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.)

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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).

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.

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?

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:

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:

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.

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.  

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:

    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.

      Don McKibben

      Nick Knobil sends this photo taken over—or is it under?—Mt. Washington, New Hampshire:

      I am the pilot. The photographer was the then 89-year-old Don “Mac” McKibben. I saw your America by Air series and noticed that [today, April 9] is the first anniversary of Mac’s death. I miss that guy.

      Mac flew P-47s and P-51s with the 352nd Fighter Group over Europe during WW2. He worked for Eastman Kodak from before the war until he retired. He always had the latest digital camera gear … a thoroughly modern guy. And he never lost his “let’s go!” love of flying.

      When I asked Nick what maneuver he was making in the photo, he replied:

      I honestly don’t remember—barrel roll, aileron roll, or loop. Mac and I would whoop and holler …

      I found a Facebook post that Nick wrote a year ago today—a tribute to his flying buddy:

      Dayna Mauer

      Our reader has details:

      Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain National Monument, California. Temblor Range is in the foreground. It was on a commercial jet flying back to Los Angeles from either Sacramento or Reno—I can’t remember!

      This Soda Lake isn’t as tasty as it sounds:

      A soda lake or alkaline lake is a lake on the strongly alkaline side of neutrality (in other words, a pH value above 7, typically between 9 - 12). They are characterized by high concentrations of carbonate salts, typically sodium carbonate (and related salt complexes), giving rise to their alkalinity. The resulting hypersaline and highly alkalic soda lakes are considered some of the most extreme aquatic environments on Earth.

      Ramakrishnan Chirayathumadom

      The reader who sent that incredible shot over Playa Flamenco has another great one from the Pacific Northwest:

      I saw you got a blimp, but do you have one from a seaplane? [CB note: Yep—we’ve posted two photos from seaplanes but we posted them after this email came in, so our reader couldn’t have seen them.] This view is coming in to “land” on Lake Chelan, Washington [the largest lake in the state], from the cockpit of a Dehavilland Beaver. We did an air tour of the Glaciers of the North Cascades two years ago.

      Love this series.

      To join in, email hello@theatlantic.com.