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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (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.)
It’s overcast today in Seattle, where my wife Deb and I have come for the annual Citizens University conference — an inspiring gathering of civic-engagement activists from around the country. But two days ago skies were clear along the West Coast. That is when reader (and son) Tom Fallows of San Francisco took pictures as he left Seattle, above, and came into San Francisco, below.
No comment needed, beyond remarking that this is a beautiful part of a beautiful country (and world).
After the jump, a reaction from another reader, involving the theme of fathers and sons and the view from above.
A reader in Southern California reacts to a post from a former flight instructor who said how much he loved the low-altitude view. Emphasis added — I have flown through this same area and can picture the scene he describes:
Similar memories of flying in the Riverside, CA and surrounding areas a long time ago.
Loved flying at lower altitudes; had the feeling of flying through a valley, rather than over it. Especially in the morning air, when it was smooth - magical, indescribable feeling. Following the Santa Ana River to the beach, south along the coast, and back over the hills to RAL [Riverside Municipal] was also a favorite. [JF note: I have flown this same route, from the airports in Redlands and San Bernardino toward those on the coast. It is magical, though usually with enough other airborne traffic that you can spend too much time just taking in the view.]
Would absolutely love to get back into it again, but my wife is fearful. I'm scheming tho'. We have a boy on the way… That boy is going to experience small aircraft flight early in his life (I'll take him while mommy is at work). He'll be addicted and it will be two against one!
In response to a new pilot’s note about what he enjoyed in the aerial view, a reader who has worked as a flight instructor describes what he misses about that time in his life:
Thanks for your occasional odes to flying. I haven’t flown for years—for lack of $$, not for lack of desire. Some of the things I never tired of:
Flying west: over Ohio, an altitude of 3,500 was just beyond the ability to detect human forms on the ground below. And it fascinated me that if I held that altitude, I would crash somewhere just west of Colby, KS. [JF note: In case it’s not obvious, this is because the ground level goes steadily up as you head west. Between the Appalachians and the Atlantic, the ground level is generally less than 1000 feet above sea level. It’s the same through Ohio and Indiana and across the Mississippi River. But then it starts going up, and has reached 3,500 feet in Kansas. An airplane’s flight altitude is measured in elevation above sea level, not above the ground.]
Back in the day, when I was a flight instructor, I would ferry new aircraft from the factory in Wichita or OK City (remember the pre-Reagan days when general aviation was a thriving industry? I’ll never forgive him for what he did to that industry). And flying west, way off in the distance over the flat-as-a-cracker landscape that is KS and OK, the tips of the Rockies would slowly appear. I would always try to be alert for the very first clue that they were there, kind of like watching for the green flash at sunset over the ocean.
There’s also that sense of ownership and familiarity that you get flying over terrain. I never flew that much in the South or Southeast. But flying to or from the West Coast in the northern half of the country, I can generally look out of an airliner window and fairly reliably know the state we are flying over.
Then there’s the magic of IFR.Taking off, and shortly thereafter being absorbed by the clouds into a cocoon of whiteness, then breaking out on top into brilliant blue sky and sunshine. Something people in airliners rarely get to experience is flying being between layers. It’s a whole fantasy world of clear horizontal visibility with clouds above and clouds below; especially if there are cumulus upshoots, like building columns supporting the heavens. And then, being swallowed up in white until, magically, the runway appears. Is there anything more beautiful than the Christmas tree of a fully lit runway? Something you never see from the back of an airliner.
A reader who goes by Glenn got perilously close to an erupting volcano:
During one of my trips to Hawaii, I decided to get creative and take a ride in a replica of a 1939 biplane. Over Kilauea. There is nothing like the thermals in a biplane over an active volcano.
Needless to say, taking pictures was problematic. Almost all the shots came out completely out of focus. [The one above] is an example of “That would have been a great shot if I only could hold the camera still for one more second.”
Here’s what Kilauea looked like this week, in timelapse, via Hawaii 24/7:
A reader sends this shot of Los Angeles and an affectionate nod to the city’s pollution problem:
I snapped this picture upon my return from a year-long master’s program in Oxford, England. After enduring all that noxious clean air and lush English countryside, I have to say I’ve never been more excited to see such a sprawling and smoggy grid before: home sweet smelly home.
I’m stepping in for Chris Bodenner, usual host in this space, because I was so delighted to hear the back story behind today’s reader photo. Riley Roberts sent it early this month:
As a newly-certified pilot (I passed my FAA checkride just yesterday), I've spent a lot of time puttering around the DC area’s tightly-controlled airspace over the last few months, both solo and with my instructor. [JF note: Congratulations!]
One of my favorite things about flying, particularly on crisp winter days, is the view: when the air is clear, you can see for miles. Once you’re at altitude and on course, with the plane trimmed for cruise, the cockpit isn’t overwhelmingly busy. There’s no sound other than the drone of the engine and occasional radio chatter in your headset. It becomes almost dreamlike—with the landscape slowly rolling by, the horizon rocking up across your field of vision with each bank of the wings, and nothing but open sky for a mile in every direction.
I snapped this photo of Maryland’s western shore from the pilot’s seat about a month ago, just a few days after the massive snowstorm that shut down the area. It took almost a week to clear the runway at my local airport, so the snow had begun to recede by the time I got back into the air. But the world still looked dramatically different—and absolutely gorgeous.
What I’ve learned over the decades is that many people shudder at the very idea of small-plane flight. But those of us who love it, love it for exactly the reason the reader explains so well. It is a dreamlike state, in which you do what people through the first 99.9% of human existence only imagined: moving through the air as if swimming, seeing the Earth from above. If you enjoy this, you never tire of it.
Here is a sample of what I thought of when I read this submission: the scene from out the side window of our plane about a year ago, when my wife Deb and I were traveling across the Mojave from Arizona to Southern California. By the laws of physics and the workings of the Earth’s curvature, from 8500 feet up, as I think we were then, we would be able to see features 80 to 100 miles away. The map showed that the mountains to the north were at least that distant; from inside the plane, the view seemed limitless.
At the opposite scale of intimacy, the photo below shows the other aspect of the aerial view. This was taken out the front window of the plane, when we were less than 1,000 feet above the ground and coming in for a landing in the tiny town of Chester, Montana. What I remember about this “sight picture,” as it’s called, is the way the runway appeared to be almost an extension of Chester’s main street. The runway is what looks like a short street, just beyond the town and paralleling the highway.
Deb will be writing more about Chester and why we went there, which involved its surprising role in the arts.
Congratulations again to Riley Roberts. Next, on to instrument training! If you haven’t read it already, be sure to buy, read, and re-read the timeless classic of airmanship, Wolfgang Langewiesche’s Stick and Rudder. It was published in 1944 (by the late father of my friend and former Atlantic colleague William Langewiesche) and seems as if it could have been written yesterday. It’s a good idea to read The Killing Zonetoo—the survival guide to the first ~250 hours as a pilot. Fly safely, so you can have the longest possible span through which to observe these sights.
Just when I think the series is coming to a close, we get an especially great email from a reader:
My work has taken me to Barrow, Alaska, on several occasions over the years. This photo was shot immediately after taking off from Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Barrow. The west end of the runway ends close to the Chukchi Sea, and the view in this photo is looking southwest along that coast. Barrow is behind the aircraft, not visible in this view. The landing gear is not yet fully retracted and we are already turning toward Fairbanks, our next stop.
The most significant attribute of this photo is that it was taken on October 2, 2014, and there is no sea ice in sight.
Sea ice up to the shore protects the shore from erosion during storms. Of all the months of the year, October has warmed most above the historic normal in Barrow (pdf). The October departure from the normal between 1979 and 2012 was 7.2 degrees Celsius. Consequently, the sea freezes much later than it used to and this exposes Barrow to strong waves from autumn storms that severely erode the coastline.
The town itself, along with many other smaller settlements in northern and western Alaska, are facing existential threats from these storms. Extensive dredge and fill operations are required to replace beach sand washed away by storms. Barrow is seeking funds for a seawall, estimated to cost between $200 million and $1 billion.
Update from another reader, who’s a total buzzkill for the series:
It is fitting that this existential threat is highlighted in a thread about people flying in airplanes, given that:
Flying, particularly on long-haul flights, is so highly emitting that it dwarfs everything else on an individual carbon budget. Many climate groups have calculated that in a sustainable world each person would have a carbon allowance of two to four tons of carbon emissions annually. Any single long-haul flight nearly “instantly uses that up,” said Christian Jardine, a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University.
For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates about 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.
Let’s see some photos taken from bicycles! Depending, of course, upon how the bicyclist is fueled: “. . . the Prius-driving vegan beats the meat-eating bicyclist by about half a ton in annual carbon impact.”
I spoke too soon when I noted last night that we’ve only received aerial photos from airplanes so far:
I hope it’s not too late to submit a photo! This one was taken from the Shamu blimp over Virginia around 1990. The blimp came from SeaWorld to Manassas Airport to provide camera services for a University of Virginia football game. I was lucky enough to snag a seat on a practice flight the day before the game. We took off from Manassas and cruised over the Virginia countryside to Charlottesville. We orbited the stadium for a bit, then flew over Monticello, and basically had a beautiful sightseeing tour over the Valley of Virginia in the fine fall weather.
At one point, we were joined by the friendly little biplane in my picture. (In the background is the Blue Ridge, or maybe it’s the Alleghenies...) We were in the air for about six hours, and after seeing a beautiful sunset, we landed by the light of the full Harvest Moon. A magical flight …
Anyway, I doubt you’ll see many more contemporary shots of a biplane in flight, taken from an airship.
In our aerial series so far, we have mostly seen photos from commercial airplanes flying tens of thousands of feet above the ground, but some were taken from smaller private planes and even the very top of the Empire State building. None from a helicopter yet, so here’s a photo I took hovering above a Salt Lake City suburb en route to the Canyons ski resort just over the horizon. My stepbrother at the time (February 2011) was a helicopter pilot working the season in Park City, flying backcountry skiers up and down the mountain. I nearly got a free seat when one of the heli-skiers cancelled at the last minute, but someone working at the resort scooped it up instead. I did, however, get this solo ride during my stepbrother’s half-hour commute from the hangar in Salt Lake City, landing right on the ski slope. The coolest thing about this photo is the whirring helicopter blades caught in a freeze frame.
This was a 6am flight into NYC after getting stuck in Syracuse for work the night before due to weather. We’re cutting across Manhattan before looping around to LGA. Central Park, Hudson River, and the GW Bridge are all visible.
As an economics student with a passion for amateur photography, I’ve been thrilled with this unique supplement to James Fallows’s excellent work on the resilience and diligence of the American people!
I took this early-morning photo of Manhattan as we made our crescent descent into LaGuardia this past January. The interplay between the dark clouds and the morning glow reflected the state of my emotions at the time. I made the trip to the city for two reasons: Firstly, I needed an expedited visa in order to return to the UK for my yearlong study abroad, and secondly, a friend and I were to begin a pre-semester international journey from JFK a day later. Obtaining the visa was essential, and as life would have it, I was desperately falling for this particular friend (whom I had not seen in person for over six months). Looking out the left-side window at the glimmering One World Trade Center, it was impossible not to project my hopes and fears onto “the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” From the air, at least, the city and its background seemed to perfectly reflect the issues swirling in my head.
As I type this note from the English countryside months later, I’m relieved and elated to report that I got the visa—and the girl.
As our series starts to wind down, here’s one of many mountain views emailed in by readers:
It’s always a treat to fly between Southern California and Seattle, as it affords some spectacular views of the Sierras and the Cascade Range along the way (when clouds aren’t in the way)! This view of Mount St. Helens was taken in March 2014 on the southbound journey home. Sadly I only had my phone with me at the time, but the low sun angle made for some cool highlights off the water and the wing. The new dome is just barely visible inside of the large crater.
Here are a few photos I took during a trip up the Chicago Lakeshore Drive VFR corridor on St. Patrick’s Day 2014. It had been a brutal winter with the Great Lakes nearly completely frozen in February. By mid-March, there were still ice floes crowding the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Brrr…
The weather was clear and sunny, and it was a unique look at the Windy City on a clear and cold day. Flying at 1000ft-1200ft AGL right next to the Chicago Skyline and under the Class Bravo airspace for Chicago O’Hare (ORD) is always a special treat—one of the wonderful things about the U.S. general aviation system.
It’s also eye-opening to fly over the industrial wastelands south of Chicago, past the centers of business and commerce, to the mansions and private golf courses north of the city lining the same lake. The distance of 20-30 miles on the same lakeshore can be worlds apart from an economic activity and wealth perspective.
Millennial movers have hastened the growth of left-leaning metros in southern red states, like Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. It could be the biggest political story of the 2020s.
Liberals in America have a density problem. Across the country, Democrats dominate in cities, racking up excessive margins in urban cores while narrowly losing in suburban districts and sparser states. Because of their uneven distribution of votes, the party consistently loses federal elections despite winning the popular vote.
The most famous case was in 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost the election despite her 2.4-million-vote margin. Clinton carried Manhattan and Brooklyn by approximately 1 million ballots—more than Donald Trump’s margins of victory in the states of Florida, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined.
But 2016 wasn’t a fluke. Neither was 2000, when Al Gore lost the election despite winning 500,000 more votes. A recent paper from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin concluded that Republicans are expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
The U.S. is in the top tier of house sizes internationally—and it’s not just because of McMansions.
America is a place defined by bigness. It is infamous, both within its borders and abroad, for the size of its cars, its portions, its defense budget—and its houses.
Rightly so: U.S. houses are among the biggest—if not the biggest—in the world. According to the real-estate firms Zillow and Redfin, the median size of an American single-family home is in the neighborhood of 1,600 or 1,650 square feet. About five years ago, Sonia A. Hirt, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at the University of Georgia, was working on a book about land-use patterns in the U.S., and when she tracked down the average size of dwellings for about two dozen countries, the U.S. came out on top. Her comparisons were rough because she’d cobbled together her data from various sources, but she found that American living spaces had a good 600 to 800 square feet on most of the competition.
In the past year, I’ve been on a mission to pester as many people in my life as possible. The first victim was my editor, whom I abruptly asked one morning to stop messaging me about story ideas on our office’s chat platform, Slack. Instead, I said, let’s talk the ideas out over the phone. I soon did the same thing to a friend who’d texted to discuss a job offer he’d just received. A few weeks later, when another friend texted me for New York City apartment-hunting tips, I asked her my new favorite question in return: Do you want to give me a call?
The phone call has lost its primacy in American communication. By 2014, texting had become more common for Americans under 50. The popularity of text-based communication tools such as WhatsApp and Instagram direct messaging has exploded since. People currently in their 20s and 30s, in particular, have developed a reputation for being allergic to phone calls. The phone call, like chain restaurants and golf, is among the cultural institutions that Millennials might murder.
The Guardian twisted the social-justice concept to diminish David Cameron’s grief.
A leading British newspaper was forced to check its callousness this week when readers objected to the best example yet of how “privilege” discourse has spun out of control.
Understanding The Guardian’s error in judgment requires some background information. Thirty years ago, when the feminist academic Peggy McIntosh published White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, she hoped the book would spur readers to self-reflection, enhancing their capacity for empathy and compassion. “What I believe is that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life,” she once commented. “We’re all put ahead and behind by the circumstances of our birth. We all have a combination of both. And it changes minute by minute, depending on where we are.”
The Liberal Democrats are gambling on the realignment of British politics.
BOURNEMOUTH, England—Standing onstage in front of her party faithful, Jo Swinson had a surprise. At the opening rally of the Liberal Democrats’ conference here at the British seaside, the crowd knew what to expect—all week, rumors had been buzzing that they would be joined by a high-profile defector from a rival party—but they didn’t know whom to expect. Even their own members of Parliament were kept in the dark until half an hour before the announcement.
Swinson, the party’s newly elected 39-year-old leader, said the person she was introducing was “someone who has stood up for liberal values,” and moments later, Sam Gyimah bounded up onstage. Gyimah, born in Britain and raised in Ghana, had once been hailed as the future of the Conservatives—the party of Boris Johnson, which is furiously trying to pull Britain out of the European Union. Just three months ago, in fact, Gyimah had stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
For decades, a landmark brain study fed speculation about whether we control our own actions. It seems to have made a classic mistake.
The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps. In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people’s brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists’ lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit.
The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action.
President Trump’s threats of retaliation for strikes on Saudi oil facilities seem premature.
President Donald Trump says the United States is “locked and loaded” to retaliate against whoever struck Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries on Saturday. But before American forces rain “fire and fury” on Iran, some urgent questions must be answered.
Are we quite sure that Iran is the culprit?
Iranian culpability certainly seems the most plausible explanation for the refinery attack. But given the utter untrustworthiness of both the Trump presidency and Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi government, it seems wise to demand certainty, not plausibility. How confident are U.S. analysts that the attack was ordered from Tehran, rather than by an Iranian proxy acting for its own motives?
A new trove of data may allow us to replace a trickle-down approach with more precise efforts.
The global economic system works very well for some people, including us. It hardly works at all for millions of others. Those for whom it doesn’t work are robbed of the opportunity to lead the life they want, and that is unjust.
We believe that every life has equal value. That’s why we believe in progressive taxes and paying our fair share to support government programs, and it’s why we are giving virtually all of our money away. We want to narrow inequality. But even though the motive for our philanthropy in the United States and around the world is the same, the way we put it into practice is not.
Most of our philanthropy in the United States is focused on public education. A great school is a key to success, but you’re less likely to go to one if you’re a student of color, low income, or both. We hope to help change those odds by improving schools. Expanding educational opportunity is not a silver-bullet solution to economic inequality—for example, it doesn’t address the fact that only one in five senior leaders at U.S. companies is a woman, and that only one in 25 is a woman of color—but it’s a start. And just last year, we launched a complementary effort to help organizations across the country attack some of the root causes of poverty.