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 email@example.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.)
Our reader Anoop took this photo “flying over JFK in November,” with the Rockaways in the foreground. Some quick history of the airport:
It was built to relieve LaGuardia Airport, which was overcrowded soon after opening in 1939. Construction began in 1943, and about $60 million was initially spent of governmental funding, but only 1,000 acres (400 ha) of land on the site of the Idlewild Golf Course were earmarked for use. In March 1948 the New York City Council changed the name to New York International Airport, Anderson Field, but the common name was “Idlewild” until 1963. The airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 24, 1963, a month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
This past September I accompanied my boyfriend when he piloted his Cessna 170 on a cross country flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Lockhart, Texas (30 miles from Austin). The entire trip took eight days. We passed over these glaciers and mountains on the first day en route to Prince William Sound.
From there, we proceeded south down the coast. We camped on the beach at Icy Bay the first night and stayed in a historic hotel in Juneau the next. We went inland at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the following day and spent the next two nights in Canada—in a hotel in Terrace one night and camping on a grass strip maintained by a hang gliding club in Hope on the second night.
We crossed back into the states at Oroville, Washington, camping on the tarmac that night in Odessa, where we ended up crashing their annual Deutschesfest celebration. The next day, we flew out of Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and on into Utah, spending the night in South Provo. On the second to last day, we flew over the four corners—Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico—and spent our final night in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
It was a tremendous way to experience an incredible number of stunning landscapes in a relatively short segment of time.
This photo was taken aboard a federal contract jet departing Fairbanks, Alaska, and destined for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Flights like these shuttled back and forth between Alaska and the lower 48 throughout the summer, transiting some of the many firefighters dispatched to Alaska to help fight forest fires burning there during the summer of 2015. The crews aboard this flight were returning to their normal duty stations across Idaho after completing two week assignments in Alaska.
Our social media fellow, Rosa, adds a gorgeous shot to the series (which you can still contribute to):
This is Mt. Hood in January 2015, seen from the south on a flight departing Portland, Oregon. There is less snow than there should be for January, and you can see a dark spot on the right near the summit where volcanic activity is melting the snow. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams are all visible in the background (Mt. Adams at the very tip of the wing).
I was lucky to get plenty of powder when I skied at Mount Hood Meadows with my brother in late December. And according to this report from Friday on a winter storm, things are looking good for Hood:
The fresh batch of snow is good news in northwest Oregon, where a once-robust snowpack dropped below normal in the Central Cascades and Mount Hood following February’s stretch of warm weather. Central Cascade snow-water equivalent was 85 percent of normal and Mount Hood 81 percent of normal as of Feb. 19. The influx of snow should bounce that number closer to 100 percent, where it has been most of the season.
Tim Heffernan, an Atlantic alum who has written several great pieces for the magazine, sends an agita inducing view:
This is a bit of a cheat for the series since I wasn’t actually airborne, but a few years ago I toured the Empire State Building as a journalist and got to go out on the open-air catwalk beneath the radio mast—effectively the 103rd floor. The T-shaped doohickey is a lightning rod. And that parapet is very very low, maybe knee-height on me. When I remarked on this, my guide told me to quit being such a baby; she had taken a bunch of Knicks players out there too, and the wall barely reached over their shoe-tops. On a CBS visit in 2013, they learned that the deck of the catwalk has been lowered in order to make the parapet wall higher. Here you can see how low it was when I was up there (it’s the silver-painted part of the wall).
This photo was taken on November 11, 2014, when I was arriving at Reagan National (DCA) from Boston (BOS). It had been a great trip, visiting such a historic town with a close military friend on Veterans Day. As I looked out the window during the final descent, I realized I picked the right side of the plane to see a stunning view of the nation’s capital. I pulled out my phone just in time to capture this view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Reflecting Pool, White House (barely), Capitol Building, and the rest of the National Mall.
The Watergate, where The Atlantic is headquartered, is just out of frame.
I was onboard a Southwest flight into Midway and caught this view of the loop, all the skyscrapers and even Navy Pier! What’s really striking is the huge swath of green right along the lake—Grant Park and Millennium Park.
Some observers consider Millennium Park to be the city’s most important project since the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. But it far exceeded its originally proposed budget of $150 million. The final cost of $475 million was borne by Chicago taxpayers and private donors. The city paid $270 million; private donors paid the rest, and assumed roughly half of the financial responsibility for the cost overruns. The construction delays and cost overruns were attributed to poor planning, many design changes, and cronyism.
Millennium Park celebrated its 10th anniversary season last year  and in 2015 will continue to present dozens of free events and programs including art installations, outdoor concerts, films screenings, alfresco workouts and more.
All year round, “The Bean” is an iconic draw for visitors and locals alike. Take a picture in front of Cloud Gate, the official name for the massive, stainless steel structure that’s become Chicago’s signature landmark. In its mirror-like surface you’ll see not only your own reflection but the downtown skyline.
During the winter months, lace up your skates for ice skating amid twinkling tree lights at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Or escape into Lurie Garden, an urban oasis that pays homage to Chicago's motto — “Urbs in Horto,” or City in a Garden.
In the warmer months, spread out a blanket in front of the award-winning Pritzker Pavilion for a live performance. Cool off by splashing around in Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool bookended by 50-foot towers. Grab food and drinks at the alfresco patio Park Grill, or burn off those calories during a Saturday morning workout on the Great Lawn.
I lived in Mammoth Lakes, California (a ski town in the Eastern Sierra) for several years and still consider it home, even though I live in DC now. Flying from DC to San Francisco on December 7, 2015, I deliberately sat on the left side of the plane so I would be sure to see my old home as we flew by.
In the center of the shot you can see Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, with its well-defined lower runs and its great white expanse across the top of the ridge. In the lower right, you can see June Mountain, Mammoth’s smaller sister. After the terrible drought of the last several years, I was very happy to see a decent snow cover this early in the season. When I lived there from ’96 to ’03, we had several years of 400+ inches of snow and good skiing from November into June.
Seeing the place even now takes my breath away, I miss it so.
Flying into SeaTac on July 19, 2015. (The photo is unfiltered.) You can see the Seattle waterfront, which is dead center, where the Great Wheel is.
On-the-ground views here. It’s the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast, at 175 feet (53.3 m). The tallest in the U.S., and the world, is the High Roller, towering over Las Vegas at 550 foot (167.6 m). Full list here.
These aerial shots from readers are getting better and better:
Good afternoon! I want to share my submission for America From the Air—a photo I took while flying from Miami to Guatemala City in March 2015. It was the second leg of a journey from Brazil to Guatemala. At the time, I was an American diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Sao Paulo and starting a temporary duty assignment (TDY) at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.
I am a window seat junkie who meticulously chooses my seat based on the prevailing runway patterns and last-minute checks of runways in use on flightaware.com to get the best possible views on takeoffs and landings. As a Miami native and Foreign Service Officer who didn’t get to travel home often enough, I was thrilled to see my research pay off with this colorful photo of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. The Brickell neighborhood and Brickell Key are to the left of the mouth of the Miami river, with the city’s center and the American Airlines Arena (which has an airplane silhouette on the roof) just below the leading edge of the 737’s wing.
Thanks for putting together this great series, I’ve loved the submissions so far. (Especially the photo of the National Mall ... I always try and sit on the left side of the plane when flying into Reagan!)
Located at the southern end of California’s Central Valley, Bakersfield—the county seat of Kern County, which is one of the largest counties in the U.S.—is a microcosm of the economic and political issues confronting California’s Central Valley. The problems start with drought and water resource mismanagement but also continue to other issues ranging from urbanization of prime farmland, salinization of prime farmland, air pollution (this area is consistently in the top ten areas with the worst air quality in the U.S. as rated by the American Lung Association), and poverty.
I’ve been working on a photo study of the area, and because of the size of the county (8200 square miles), I took to the air, specifically in a Cessna 172 with the passenger-side window removed for photography. This photo is a view of the massive Chevron oilfield north of Bakersfield called Oildale. At the time of the shot, October 2015, the field was nearly in full production, driven by the price of crude oil that was hovering around $50 per barrel.
The handover of power was a solemn affair. There was no mistaking the new administration for the old one.
At dawn this morning, workers loaded couches and tables into a moving truck parked outside the West Wing. Men wearing white coveralls and carrying roller brushes and paint cans walked across the north driveway. Inside the White House, pictures of the 45th president had been removed from the walls. Only the hooks remained, ready for a new set of portraits of the 46th.
A lone Donald Trump press deputy, Judd Deere, sat in his small office, writing a note on a piece of stationery to whomever would be taking over his desk in a few hours. Deere was attempting to describe what it’s like to work in the building. When I looked in at noon, after the Trump presidency had officially ended, he was gone, his desk cleared. Even the magazine racks hanging on the wall had been emptied.
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
What should have been a week-long celebration of the resilience of American democracy has turned into a dark circus. Instead of citizens lining Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer and greet a new president, all of downtown Washington, D.C., is an armed camp. Soldiers patrol the streets while workers clean excrement off the walls of the Capitol, a perfect tableau for the end of the short and ghastly age of Trump.
We are expecting far too much of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if we think they can fix all of the damage Donald Trump did to the republic. Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards. They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.
However, I do believe that Biden can inspire the American people to regain one of the most important virtues Trump destroyed: seriousness, our understanding that ideas, actions, and words matter.
The new president must not repeat Obama's mistakes.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1932, the nation was facing concentric crises: the immediate, house-on-fire disaster of rolling bank closures; the broader economic depression; and, beyond that, deeply entrenched problems that the depression had highlighted, including elderly poverty. Roosevelt’s first 100 days addressed the first two crises with historic directness. He reopened the banks and directly employed thousands of Americans through measures such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then, near the end of his first term, he signed the Social Security Act, which has reduced senior poverty and become one of the most popular federal programs in the United States.
President Joe Biden also faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.
Trump leaves behind a wounded nation, and it will take time to heal.
So what if he was bad at it?
The five years of the Trump era—which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor—brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real.
Throughout the Trump era, some have argued that Trump’s incompetence rendered his authoritarian aspirations inconsequential.
“Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like ‘plotting’ implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks,” wrote the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in October, describing the president as a “noisy weakling.” Douthat has since re-evaluated his position, but for a long time he was the most articulate proponent of the argument that Trump was not as dangerous as his opponents believed.
In Washington, D.C. today, Joe Biden took the oath of office shortly before noon, becoming the 46th president of the United States of America. In front of a small, socially distanced, and well-guarded audience on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in. The singers Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks performed; the poet Amanda Gorman gave a reading; and Biden delivered his inaugural address to the nation. Gathered below are scenes from a unique moment in American history.
Trump’s pardons sent an unmistakable message, capping the corruption of his tenure in office.
“Drain the swamp.”
Of all Trump’s lies, that was one of the most puzzling. It’s not just that Trump himself was and is crooked, or even that he so obviously likes and admires crooks. It’s that Trump’s particular form of crookedness was exactly the kind of crookedness that people have in mind when they imagine Washington, D.C., as a “swamp.”
Trump’s first Manhattan real-estate deal—the first deal on which his employer-father allowed him to take the lead—was the redevelopment of a bankrupt historic hotel near New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The deal needed complex permissions from the city and the state. To obtain those permissions, Trump hired the famous fixer Roy Cohn. Cohn secured him a $400 million tax abatement plus other special favors, including a waiver of all urban-preservation rules. After the deal was done, the city official who bestowed the favors was hired as a partner in Cohn’s law firm. A decade later, that official went to federal prison for corruption crimes.
Tomorrow, pending calamity or misfortune, Joe Biden will take the oath of office and become president of the United States. In that moment, the United States’ approach to climate change will invert. Not least because Biden may finish his speech, walk inside the Capitol, and sign a letter committing the U.S. to rejoining the Paris Agreement.
Yet even if that “day one” promise isn’t kept until January 21, Biden’s inauguration will end an ugly period. Starting tomorrow, the highest levels of the federal government will stop intentionally, gleefully trying to make climate change worse. The Trump administration has progressed from enabling construction of fossil-fuel infrastructure to openly trying to make climate change worse. It has smuggled nonsensical math into law with the consequence of making Americans pay more at the pump; its supposedly marquee climate policy may have actually increasedcarbon pollution.In the dozen or so weeks since the election, it has undertaken a final debauchery of environmental rollbacks, finalizing more than a dozen new rules. One measure, borrowed from the playbook of Big Tobacco, restricts the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to consider medical studies in its rulemaking.
Hopefully one day, getting vaccinated will mean you no longer need a mask. But not yet.
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m still confused about what our lives will be like after we are vaccinated. As I understand it, it will still be possible to get the virus, but hopefully the course won’t be as severe or life-threatening. And we are going to have people who won’t even get the vaccine. Do you foresee us still wearing masks for the next year or two? I hate to even type this question.
New London, New Hampshire
I can’t wait to stop wearing masks. I want to go out without a mask so badly that I’ve been dreaming about it. That’s how far the pandemic has lowered the ambitions of my dreams.