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.)

Show 73 Newer Notes
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.

    That’s how a reader describes these mountains:

    Ira Belsky

    I took this photo with an iPhone 6 in June 2015 from a plane approaching Jackson airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is impossible to see these mountains from the air, or on the ground, and not be overwhelmed with their majesty and their beauty. It is tough to look at them and not constantly say “wow.”

    Or “sublime,” as naturalist John Muir called the Tetons in his April 1898 Atlantic essay on Yellowstone Park, which neighbors Grand Teton National Park.

    That’s how reader Ramakrishnan describes his breathtaking shot over Playa Flamenco, on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra:

    Ramakrishnan Chirayathumadom

    Our reader isn’t alone in calling it one of the prettiest beaches in the world:

    It is known for its beautiful shallow turquoise waters, soft white sand, excellent swimming, sport-fishing, and diving sites. Stretching for a mile around a sheltered, horseshoe-shaped bay, Playa Flamenco is considered both Culebra’s and Puerto Rico’s best beach and quite possibly of the whole Caribbean. Certain discerning travel writers have suggested that it is among the top 10 in the world, including been named at the 3rd spot by Travel Advisor in March 2014.

    Robert Hart

    Here’s our second view from a helicopter—and it’s much better than the one I submitted from Salt Lake City:

    This was taken in October 2015. Chicago’s shoreline may be one of the best developed in the country, certainly better than my birthplace New York, NY. Recently a project to prevent flooding of Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Parkway added 6.6 acres of parkland along the lakefront. This is just south of Montrose Beach.

    Michael Massey

    I want to go to there:

    I took this photo of Oahu flying from Honolulu to Washington Dulles just a couple of weeks ago. You can see downtown Honolulu, Waikiki beach, Diamond Head State Monument, as well as the Ko’olau Range in the background. A clearer day would have resulted in a better shot of the mountains, but I think the water was captured nicely. I had been scuba diving a little over 24 hours before I took this photo in the Maunalua Bay (which you can make out a tiny part of on the right side of the photo, just east of Diamond Head) and the water really is as clear and blue as it looks here.

    John Zimmerman

    We started “America by Air” as a month-long series of aerial photos from readers that accompanied Jim’s March cover story, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” which he reported with his wife Deb over three years across the U.S. via their single-engine plane. Readers not only keep sending more and more submissions, but the quality of the photos and anecdotes are getting better and better. So we’ve now turned “America by Air” into a standard feature of Notes, posting one a day, more or less, for the indefinite future, joining the ranks of Orbital View and Track of the Day. So please keep ‘em coming. Submission guidelines here.

    The latest aerial view is a real beauty, coming from reader John Zimmerman:

    Every year I like to fly to the big Oshkosh air show low and slow, enjoying the view at 90 knots—after all, getting to the big fly-in really is half the fun. One of the highlights of the trip every year from my home base in Cincinnati to Wisconsin is the Chicago area. If the weather is good, there’s no better flight than the one that follows the lakefront. The route takes you past famous landmarks like Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, and Willis Tower (you can look up at some office workers and wave). The only downer is the flight over abandoned Meigs airport, which sits barren and undeveloped, a lasting reminder of political misconduct.

    As is true so many places in the U.S., no special clearances or equipment is required—just keep your head on a swivel and enjoy the view. It’s one of those “only in America” moments that knocks off the cynicism just a bit.

    Seattle looms large in all things aviation-related, due mainly to the presence of Boeing. It looms large in my own aviation-related life, since I got my instrument rating while living there in 1999, training with instructor Chris Baker of Wings Aloft at Boeing Field in downtown Seattle; and then in 2000 did seaplane training with instructor Chris Jacob of Kenmore Air, which flies floatplanes out of the local lakes, bays, and inlets.

    It also looms large in recent photos in this series. Here is another one via Stu Smith, a colleague of Chris Jacob’s at Kenmore:

    This photo was taken by a passenger (I don’t recall the name) in a Beaver [JF note: a very popular floatplane] looking to the southeast.  If not for the clouds, Washington State’s iconic Mt. Rainier would be visible on the distant horizon.

    When the wind dictates a south departure from Lake Union (as it did in this flight), the climbout takes us past the Space Needle. It’s a pretty spectacular departure, which I’ve yet to tire of after 12 seasons. When the wind shifts to the north, the arrival and landing direction is reversed, taking us past the Space Needle in a descent. I think that tourists looking out from the Space Needle enjoy watching our departures and arrivals as much as the passengers on the plane enjoy watching them watching us!

    I got to fly this route sometimes when doing training. It’s reason enough to do pilot training, or at least to take a sightseeing flight.

                                                                                                                           Matty Senior, via Matthew Amend

      Matthew Amend of Seattle, with whom I have corresponded about piloting issues for years, sends this photo. Here’s his explanation:

      I just found your series. It’s great! As an 18-year paraglider pilot, I may be biased, but I firmly maintain that the best, most unobstructed way to view America by air is by dangling beneath a big kite!

      Here’s my submission (of me, not taken by me—taken by Matty Senior). I’m taking a friend for a ride in my two seat (“tandem”) paraglider above Tiger mountain in Issaquah, WA. January 2015. Perfectly backed by a rainbow and low cumulus clouds with lake Sammammish in the distance. No Photoshop; that’s straight from the camera.

      Have a look at the USHPA [U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association] photo gallery here. Aerial photos by my friend Jody MacDonald are particularly epic.