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.)
A pristine view of the city’s waterfront comes from reader Edward:
I started taking airplane photos in earnest about five years ago when it dawned on me that people, including myself, were numb to the wonders of flying. It has become a rather unpleasant ordeal in the last 15 years or so, but the wonders that speed by still amaze.
I shoot most of my window seat photos with an infrared modified camera, which helps cut through the inevitable haze at 30K+ feet. It gives a unique look, and I’ve included one sample to give you an idea (on approach to LAX). The other is a more conventional color photo over Miami, Florida.
But how colorful it is! Here’s a less scenic but still really cool shot of Miami from another mid-flight reader. Send your own, as always, to hello@.
This flight path never gets old, and the sheer amount of L.A. sprawl astonishes me. I love how there are speckles of light in every direction, like endless constellations in the night sky. (Of course, the actual constellations are blocked by the city’s smog.) As the band Thirty Seconds To Mars put it in their 2013 song, Los Angeles is truly “the land of a billion lights.”
If y’all are getting into “videos from your airplane window,” this timelapse cockpit-view of an LAX landing at twilight made the rounds a few years ago, but is as spectacular as ever.
The soundtrack does it no favors, though. So I recommend syncing the video with The Fall’s shadowy, glamorous “L.A.”:
It fits perfectly.
He’s right, and you can mute the top video and un-mute the bottom one to sync them up. If you have an aerial timelapse of your own, please send it our way: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a great example on Instagram I spotted this week from a friend of mine, Dayo Olopade, flying into San Francisco’s SFO.
Our reader Evan asked, “Any chance of a repeat, since this series still seems to be going strong?” Yes indeed—please send us your aerial pics even if you’ve submitted one already. Evan’s previous America by Air is here. His current caption:
This photo was taken from a Piper PA-28-161 Warrior just off the coast of San Diego, showing Torrey Pines golf course to the right and Torrey Pines State Park further up the coast. The beach below the golf course, Black’s Beach, is informally a nude beach, although the resolution on this shot is nowhere near high enough to require any reader warnings.
The location of this shot is roughly next to the flag for Torrey Pines Golf Course and the glider symbol (marking a “gliderport” for launching hang gliders and parasails to soar along the bluffs) in this map. The dark blue polygons show the Class B airspace, which in this case starts at 1800' for military aircraft departing out of MCAS Miramar and again at 6800' for airliners arriving into Lindbergh Field. On a VFR sightseeing flight on a nice day, pilots can stay below the class B airspace like I do here and use the air-to-air frequency to talk to and help look out for any other aircraft in the area.
Black’s Beach in San Diego is the one of the largest nude beaches in the United States and is popular with Southern Californian nudists and naturists. Originally including the current Torrey Pines State Beach, Black’s Beach was the first and only public nude beach in the country for several years in the mid-1970s. Because Black’s Beach was traditionally recognized as a clothing optional beach, nudity is tolerated for the portion of the beach that is managed by the state park.
Black’s Beach was named for the Black family who had a horse farm overlooking the beach. They sold the land, and then it was subdivided into La Jolla Farms lots. The Farms’ residents retained the Black family’s private road to the beach.
Black’s has its own website here, for all you prurient readers out there.
Hi! I’m submitting an aerial photograph of the Twin Span Bridge, which stretches across Lake Pontchartrain, connecting New Orleans and the neighboring town of Slidell. I took this on my first (and only, so far) flying lesson a few months ago. We flew out of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport, which was built in the 1930s on top of a manmade peninsula overlooking the lake.
I drove across the eastbound span of the Twin Span Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, and parts of the westbound span of the bridge were simply gone. I drove an hour through a destroyed forest, and when I looked up in the sky, I tried to imagine a thing so big that it could destroy so much.
This photo was taken leaning out the open side window of a Cessna 172. The date is July 15, 2013, and I was participating in a “day in the life of Oregon” photography project called Project Dayshoot+30. Thirty years to the day before this shot was taken, a group of photographers had captured images from around Oregon on July 15, 1983, and a reprise of the project was organized in 2013 to commemorate the original venture.
This is a photo of a tree and plant nursery near the town of Monmouth, in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. The time is approximately 8:15 PM, and the midsummer sun is finally starting to set, nicely capturing the spray of irrigation spigots on the colorful plants.
This shot is special to me for many reasons. It reminds me of the natural beauty of my home state of Oregon and of the importance of the Willamette Valley to the history of the U.S. It is also special because of the wonderful day my father and I had shooting photos of Oregon from the air. Dad was in the back seat of the airplane, and my friend Jill Smith was next to me in the co-pilot seat. We finished our journey after dark at Troutdale Airport, my home field, just outside of Portland, where we had begun before dawn that morning. We were exhausted but joyful.
So, this company decided to offer tours of San Francisco with zeppelins. They invited me and a bunch of journalists for the inauguration trip. But here’s the thing: Are you familiar with all the stuff they say about San Francisco and the wind? Those stories are true … the inaugural trip had been postponed for three months, on a daily basis—you know, wind—and the €600 tickets for the general public were refunded in full and the company went out of business in six months. Pictures were cool, tho.
I love this one of a scuttled ship, especially when juxtaposed with the shadow of the airship above:
When I asked Cristiano about the vessels, he replied:
The bay is shallow, so there’s a lot of sunken ships, but they’re just too expensive to recover, especially around Alameda Island. I don’t think there’s any historical value, just life happens in the bay ...
If you have an aerial photo of your own and an anecdote to share, we’d love to post: email@example.com. Submission guidelines here.
An absolutely stunning shot from reader Kevin, who doesn’t have to worry about traffic jams:
I love your “America By Air” series. I am an aerial surveyor by trade and hobby … and have amassed tons of photos over my 15+ years in the business. My office is currently a Bell 206B JetRanger Helicopter. I’ve worked in many different aircraft over the years and absolutely love the vantage point that flying gives. Combine that with a child-like love of aviation and geography and that’s me in a nutshell.
It was just on your latest edition that I saw the link to submit photos and thought I’d send a few your way. If you’re interested in more, I have plenty and I’d love to share.
Yes please. And if you have your own photo to share, even if we’ve already posted one, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission guidelines are here, for increased chance of posting, along with some context on how this aerial series got started. Your photos just keep getting better.
Fun series! This is actually an old photo from March 2008 flying into Barrow, Alaska. I’m a contractor/scientist at NOAA and am super lucky that I get to travel to lots of cool (and often cold) places to do maintenance on atmospheric instruments—for example, at their baseline observatory just outside the town of Barrow.
Barrow is on the north coast of Alaska, and while there’s open water in the summer, when I took this picture it was all frozen. The sea ice is the bumpy-looking snow between the wing of the plane and the town, while the snow-covered tundra is smooth.
A previous view above the airport in Barrow is here, along with an explanation of why the area is under environmental threat. Less ominously, since May 10, Barrow has been covered in sunlight around the clock; the sun doesn’t set for three months during the summer:
The attendant informed me the jackrabbit on the wingtip is named Jake. I don’t know exactly why she felt that was important information for a 26 year old, traveling in business clothes and poring over meeting notes, but I’m glad she told me.
Bill says he captured the photo “somewhere over Nebraska,” so that makes 27 states covered in our America by Air series so far. Do you have an aerial photo from neighboring Kansas, or Kentucky, or Minnesota, or maybe Montana? Vermont—maybe from someone flying home from the Bernie campaign? West Virginia, with some country roads? From lil’ Rhode Island? Please send your photos our way and help us get to 50: email@example.com. Submission guidelines here.
Update from a reader, Dan, who makes a reference to something I thought of while posting this photo of a rabbit on the wing: the episode of The Twilight Zone when an airline passenger played by William Shatner keeps seeing a human-like creature on the wing at 20,000 feet and starts to go insane when no one else sees it. A YouTube compilation is here. Here’s the entirety of Dan’s email:
The Handmaid’s Tale showed the ease with which the unthinkable can become ordinary—a lesson crucial in the age of the Big Lie.
In June 2019, Kylie Jenner shared with the world some pictures of a birthday party she’d thrown for a friend. The event had a theme: The Handmaid’s Tale. It featured guests garbed in blood-red gowns; servers dressed as “Marthas,” or women enslaved for household labor; and drinks with such names as “Under His Eye tequila” and “Praise Be vodka.” The whole thing was cringey and absurd. It was also, as so often happens when the extended Kardashian family is involved, grimly eloquent. One of the lessons of The Handmaid’s Tale is the ease with which horror can become a habit. In a culture that is adept at turning tragedy into comedy, even the darkest of dystopias might be consumed, in the end, as a signature cocktail. Banality has its allure.
If the former president proves to be a kingmaker in the 2022 midterms, his allies say he may seek reelection in 2024.
“The Republican Party is just a name,” Steve Bannon told me last week. I had called him to ask about the influence he believes his old boss still carries inside the GOP. “The bulk of it is a populist, nationalist party led by Donald Trump.” As for the rest of it? “The Republican Party, pre-2016, are the modern Whigs,” he added, referring to the national party that collapsed in the mid-19th century over divided views on slavery.
Bannon might not be the most reliable barometer of the political moment, but some of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics share his belief that the former president maintains a strong grip on his party. “He sparked this [movement], and now others are going ahead and taking the baton of batshittery,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois and a staunch Trump critic, told me last week.
Kodak changed the way Americans saw themselves and their country. But it struggled to reinvent itself for the digital age.
Above, clockwise from bottom-right: Kodak founder George Eastman takes a picture, circa 1925. High Falls in Rochester, New York, Kodak’s hometown. Postcard of the Kodak Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1964. FIGHT, a group seeking to change Kodak’s hiring practices, protests at a shareholders’ meeting, 1967.
This article was published online on June 16, 2021.
When I was in fifth grade, my class took a field trip to the George Eastman Museum, in Rochester, New York, as the fifth graders at my rural elementary school, 30 minutes south of the city, did every year. Housed in a Colonial Revival mansion built for the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company in 1905, the museum is home to one of the most significant photography and film collections in the world. But our job there was to stare at old cameras the size of our bodies, marvel at the luxury of having a pipe organ in your house, and write down what a daguerreotype is to prove that we’d been paying attention. At the end of the tour—in a second-story sitting room full of personal artifacts—we were presented, matter-of-factly, with a copy of Eastman’s suicide letter, dated March 14, 1932: “My work is done. Why wait?” Eastman shot himself in the heart with a Luger pistol at the age of 77.
The Human Genome Project left 8 percent of our DNA unexplored. Now, for the first time, those enigmatic regions have been revealed.
When the human genome was first deemed “complete” in 2000, the news was met with great international fanfare. The two rival groups vying to finish the genome first—one a large government-led consortium, the other an underdog private company—agreed to declare joint success. They shook hands at the White House. Bill Clinton presided. Tony Blair beamed in from London. “We are standing at an extraordinary moment in scientific history,” one prominent scientist declared when those genomes were published. “It’s as though we have climbed to the top of the Himalayas.”
But actually, the human genome was not complete. Neither group had reached the real summit. As even the contemporary coverage acknowledged, that version was more of a rough draft, riddled with long stretches where the DNA sequence was still fuzzy or missing. The private company soon pivoted and ended its human-genome project, though scientists with the public consortium soldiered on. In 2003, with less glitz but still plentyof headlines, the human genome was declared complete once again.
A ‘green vortex’ is saving America’s climate future.
Here, at least, is the standard story: The past decade has been abysmal for climate-change policy in the United States. In 2009, a handsome new president took office pledging to pass a comprehensive climate bill in Congress. He did not. The Environmental Protection Agency sought to meaningfully reduce carbon pollution from power plants. It did not. The United States joined the Paris Agreement. Then we elected President Donald Trump, and we left.
Yes—and here, the narrator always inserts a gale-force sigh—America knows what it needs to do: Pass a carbon fee or tax, some kind of policy that nudges people to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Yet America refuses. And so the 2010s, once greeted as a “new era” for climate action, now seem unexceptional, the third decade in a row that the United States understood the dangers of climate change but failed to act. Meanwhile the seas rose, wildfires raged, and the Earth saw its hottest 10 years on record.
Vladimir Putin has nothing to offer Joe Biden because his balancing act between Westernizers and more conservative forces is over.
Updated at 6:05 a.m. ET on June 16, 2021.
I grew up in a hidden city. Not a forgotten city, or a faraway city—a hidden city. My hometown, Nizhny Novgorod, lies east of Moscow along the Volga River. It was a center of international trade before the Russian Revolution but was bombed by the Nazis during World War II; to preserve crucial industries housed there, the Soviet authorities effectively closed it off from the world after the war. It didn’t exist on many Soviet maps, and foreigners were not allowed to visit. Cruise ships passed by only at night so tourists would not know about the ancient city on the banks.
Despite the heavy restrictions, many well-known intellectuals worked in Nizhny Novgorod, at anonymous-looking Soviet facilities known as “mailboxes.” The nuclear physicist and future Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov was among them. Only at the local foreign-language institute did I first meet a foreigner, an American lady who taught English. Mary Sebastian—or Mary Petrovna Alferova, according to her Soviet passport—came to Nizhny Novgorod in the 1930s as a teenager with her father, an engineer helping to build an automobile plant. She fell in love, got married, and decided to stay.
Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity.
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
For some Americans, history isn’t the story of what actually happened; it’s the story they want to believe.
This article was published online on May 10, 2021.
Most of the people who come to Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg, Virginia, come for the windows—masterpieces of Tiffany glass in the cemetery’s deconsecrated church. One morning before the pandemic, I took a tour of the church along with two other visitors and our tour guide, Ken. When my eyes adjusted to the hazy darkness inside, I could see that in each window stood a saint, surrounded by dazzling bursts of blues and greens and violets. Below these explosions of color were words that I couldn’t quite make out. I stepped closer to one of the windows, and the language became clearer. Beneath the saint was an inscription honoring the men “who died for the Confederacy.”