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.)
Here’s a photo of Lake Bryan I took flying over beautiful Bryan, Texas. I love shooting photographs over the cowling of my Cessna 152 because of the effect that the moving propeller creates in the lens, like drifting horizontal tildes [ ~ ] cutting into the frame. Of course, you can’t see this effect with the naked eye, but it always shows up on a digital photo. As a Mexican-American pilot, I like to think of the tildes as benevolent latinate characters greeting me in the sky. Think Super Mario and those friendly clouds.
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.
The former president’s message at his Arizona rally was as clear as it was dishonest: He didn’t lose to Joe Biden in 2020, and he’ll spend the next year working to elect Republicans who agree.
FLORENCE, Ariz.—Tonight, deep in the Arizona desert, thousands of people chanted for Donald Trump. They had braved the wind for hours—some waited the entire day—just to get a glimpse of the defeated former president. And when he finally appeared on stage, as Lee Greenwood played from the loudspeakers, the crowd roared as though Trump were still the commander in chief. To many of them, he is.
“I ran twice and we won twice,” Trump told his fans. “This crowd is a massive symbol of what took place, because people are hungry for the truth. They want their country back.”
Tonight’s rally was Trump’s first public event since July. On paper, the gathering was meant as his response to the anniversary of January 6, as well as an unofficial kickoff for his efforts to support Republicans in the midterm elections. But the event also served as the soft launch of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. Although he didn’t say the words, the former president seems poised to run in two years—“Make America great again again … again,” he joked to the crowd—and tonight, his message was as clear as it was dishonest: He didn’t lose to Joe Biden in 2020, and he’ll spend the next year working to elect Republicans who agree.
Today’s norms of responsiveness are ridiculous. We shouldn’t apologize for failing to meet them.
At first, being reachable all the time felt good. To professionals who started using BlackBerries 20 years ago to conduct business on the go, it registered as a superpower. “They felt like masters of the universe,” Melissa Mazmanian, an informatics professor at UC Irvine who studied the devices’ uptake in the early 2000s, told me. But as more people got mobile devices, responding to messages anytime became the norm among co-workers as well as friends and loved ones. The superpower morphed into an obligation.
This is an evolution that Mazmanian refers to as the “spiral of expectations.” When communication technology makes a new thing (like responding on the go) possible, doing that thing can be a way for people to signal how dedicated they are as workers or family members—and, crucially, not doing that thing can suggest that they aren’t dedicated enough. Now when people feel they haven’t responded sufficiently quickly, they think they owe their correspondent an apology.
I thought I was done dating. But after moving across the country, I had to start again—this time, in search of platonic love.
Thirty-seven minutes after sitting down to lunch, Francesca and I hugged goodbye in a strip-mall parking lot. We were both fairly certain, I think, that we would not be seeing each other again. The high-school classmate of a friend’s friend’s husband, she’d been such a promising friendship prospect: She was a professional violinist and fellow New Yorker who was writing her dissertation on pollen. But I was awkward, smiling too much and saying things like “That’s so funny” in lieu of actual laughter, while Francesca (not her real name) was overworked and seemed full of derision for Bozeman, Montana, the town to which I had just moved, and from which she and her husband were determined to flee.
Right now, there is a hole in my living room. It was not there last week. We’ve tried to cover it up, but nothing seems to work. Rearranging the furniture somehow only makes the hole grow. The space, which once radiated a hopeful glow, now feels hollow. When I stare at this hole, I begin to feel as if a light has gone out in the world. Actually, not just one, many. And that’s because they have.
I am, of course, talking about my Christmas tree (RIP).
If you live in one of the 94 million homes or apartments that purchased or displayed a tree this holiday season, then maybe you feel the same melancholy that I do now. It’s grim out there. Two weeks ago, my street was a Griswoldian wonderland with twinkling lights silhouetting the eaves of my neighbors’ houses and robust-looking conifers standing proudly in their windows. Now my street is an evergreen graveyard with damp, sickly looking pines discarded by the side of the road, half buried in the driven slush.
The top player in men’s tennis is yet another anti-vaccine athlete who’d rather create chaos than get a shot.
After a dramatic weeklong fight with the world’s top men’s tennis player, Australia’s immigration authorities wisely decided to revoke Novak Djokovic’s visa a second time because he flouted the country’s COVID-19 policies. Although the Australian authorities and tennis officials aren’t blameless, this is a huge, self-inflicted public-relations crisis for Djokovic that has smeared his legacy.
Climate change is a tough subject for any film, let alone a satire.
Adam McKay’s disaster satire Don’t Look Up is many things at once: a parable of our distracted society, a primal scream of a warning, and a broad comedy from the writer/director of Anchorman. Such a delicate balance has made the star-studded Netflix film a polarizing movie.
Critics, audiences, and activists have both savaged and praised the movie, and the backlash has highlighted the difficulty of conveying an urgent message with comedy. Has political satire lost its power? Or has reality become so absurd that it’s now beyond parody?
That challenge was evident in the making of Don’t Look Up. As McKay told David Sims, he wrote the story about a planet-killing comet (and our society’s inability to act collectively to stop it) as a climate-change metaphor. But after the script was done, production shut down for the pandemic and he watched the follies of a real-life disaster surpass his fictional one.
SNL’s inaugural episode of 2022 turned to dark, and often awkward, absurdity to explain our exasperating moment.
Saturday Night Live’s first episode of 2022 attempted to make up for the strange, empty show that ended 2021 amid the rise of the coronavirus’s Omicron variant. The cast was back, the masked audience was back, and the show, as they say, went on. But it couldn’t escape the world outside of 30 Rock’s doors.
This season has thus far blended thin political fare with dour-noted escapism, as though the pleasure of putting on a live show is more about continually agitating a bruise than finding true comedic relief. Like so many of its viewers, SNL has been waiting to turn a corner, to move past a scenario with little to laugh about. Last night’s episode felt like one long exasperated sigh. As James Austin Johnson’s Joe Biden wretchedly joked in the opening presidential address, “People got vaccinated and the pandemic got worse.”
Early cringe culture was about empathy and secondhand embarrassment. Today, being “cringe” is a serious infraction.
Take a tweet from the week after the Capitol riot in January 2021: “A Liberal insurrection would have looked very different. We would have escorted the original Broadway cast of Hamilton into the galleries. They would softly sing … as members of the GOP spewed their lies.” This was apparently intended as satire of a certain type of extremely online and cringe-inducing liberal smugness, but it came off as the thing itself and then produced more of the same. “I’ve literally been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack at work for days now,” wrote one woman. “This is EXACTLY what would’ve happened. ALL the theater kids everywhere,” wrote another.
Then the joke became real. Last week, as part of a series of public events marking one year since the January 6 riot, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced a prerecorded performance by the cast of Hamilton, singing “Dear Theodosia.” Pelosi read aloud from the song’s lyrics: “We’ll make it right for you. If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you; we’ll give the world to you.” There was no need to debate whether this was cringe (which is now an adjective, as well as a noun and verb), because cringe is a you-know-it-when-you-see-it type of thing. And these days, you can seeiteverywhere.
In Disney’s latest blockbuster, Encanto, a magical family called the Madrigals have escaped the violence and chaos of their homeland by crossing a river into an enchanted paradise that endows each with wondrous gifts that they use to protect and enhance their community. As the generations go by, however, the magic of the new world starts to fade and the family buckles under the pressure of their responsibilities while struggling to maintain the illusion that everything is fine. One grandchild, we learn, has no gift at all; another worries that she cannot keep up the appearance of perfection that is crushing her from the inside out; while another, still, panics that she is losing her superhuman strength. Luisa, the strong one, sings out her fears:
Recently I met the astronomer Pascal Oesch, an assistant professor at the University of Geneva. Professor Oesch and his colleagues share the distinction of having discovered the most distant known object, a small galaxy called GNz-11. That galaxy is so far away that its light had to travel for 13 billion years to get from there to here. I asked Professor Oesch if he felt personally connected to this tiny smudge on his computer screen. Does this faint blob feel like part of nature, part of the same world of Keats and Goethe and Emerson, where “vines that round the thatch-eves run; to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees”?
Oesch answered that he looks at such distant smudges every day. Sure, they’re part of the universe, he said. But consider the abstraction (thought I). A few exhausted photons of light from GNz-11 dropped on a photoelectric detector aboard a satellite orbiting Earth, produced a tiny electrical current that was translated into 0s and 1s, which were beamed to Earth in a radio wave. That information was then processed in data centers in New Mexico and Maryland and eventually landed on Professor Oesch’s computer screen in Geneva. These days, professional astronomers rarely look at the sky through the lens of a telescope. They sit at computer screens.