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 (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.)

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America by Air: Precarious Pontchartrain

Margaux Fisher

Have a good aerial photo to share? Please send our way. The latest from a reader:

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.

The bridge gets a mention in the piece Susannah Breslin wrote for us about her PTSD following Hurricane Katrina:

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.

A lush and colorful scene from reader Brian Burk:

Brian Burk

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.

Cristiano Valli

A reader sends the second photo from a blimp we’ve received so far (and the latest in our sub-series of shadow views):

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:

Cristiano Valli

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: Submission guidelines here.

Kevin Grambley

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: 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.

Betsy Andrews

A reader writes:

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:

One can imagine a UFO lurking in the clouds:

Ed May

The image comes from a reader in Friday Harbor, Washington: “It’s a late-afternoon rainbow amid a rain shower while flying in the Class C airspace of Whidbey Island NAS, on Whidbey Island, WA.”

It’s not a bird, and no, not a plane ...

Bill Ruch

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: 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:

Far more terrifying than the original.

Jake Wittman

Reader Jake delivers:

Hello! I saw your request for a picture from Minnesota and was excited because I was getting on a plane later. The attached photo is of the Minnesota River looking southwest towards East Bloomington and Burnsville. The Minnesota River splits from the Mississippi River a few miles northeast of this photo. You can see highway 77 crossing the river, and the smokestack in the middle is an Xcel energy plant. Closer to the plane (near 6 o’clock in the photo) you can see a water treatment plant.

A less industrial view above Minnesota comes from Luke:

Luke Timmons

I took this photo coming into land in the Twin Cities last October. It was a weekend trip from Scotland to surprise the girl who is now my wife on her birthday. I’m glad I remembered I had a photo from this flight, since it was by far the most pleasant flight journey I’ve ever taken, right down to the joy brought about by the Delta crew.  

Here’s a wintry scene you don’t usually associate with the red rocks of the country’s biggest canyon:

Jordan Kinsley

Looking NW over fresh snowfall on the Grand Canyon from 40,000 ft on January 12. A sliver of the nose of the Boeing 737, including my windshield wiper, in the foreground.

Perusing the Atlantic archives for other scenes from the Grand Canyon, I came across a great passage from Peter Davison in our October 1997 issue. It’s from his travel piece on Sedona, Arizona, the scenic town south of the canyon:

Landscape on the Arizona scale challenges the resources of human speech; it beggared [novelist Zane] Grey, who had to resort to stilted terms from the construction industry to describe the mighty cliffs of the Grand Canyon: “Turrets, mesas, domes, parapets, and escarpments gave the appearance of an architectural work of giant hands.” To use such language for the vastness of these badlands is to commend the horse in the lingo of the horsefly. There’s an old story that a priest and a cowboy arrived together at the canyon’s North Rim and stood silent a while. Finally the priest fell upon his knees and exclaimed, “O Lord, how wonderful are thy works!” The cowboy ruminated, spat, and muttered, “Don’t it beat hell?”

If you’ve captured your own aerial view of the Grand Canyon, or nearby Sedona, with part of the plane within the camera’s frame, please drop us a note:

A reader in New Jersey, Roger Zaruba, recently emailed a submission for our aerial series:

Here’s a photo taken on a sunrise trip for fuel from Essex County Airport to Central Jersey Airport in New Jersey. The view is south of Newark looking east over New York Bay and Sandy Hook out to the Atlantic Ocean from about 10 miles inland. Altitude was 2500 feet in a Cessna 182.

Unfortunately the file size for that evening shot was too small to properly post, so I asked Roger if he has a larger version. Today he replied in spades:

I went out this morning to do a little air-work and take some new pictures with my Galaxy S4. The shots are about ten times the size of the other one and I hope they are usable.

Very usable, so I sequenced several of Roger’s fantastic photos with his flight details:

Jeff Goudy

Our reader Jeff captures the transition to summer:

I’ve really enjoyed your America by Air series and thought I’d share this shot from my flight into Denver [on Saturday]. Longs Peak is a very significant mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, in the Front Range of Colorado, and to anyone who enjoys the beauty of 14,000 ft. mountains. It isn’t as prominent in the shot as it is when viewed from Denver, but its famous East Face is clearly visible.

We don’t have much about Rocky Mountain National Park in our archives, but a little passage popped out at me from an October 1998 piece from Erika Krouse on being single at weddings:

Sam visited me in September, and I drove him to Rocky Mountain National Park. Sam wanted pictures of elk, bighorn sheep; he wanted a mountain lion. I pulled the car over for every herd of animals. Sam jumped out with his point-and-shoot every time. He paused. The elk stared right at him. The bighorn sheep tossed its big head in Sam’s face. One after another, the animals stood still and then finally leaped away, disgusted, as Sam lowered his camera. “Missed it.”

But Jeff didn’t miss that mountain goat on the tip of the wing. Previous animals on planes here. Update from Jeff:

I wish I could say that view of the mountain goat was clever and intentional. It’s just a happy accident. Ironically, mountain goats aren’t native to Colorado. They were introduced to some of the ranges here in the ‘60s. As a non-native species, the ones that roam into Rocky Mountain National now and then are tranquilized and relocated elsewhere. So that’s the best view of Longs Peak that a mountain goat has probably ever seen!

This gorgeous series of shots from reader Bill Barse makes for one of the best—and certainly the most comprehensive—entries in our ongoing tour of the 50 states:

Hello Chris, I hope this note finds you well. For your America by Air series I want to share some pictures of a flight I took in 2009 from central Arkansas to Front Royal, Virginia, in a rather weather-beaten Grumman Ag Cat—a plane I bought for the heck of it:

I spent about three years working on it and learning to fly the little plane before taking it on a 1000-mile cross-country flight. It’s a 1963 “lite frame,” as the dusters call it. I first saw one of them in a duster’s field in Delaware some 40 years ago on the way to the beach. I passed that same plane several years off and on while taking the same route, and I told myself I’d love to have one. Now I have two.

They are really great planes to fly—quite simple, very agile in the air, and able to handle quite a bit of weight when used for what it was originally designed: ag work!

The first several pictures I took on my trip are those of the Arkansas River and Mississippi River. I flew out of Woodson Arkansas eastward. Here’s a picture flying rather low (as in 800 feet or so) over the Arkansas River:

This picture, using a disposable color-print camera, is about 40 miles south of Little Rock and reflects a rather undeveloped view of this portion of the state—very little in the way of dense populated regions. Also, it’s close to a town called Slovak, a center of immigration in the late 19th Century and a community that still exists with one church and several houses just north of Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Here’s a picture I took with a digital camera when crossing the Mississippi River:

I had just departed West Helena, Arkansas (where I re-fueled), a town about 40 plus miles south of Memphis. The airport there was a duster field. There was a series of barges plying the river upstream with goods on the way to Memphis or beyond. The [above] photo, looking upriver towards Memphis, shows one barge moving south. Although not seen too well, there was an incredible line of barges (pushed by tugs) going south towards New Orleans—something I had seen in a previous flight (with no pictures!) in 2008 when I flew into Arkansas from Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Here are a few more pictures continuing my journey from a grass strip in Arkansas, across Tennessee, and up Virginia to the Front Royal airport near the entrance of Skyline Drive.