feet:

I was on a hiking and biking vacation in Ketchum, Idaho, and decided to try paragliding (much to my wife’s chagrin) after watching several gliders launch from the summit of Mt. Baldy, the major ski mountain in the valley. I contacted Fly Sun Valley, the only licensed paragliding outfit in the area, and made arrangements for a tandem flight the next evening before sunset.

The flight was incredible. We sailed for 25 minutes, launching from Baldy’s summit and heading west while we gained another 1,000 feet of altitude, and then turned and came back across the mountain at 10,000 feet and slowly began descending into Sun Valley, making a series of lazy circles before landing in a large field just outside of Ketchum. I was able to take many pictures on my iPhone (permissible, but I was warned that several phones had been dropped, never to be seen again) and even shoot a video. The experience was wonderful—a great perspective to see a beautiful part of America.

Beautiful, indeed. Here’s Graham’s shot looking into the Sawtooth Wilderness, with the resort town of Sun Valley in the foreground:

America by Air: Alongside a Rainstorm

Looking toward Lancaster airport, in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, as it is drenched in a downpour. Deborah Fallows

Genuine thunderstorms, of the type that form a long line when a cold front is moving across the country into warmer, wetter air, or that pop up as isolated cloudbursts on summer afternoons, are weather perils that even big, powerful airliners must avoid. When you’re flying in thunderstormy conditions, you hear airline pilots asking controllers for re-routes around the storms. “New York Center, United 1234, we’ll need to go 30 degrees left to avoid these buildups.”

The updrafts and downdrafts of wind around a thunderstorm “cell” can be so powerful that small aircraft are supposed to fly at least 20 miles away from the storm’s edge to avoid being tossed up and down. But “non-convective” rain showers, those not from thunderstorms, are more benign. On a trip this past Wednesday from Eastport, Maine, all the way back to the Washington area in a little Cirrus, my wife Deb and I flew in rain for most of the journey. But the rain was falling from a flattish, non-stormy cloud layer far above us, and it spattered on the wings and windshield as we flew in clear skies at 4,500 feet. (For the aviation crowd: this whole trip was VFR and free of turbulence and clouds at 6,500, then 4,500, then 3,500 feet, KEPM to KGAI, with a fuel stop at KPSF.)

And sometimes we passed localized rain showers, always keeping a respectful distance. Here is how the area just over the Lancaster airport, in the heart of the Amish country of Pennsylvania, looked at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from 10 miles to the east, outside the rain.  What looks like a cloud reaching all the way to the ground, off the plane’s wingtip, would have seemed to people in Lancaster to be a drenching downpour. The gray you see reaching from cloud to ground is rain.  

From the ground, it’s hard to see or imagine weather other than what is affecting us at the moment. From a distance in the air you can see, godlike, the movement of different weather across the land.

America by Air: A Busy Harbor in the Rust Belt

Jim Ciszewski

Reader Jim Ciszewski answers our call for photos from Indiana:

Taken on a recent trip from GSO to MDW [Greensboro, North Carolina, to Chicago, Illinois], this photo shows the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in northwest Indiana, including ArcelorMittal (originally Inland Steel), the Whiting BP (originally Amoco) refinery, etc. I grew up on the far South Side of Chicago, not far from here, in the ’70s and early ’80s, when the “rust belt” was beginning.

Lots of rust color—and conveyor belts in action—to be seen via satellite here, where the canal empties into Lake Michigan near the plume of steam in the background of Jim’s photo:

Google Maps

What’s going on down there? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has these statistics about what passes through the Indiana Harbor :

Commodities are iron ore, limestone, coke, gypsum, steel, cement and concrete, petroleum products, and miscellaneous bulk products. ...

Bulk commodities that pass through the harbor ... generate $332.M annually in direct revenue while supporting 1,495 direct, indirect, and induced jobs that produce $263.M per year in direct income.

Pretty impressive, Indiana. If you’ve got a photo to share—particularly one from CT, GA, ID, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV—let us know.

America by Air: Hills Over Duncan Mills

Jimmy Rollison

Here’s the latest from Jimmy Rollison, one of our ace photographers for the series, who’s provided stunning views over Monument Valley, Dinosaur National Monument, and the Continental Divide. This colorful one was captured over Duncan Mills, California. “It’s west of Sacramento,” he writes, “looking at the coastal range that separates the Sacramento Valley from the Napa Valley in a 1939 airplane.” Update from another reader, Frank:

That “1939 airplane” is a Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing” biplane, and I think it is the most beautiful single-engined propeller driven aircraft ever produced (although the Supermarine Spitfire is very closely competitive). The Staggerwing is, truly, Walter Beech’s masterpiece. Notice how the upper biplane wing is mounted aft of the lower, a rare feature called “negative wing stagger” that gives the airplane its unique appearance and grace.

Next time you are in DC, wander by the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall and make your way to the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Therein, a yellow Model 17 is suspended for your examination and admiration.

Thanks for the series; the photos are great.

So are the emails! Here’s the beauty that Frank mentions:

Smithsonian

America by Air: 2,000 Years of Human Construction

Bill Barse, a reader who gave us a comprehensive tour of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia, sends an image from amid “the endless expanse of sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, Florida”:

There were relict streams that once drained into the original Everglades that are now submerged due to sea level rise that took place over the last 2,000 years. Many archaeological sites, low-lying mounds, are present along these now submerged streams, sites that we were working on at the time of this trip. The area south of the lake is a low-lying plane with limestone bedrock barely two feet beneath the current ground surface.  And it is only several feet above sea level. This picture shows a good view of a 2,000-year-old house mound located not far from one of the relict stream channels. One of the access roads for the sugar cane fields made a U-turn around it to avoid its destruction.  

Bill flew all the way from East Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania, on this trip, and the archaeological sites near Clewiston, Florida, were his final destination. He also documented more recently built structures, from highways to horse tracks:

America by Air: Cumberland Riverboat

Byron Wright

From a reader in Suffolk, Virginia:

Hi. This is a view from a helicopter of a riverboat near Opryland in Nashville, TN [on the Cumberland River]. It was taken in February 2004 during a ferry flight from Seattle, WA to Newport News, VA. Hope this helps.

Indeed it does; Tennessee is on our dwindling list of states that haven’t been covered in America by Air. Only 13 remain now (CT, GA, ID, IN, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, TN, VT, WV), so if you have a good aerial view from one of those states, please shoot it our way. Once we get to zero, I’m thinking of a launching a similar series of photos outside the U.S.

By the way, here’s a satellite view showing how close Opryland is to the boat dock our reader flew over:

Google Maps

And if you’re wondering what our reader means by “ferry flight,” here’s a helpful definition: “delivery flights for the purpose of returning an aircraft to base, delivering a new aircraft from its place of manufacture to its customer, moving an aircraft from one base of operations to another or moving an aircraft to or from a maintenance facility for repairs, overhaul or other work.”

America by Air: Country Album Edition

Matt Kollasch

Reader Matt sends a piece of Americana a couple times over:

This photo was made in 2005 between Waterloo, Iowa, and the Minnesota border. That trip took me Japan and Korea to take photographs for Camp Adventure (youth camps/programs) sites on U.S. military bases.

I recall Mesaba Airlines (Northwest Airlink) flew Saabs then. The plane looks to be a turbo prop Saab 340A [photo here]. The 340A’s engine is above the wing and the shape of the rear of the engine seems to match the one in my photo. I enjoyed these short rides to Minneapolis. The turbo-props gained altitude quickly and you seldom lost sight of earth, which was always interesting to watch.

My photo was used for the cover of a Brother Trucker album called The Flyover. [“Des Moines-based roots-rockers Brother Trucker finally present another heaping helping of their literate, soulful and cinematic brand of earthy, ‘pan-Americana’ music.”] When I took the photo, Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia” came to mind: “I dreamed of 747s / Over geometric farms.”

America by Air: The Continental Divide

Jimmy Rollison

One of our best reader contributors to our series, Jimmy Rollison, sends another great view:

Looking north after passing Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Monument [captured by an earlier reader photographer], one cannot miss seeing the “Continental Divide” that has been the inspiration for many many artists. [French poet and aviator] Antoine St. Exupery’s famous quote is best applied here on this delivery flight: “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.”

Jimmy adds, “Did you ever wonder why the terminal at Denver Airport looks like it does?” He’s referring to this striking structure, the Jeppesen Terminal:

The first commercial flight at the new Denver International Airport lands shortly after 6 a.m. on February 28, 1995. (Reuters)

Here’s how the terminal’s creator, Fentress Architects, describes it:

The form evokes the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s international signature. Sustainably, the fabric roof provides considerable daylighting, and low heat absorption reduces build-up due to sunlight radiation. A survey by the American Institute of Architects ranked the terminal as #4 on its list of favorite American architectural landmarks, while Business Traveler magazine readers voted DIA the “Best Airport in North America” every year from, 2005-2010. As the largest structurally integrated tensile-membrane roof in the world, DIA is a memorable threshold welcoming all to Colorado and the West.

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