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.)
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.
Donald Trump sees everything—even his own children—as a reflection of himself.
The moments after your first child is born are humbling and overwhelming, the emotional equivalent of staring directly into the sun. You realize that you are suddenly responsible for a human life that you helped create, a sliver of two souls smuggled into another body, a person you will love and protect desperately for the rest of your life.
Shortly after Donald and Ivana Trump’s son was born, however, the future president had an unusual concern for a parent: What if this kid grows up and embarasses me?
“What should we name him?” Donald asked, according to Ivana’s memoir, Raising Trump. When Ivana suggested Donald Jr., the real-estate heir responded, “What if he is a loser?”
That anecdote helps explain one of the more memorable exchanges in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as well as Trump’s approach to governance. The president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, sought to criticize Trump’s remarks about U.S. service members being “losers,” as first reported by The Atlantic. In doing so, Biden brought up his late son, Beau, who died of a brain tumor after earning a Bronze Star in the Army National Guard.
There’s something strange about this coronavirus pandemic. Even after months of extensive research by the global scientific community, many questions remain open.
Why, for instance, was there such an enormous death toll in northern Italy, but not the rest of the country? Just three contiguous regions in northern Italy have 25,000 of the country’s nearly 36,000 total deaths; just one region, Lombardy, has about 17,000 deaths. Almost all of these were concentrated in the first few months of the outbreak. What happened in Quito, Ecuador, in April, when so many thousands died so quickly that bodies were abandoned in the sidewalks and streets? Why, in the spring of 2020, did so few cities account for a substantial portion of global deaths, while many others with similar density, weather, age distribution, and travel patterns were spared? What can we really learn from Sweden, hailed as a great success by some because of its low case counts and deaths as the rest of Europe experiences a second wave, and as a big failure by others because it did not lock down and suffered excessive death rates earlier in the pandemic? Why did widespread predictions of catastrophe in Japan not bear out? The baffling examples go on.
An Atlantic investigation reveals who they are and what they might do on Election Day.
Photographs by Philip Montgomery
Image above:Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers
Stewart Rhodes wasliving his vision of the future. On television, American cities were burning, while on the internet, rumors warned that antifa bands were coming to terrorize the suburbs. Rhodes was driving around South Texas, getting ready for them. He answered his phone. “Let’s not fuck around,” he said. “We’ve descended into civil war.”
It was a Friday evening in June. Rhodes, 55, is a stocky man with a gray buzz cut, a wardrobe of tactical-casual attire, and a black eye patch. With him in his pickup were a pistol and a dusty black hat with the gold logo of the Oath Keepers, a militant group that has drawn in thousands of people from the military and law-enforcement communities.
I left with a dark feeling that our country was entering a dangerous chapter.
The digital clock next to my bed showed 4:06 a.m. As usual, my body clock had stirred me awake before my bedside radio alarm was set to go off, nine minutes later. I stared motionless at the pitch-black ceiling for a few minutes. With some effort and greater discomfort, I bent and stretched for a minute or two more before swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I shut off the alarm before it went off and then tiptoed awkwardly through the darkness to the bathroom, hoping not to stumble and wake my wife, Kathy, in the process. I had taken the same steps so many times over the preceding decades, I could have done it in my sleep. I probably did many times.
My eyes adjusted to the glare of the bathroom lights and I squinted at my reflection in the mirror. The Brennan genes had long coursed through my face, but I noticed something very different that morning. I could see my father’s deep-set eyes, tired yet piercing, looking straight into mine. “You can do it, John,” they seemed to be saying. “You can do it.” The tears welled up in my eyes, as the memory of my father’s life and the example he set filled me with deep pride and overwhelming sadness at the same time. The mere thought of briefing President-elect Donald Trump that afternoon and then gathering with my family a few short hours later at the wake of my father—the moral, ethical, and intellectual antithesis of Trump—jarred my very soul.
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
Former aides say that in private, the president has spoken with cynicism and contempt about believers.
One day in 2015, Donald Trump beckoned Michael Cohen, his longtime confidant and personal attorney, into his office. Trump was brandishing a printout of an article about an Atlanta-based megachurch pastor trying to raise $60 million from his flock to buy a private jet. Trump knew the preacher personally—Creflo Dollar had been among a group of evangelical figures who visited him in 2011 while he was first exploring a presidential bid. During the meeting, Trump had reverently bowed his head in prayer while the pastors laid hands on him. Now he was gleefully reciting the impious details of Dollar’s quest for a Gulfstream G650.
Trump seemed delighted by the “scam,” Cohen recalled to me, and eager to highlight that the pastor was “full of shit.”
In a new book, former CIA Director John Brennan traces how he came to believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. There’s still more about Russia that worries him.
The part thatI wasn’t expecting, sitting at a picnic table with the former CIA director near the center of a working farm with goats and chickens and a cider barn, was when a man interrupted us—just as we were starting to talk about Barack Obama’s initial reaction to intelligence reports of Russian election hacking—and asked if we could help him jump his car battery. He had no idea that this was John Brennan climbing over the fence in his oxfords, showing him how to hook up the cables, making sure he wasn’t going far to get home, and revving the engine until the pale-blue Subaru started again.
Or maybe he did, and this was all some op out of The Americans. The whole afternoon felt more like pseudo-spycraft than a usual interview. Meet in a parking lot in suburban Virginia. Trust that the place really is called Frying Pan Farm Park. Assume that all the kids and their parents running around have no clue that a person who had access to America’s top-secret information was sitting there explaining the difference between compromise and kompromat.
If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
Illustrations by Guillem Casasús / Renderings by Borja Alegre
There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.
The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.
The president’s favorite debate tactic was a foundational form of disrespect—levied against his opponent as well as the nation.
There’s a story that Donald Trump tells, in The Art of the Deal, about playing with his brother Robert when they were kids. Each boy had his own set of blocks. Then Donald decided—in a whim that he suggests portended his future career—to turn the toys into a real-estate property. “I ended up using all of my blocks, and then all of his, and when I was done, I’d created a beautiful building,” Trump writes. “I liked it so much that I glued the whole thing together. And that was the end of Robert’s blocks.”
I thought of that story last night, as President Trump, having long since graduated to other forms of perfidy, met former Vice President Joe Biden in an event that was sold as a “debate” but was in practice one more parable about Trump’s great appetite for destruction. Over the course of the event, the president refused, once again, to condemn white supremacists. He told a far-right group known to engage in armed violence at protests to “stand back, and stand by.” He insulted Hunter Biden, before a national audience, to the father of Hunter Biden. As usual, Trump weaponized his words. But he also wreaked havoc through the words that were not said: Trump interrupted both Joe Biden and the event’s moderator, Chris Wallace, at nearly every turn. He used this rare moment of mass attention not to communicate with a weary public, but instead to sow empty chaos. He filibustered his own debate. The whole thing was a “shitshow,” CNN’s Dana Bash said, correctly. It was an insult to the memory of the more than 200,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. It was an insult to the Americans who took time out of their hectic lives to listen to the men who seek to lead them. It was Donald Trump, taking the building blocks of a democracy and making them unusable for anyone else.
Donald Trump made it so, and Chris Wallace let him.
The 90-minute spectacle tonight calls into question the value of having any “debates” of this sort ever again. No one knows more about public life than he or she did before this disaster began; some people know less; and everyone feels and looks worse.
Start with the supposed moderator, Chris Wallace. It became obvious five minutes in that Donald Trump’s strategy was to interrupt, yell, insult, and disrupt as often as he could. This is a strategy that can work only if no one gets in the way of it, and Chris Wallace just let it go on. Maybe Wallace was caught by surprise by Trump’s bellicosity and primate-dominance. (But—c’mon.) Even so, two or three minutes of this should have been enough to adjust. He didn’t adjust. And he let Trump roll over him.