Reporter's Notebook

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.)

Show None Newer Notes
Adam Feiges

A reader, inspired by the Orbital View last week of a braided river carrying the runoff of a small New Zealand glacier, merges two regular features in Notes:

Here is a view of the Missouri River, just north of Kansas City, that illustrates the runoff from a continental-sized glacier. The Missouri is “underfit,” meaning that the modern stream flows through a valley that was created by an ancestral river many times its present size.

The modern-day Missouri River, which has been channelized by a massive civil engineering project aimed at promoting navigation and flood control, is dwarfed by its valley, which cuts a massive scar across the middle of the country that in places is over 25 miles wide. Here it averages about 10 miles across.

As the last glacier receded, its melt-water would have filled the valley from rim to rim during the summer months. During the winter, its flow slowed down and a braided stream like the one in New Zealand left the valley mostly sand. Tremendous spring winds, created in part by the temperature variation over the diminished glacier to the northeast, created epic sandstorms that deposited several hundred feet of fine grained silt on the eastern border of the river valley. Ten thousand years of erosion have created the Loess Hills, a relatively unique geologic feature of sharp sided mounds without a rock anywhere.

    Ramakrishnan Chirayathumadom

    Our reader Rama, who’s already given us two gorgeous views above Playa Flamenco and Lake Chelan, sends his best one yet:

    This is one of my favorites, taken six years ago while flying to the Dry Tortugas from Key West. We’re flying over the sea of mud, where the sea still holds the secrets of hidden treasures from Spanish shipwrecks in the area.

    He adds, “You can see the shadow of our seaplane.” That detail really makes it. Speaking of plane shadows, here’s another one to add to our growing collection:

      Very low clouds:

      Andrew Lopez

      Our reader’s caption:

      I snapped this shot (using my phone) of the Charlotte skyline shortly after we had taken off on a flight to Tampa in January 2015. Not a very exciting story, but I thought it turned out to be a cool picture.  

      Eric ZImmerman

      Our aerial feature gets a new kind of craft:

      Not sure if I’ve missed it, but with all the piston, turbo, jet, land, and seaplane [and blimp! and paraglider! and helicopter! and skyscraper!] photos, I don’t think I've seen one from a glider! Here’s one I took a few years ago over Boulder, Colorado, on aerotow behind a Super Cub on a winter afternoon. Note the critical instrument visible on the right: the humble yaw string.

      What’s a yaw string?

      Wikimedia
      Also known as a slip string, it’s a simple device for indicating a slip or skid in an aircraft in flight. It performs the same function as the slip-skid indicator ball, but is more sensitive, and does not require the pilot to look down at the instrument panel.[1] Technically, it measures sideslip angle, not yaw angle,[2] but this indicates how the aircraft must be yawed to return the sideslip angle to zero. It is typically constructed from a short piece or tuft of yarn placed in the free air stream where it is visible to the pilot.[3]

      The yaw string is considered a primary flight reference instrument on gliders, which must be flown with near zero sideslip angle to reduce drag as much as possible. It is valued for its high sensitivity, and the fact that it is presented in a head-up display. Even the most sophisticated modern racing sailplanes are fitted with yaw strings by their pilots, who reference them constantly throughout the flight.

      Lucas Gockel

      On the tail of that glider we posted yesterday, here is yet another form of aircraft for the series:

      Does drone photography qualify for “America by Air”? This was taken on 3/29/2016 while I was flying for the Anniston Army Depot. (Don’t worry, the depot itself is out of frame, to the left—although eagle-eyed viewers may notice some M113 variants to the left.) The stand of cleared trees in the bottom left is to become a solar power site, which is why I was out there.

      The mountain in the picture is Coldwater Mountain, site of silver-level mountain biking trails and a natural spring which provides much of the community its water. Although not visible, behind Coldwater Mountain lies Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s highest peak (the range it is a part of is visible in the background). On the other side of Coldwater are the cities of Anniston and Oxford, nestled in a valley.

      The picture itself isn’t one of masterful composition, but both the colors and natural beauty strike me.

      Lucas double-checked with the Army about posting and followed up:

      They did clear the picture for publication and sent along some general information about the depot in case your readers wanted some additional information. I’ve quoted them here:

      Alex Gilman-Smith

      From a “longtime listener, first time caller”:

      I’m really enjoying your America by Air feature and thought you might enjoy these pictures I grabbed during a Delta 837 flight from Atlanta to Honolulu. The flight takes off around 11 AM (EST) and everyone was asleep by the time things got exciting, around 1 PM (EST). At this point the entire flight is dark and silent except for my wide-open window and my excited squealing as we fly over the start of Glen Canyon (picture #1) on through southern Utah (#2). I think southern Utah is some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen from the air, not to mention the ground, and I definitely recommend grabbing a window seat on the left-hand side if you ever get to take this trip.

      Glen Canyon is in the news this month for a momentous announcement: “This Will Be the Biggest Dam-Removal Project in History,” as National Geographic’s Sarah Gilman puts it:

      Spenser Harrison

      One of our submission guidelines reads, “Low-flying planes or other craft, from which you can see details on the ground, are ideal”—which this reader really took to heart:

      I love your America by Air series. Here’s a low pass over a breaking wave from a helicopter in Malibu, California.

      Pass along your own aerial pic via hello@theatlantic.com, especially if you can add some turf to this reader’s surf. How about a crop-duster?

      From reader Glenn in Haymarket, Virginia, who previously submitted this perilous shot from a volcano:

      This time, instead of a biplane over Kilaeua, it’s a helicopter over Kauai, specifically the Na Pali Coast, a chain of mountains in the northwest of Kauai. This picture shows a good example of the popup waterfalls you get after rain showers in the islands.

      The zoomed-out views of that coastline are spectacular.

      Ramakrishnan Chirayathumadom

      Ideally we want to see part of the aircraft in these aerial photos, but this one from reader Rama is way too good to pass up:

      Here’s a favorite of mine taken four years ago in the Outer Banks. This is Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The Light at Cape Hatteras gets all the attention, being the tallest in the U.S., but Cape Lookout Lighthouse is my favorite. The beauty of the Outer Banks and its lighthouses can be appreciated best from above. This was on a custom lighthouse tour that took us around six iconic lights of the OBX.

      My family and I used to vacation once a year in nearby Duck when I was in middle school, so the Outer Banks looms large in my memory. If you, like Rama, have a great aerial photo from the OBX to share, or in general have a memorable view above your childhood vacation spot, please send: hello@theatlantic.com (submission guidelines here).

      Christopher Bova

      A reader has the straightforward details:

      Flying with my daughter over the Hudson River at 800 ft. in a Grumman AA5B Tiger. She took the photo of downtown NYC.

      A gorgeous view of soft pastels. But I hope there comes a day when I can completely appreciate this skyline of a city where I lived and loved for nearly a decade without thinking of that dark chapter.

      Alex Gilman-Smith

      Alex Gilman-Smith, who previously submitted these great canyon shots from the Southwest, also has a gorgeous one from Hawaii:

      I’m really enjoying your America by Air series and I thought you might enjoy these pictures I grabbed during a Delta 837 flight from Atlanta to Honolulu. After a lot of blue, we reached Hawaii, where I took this picture of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.

      What’s Diamond Head?

      It’s the name of a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu and known to Hawaiians as Lēʻahi, most likely from lae 'browridge, promontory’ plus ʻahi 'tuna' because the shape of the ridgeline resembles the shape of a tuna’s dorsal fin. Its English name was given by British sailors in the 19th century, who mistook calcite crystals on the adjacent beach for diamonds.

      Diamond Head is part of the system of cones, vents, and their associated eruption flows that are collectively known to geologists as the Honolulu Volcanic Series, eruptions from the Koʻolau Volcano that took place long after the volcano formed and had gone dormant.

      Here’s a closer look:

      Wikimedia

      Shyam Jha

      Our reader’s caption:

      This picture was taken from my Cirrus SR22 (same airplane as Jim Fallows’) flying over Salt Lake City at about a mile high. We were flying back from Ogden, UT to my home in Tucson AZ, via a fuel stop in Bryce Canyon. I have many more photos, if you are interested.

      We’re definitely interested in more photos, even if you’ve already had one posted: hello@theatlantic.com (submission guidelines here). The series has been such a great way to learn about places all over the U.S. Here’s a bit about the mountains above, the Wasatch Range:

      The mountains were a vital source of water, timber, and granite for early settlers. Today, 85% of Utah’s population lives within 15 miles (24 km) of the Wasatch Range, mainly in the valleys just to the west. This concentration is known as the Wasatch Front and has a population of just over 2,000,000 residents.