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.
For weeks, Americans looked on as other countries grappled with case reports of rare, sometimes fatal blood abnormalities among those who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. That vaccine has not yet been authorized by the FDA, so restrictions on its use throughout Europe did not get that much attention in the United States. But Americans experienced a rude awakening this week when public-health officials called for a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after a few cases of the same, unusual blood-clotting syndrome turned up among the millions of people in the country who have received it.
The world is now engaged in a vaccination program unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, and with it, unprecedented scrutiny of ultra-rare but dangerous side effects. An estimated 852 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across 154 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg. Last week, the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines in the European Union, concluded that the unusual clotting events were indeed a side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine; by that point, more than 220 cases of dangerous blood abnormalities had been identified. Only half a dozen cases have been documented so far among Americans vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and a causal link has not yet been established. But the latest news suggests that the scope of this problem might be changing.
Concerns about blood clots with Johnson & Johnson underscore just how lucky Americans are to have the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
A year ago, when the United States decided to go big on vaccines, it bet on nearly every horse, investing in a spectrum of technologies. The safest bets, in a way, repurposed the technology behind existing vaccines, such as protein-based ones for tetanus or hepatitis B. The medium bets were on vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which use adenovirus vectors, a technology that had been tested before but not deployed on a large scale. The long shots were based on the use of mRNA, the newest and most unproven technology.
The protein-based vaccines have moved too slowly to matter so far. J&J’s and AstraZeneca’s vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19—but a small number of recipients have developed a rare type of blood clot that appears to be linked to the adenovirus technology and may ultimately limit those shots’ use. Meanwhile, with more than 180 million doses administered in the U.S, the mRNA vaccines have proved astonishingly effective and extremely safe. The unusual blood clots have not appeared with Pfizer’s or Moderna’s mRNA technology. A year later, the risky bet definitely looks like a good one.
Beth Van Duyne was at the center of a controversy over Sharia law. Now she represents a congressional district Biden won.
In 2015, in the Dallas suburb of Irving, the fates of two very different Texans collided.
One was 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a precocious kid in a NASA T-shirt who had built a clock out of spare parts and brought it to school in a pencil case. His English teacher decided it might be a bomb, and the school called the police, who arrested Mohamed for bringing in a “hoax bomb.” Because Mohamed’s family was part of Irving’s large Muslim minority, many liberals saw this as a baseless case of Islamophobia.
The other Texan was Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, a blond 44-year-old with Disney-princess bone structure. She defended Mohamed’s arrest on Facebook, then went on The Glenn Beck Program to repeat the “hoax bomb” lie and complain that the child hadn’t given police enough information. “We’ve heard more from the media than the child ever released to the police when we were asking him questions,” she said calmly.
Some of the winning entries in this year’s annual photo competition
The winning entries of the annual World Press Photo Contest have just been announced. This year, according to organizers, 74,470 images were submitted for judging, made by 4,315 photographers from 130 different countries. Winners in eight categories were announced, including Contemporary Issues, Environment, General News, Long-Term Projects, Nature, Portraits, Sports, and Spot News. World Press Photo has once more been kind enough to allow me to share some of this year’s winning photos here with you.
Just months after leaving office, the former president has all but disappeared.
The president was insistent as he left office: “We’re not going anywhere.” It had been a turbulent end of the presidency—impeachment, appalling pardons, and a lengthy dispute over the outcome of the presidential election—but he knew that he had a devoted following, and he had every intention to remain a force in politics. And not just him: His family was eager to cash in on his electoral success, too. Usually a former president laid low for a while after leaving office. He wasn’t going to do that. He’d remain a political force, and the dominant figure in his party.
But the plan didn’t go well. The president sat at his new home—he had decamped from his longtime home state—guzzling Diet Cokes and calling friends to rage about how unfairly he’d been treated and complain about overzealous prosecutors. “You get tired of listening to it,” one friend confessed.
The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.
Last week, the CDC acknowledged what many of us have been saying for almost nine months about cleaning surfaces to prevent transmission by touch of the coronavirus: It’s pure hygiene theater.
“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors,” the CDC concluded, “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.” In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.
In 1974, John Patterson was abducted by the People’s Liberation Army of Mexico—a group no one had heard of before. The kidnappers wanted $500,000, and insisted that Patterson’s wife deliver the ransom.
Illustrations by Leonardo Santamaria
This article was published online on April 15, 2021.
The Motel El Encanto in Hermosillo, Mexico, served a lavish breakfast that John and Andra Patterson liked to eat on the tiled deck near their suite. The couple would discuss the day ahead over fresh pineapple and pan dulces while their 4-year-old daughter, Julia, watched the gray cat that skulked about the motel’s Spanish arches.
On the morning of March 22, 1974, the Pattersons’ breakfast chatter centered on their search for a permanent home. They were nearing their two-month anniversary of living in Hermosillo, where John was a junior diplomat at the American consulate, and the motel was feeling cramped.
After breakfast, Andra dropped John off at work. Because this was his first posting as a member of the United States Foreign Service, the 31-year-old Patterson had been given an unglamorous job: He was a vice consul responsible for promoting trade between the U.S. and Mexico, which on this particular Friday meant driving out to meet with a group of ranchers who hoped to improve their yield of beef.
The joys of money are nothing without other people.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Arthur C. Brooks will discuss the science of happiness live at 11 a.m. ET on May 20. Register for In Pursuit of Happiness here.
In 2010, two Nobel laureates in economics published a paper that created a tidal wave of interest both inside and outside academia. With careful data analysis, the researchers showed that people believe the quality of their lives will increase as they earn more, and their feelings do improve with additional money at low income levels. But the well-being they experience flattens out at around $75,000 in annual income (about $92,000 in today’s dollars). The news materially affected people’s lives—especially the part about happiness rising up to about $75,000: In the most high-profile example, the CEO of a Seattle-based credit-card-payment company raised his employees’ minimum salary to $70,000 (and lowered his own salary to that level) after reading the paper.
After Puerto Rico’s Arecibo telescope collapsed late last year, the researchers who depended on it are in a tough position.
In the hills of China’s Guizhou province, a natural rock bowl cradles the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. This instrument, called FAST—the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope—is, as its name suggests, 500 meters, or about 1,640 feet, across, a size that helps scientists detect more distant and fainter objects. And in late March, FAST began accepting scientific proposals from international astronomers.
The timing couldn’t have been better. In August 2020, a support cable on the next-largest telescope of this sort—part of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the only telescope of its class in the United States—snapped. Another cable followed a few months later. Then, in December, with a puff of dust, the massive instrument platform that hung above the telescope crashed down, destroying the 305-meter dish.
In early March 2020, Rick Phillips, 63, and his wife, Sheryl Phillips, quietly cloistered themselves in their Indianapolis home. They swore off markets, movie theaters, the gym, and, hardest of all, visits with their three young grandchildren. This April, three weeks after receiving her second shot of Pfizer’s vaccine, Sheryl broke her social fast and walked into a grocery store for the first time since last spring. Rick has yet to join her. He received his shots on the same days his wife received hers. By official standards, he, too, can count himself as fully vaccinated. But he feels that he cannot act as though he is. “I personally remain scared to death,” he told me.
Rick has rheumatoid arthritis, which once rendered him “barely able to walk across the room,” he said. He now treats the condition with an intensely immunosuppressive drug that strips his body of the ability to churn out disease-fighting antibodies. Rick credits the treatment with changing his life. But it might also keep him from developing lasting defenses against COVID-19.