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.)
There is none of the bucolic open space of a traditional airport approach zone, transitioning slowly from developed landscape, to highway, and finally open fields surrounding the airport. At Midway, it’s railroad yards, industrial sprawl, and—most incongruous of all—suburban houses directly across the street from the airport fence. You get the very urgent sense that the pilot needs to set the plane down “on the numbers” or else bad things will happen just 6000 feet down at the other end of the runway.
Midway is a tiny airport considering the volume of traffic it handles. It occupies a “section” of land. A section is 640 acres, and this land unit traces its origin to the Northwest Ordinance. You can clearly see the old section lines in the street-scape of Chicago with major arteries standing out in bold relief running along the traditional homestead boundaries. In contrast, O’Hare International (ORD) covers over 7000 acres. O’Hare is so vast that it’s literally bucolic, with exotic animals grazing on its grassy expanse.
I had always assumed that the airport took its name from a geographic reference regarding its physical relationship to downtown Chicago. But this only demonstrates my historical ignorance, since the field in fact was named in honor of the WWII Battle of Midway—the historic turning point in the Pacific campaign. Chicago’s other airport, O’Hare, owes its name to a local WWII hero Butch O’Hare who received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Pacific theater.
Chicago used to have a third airport, Meigs Field, which occupied a prime location on the lakefront. The story of its closing, including concerns over terrorism, elite privilege, and hard-ball Illinois politics, was a sad blow to general aviation.
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.
The first picture shows central Tennessee, near Shelbyville, with the trees showing fall foliage:
I was flying about 2000 feet above ground level. I made a left turn before the Smoky Mountains and flew up two ridges west of Roanoke.
Clinch Mountain, in this next shot, was impressive, and the view is looking west close to passing the Tennessee-Virginia border:
Since the valley floor was rising in elevation (ca. 2000 feet above sea level), I had to climb higher … eventually getting to 5000 feet and slightly above ridge level! Since this plane had no transponder, I had to fly around Roanoke’s airport.
In this next picture you can see the deeply weathered ridges of the Ridge and Valley physiographic province (Roanoke is at the inner edge of the Piedmont province):
One thing that stood out on this and other flights: Once away from the cities, large portions of area east of the Mississippi were remarkable for the open expanse of country, particularly once I began to traverse the mountains!
Here is the last picture documenting my trip from the rice fields of Arkansas to the Blue Ridge of Virginia:
This image was taken just south of Staunton, Virginia, where I finally got out of the narrow valleys that paralleled the Allegheny Front and crossed over into the Great Valley that extends along the Ridge and Valley Province. Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, and Winchester, Virginia are all in the Great Valley, as is Hagerstown, Maryland. I was really impressed by the vast expanse of undeveloped—now, that is—mountain terrain, though I know at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries this area was heavily logged, leaving many areas essentially deforested.
I did not use any advanced navigation for the flight—simply a set of sectionals. Here’s a scan of the World Aeronautical Charts, from CG-20:
I do hope you find my photos of interest. I have followed Mr. Fallows trips with fascination and find those areas of the U.S. off the beaten track far more culturally and historically complex than most people realize … at least until they visit and talk with those who have lived there for several generations. All are immigrants of a sort from one or more generations ago, reflecting broad patterns of settlement that have led to a very diverse nation, to say the least! As an anthropologist (and archeologist), I have found such travels mini-ethnographic studies.
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!
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:
Here’s a wintry scene you don’t usually associate with the red rocks of the country’s biggest canyon:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
A faction of the religious right has concluded that if liberal democracy does not guarantee victory, then it must be abandoned.
By the tail end of the Obama administration, the culture war seemed lost. The religious right sued for détente, having been swept up in one of the most rapid cultural shifts in generations. Gone were the decades of being able to count on attacking its traditional targets for political advantage. In 2013, Chuck Cooper, the attorney defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, begged the justices to allow same-sex-marriage opponents to lose at the ballot box rather than in court. Conservatives such as George Will and Rod Dreher griped that LGBTQ activists were “sore winners,” intent on imposing their beliefs on prostrate Christians, who, after all, had already been defeated.
The rapidity of that cultural shift, though, should not obscure the contours of the society that the religious right still aspires to preserve: a world where women have no control over whether to carry a pregnancy to term, same-sex marriage is illegal, and gays and lesbians can be arrested and incarcerated for having sex in their own homes and be barred from raising children. The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.
Homes have gotten bigger, but Americans aren’t any more pleased with the extra space.
American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.
This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later.
But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes. “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”
Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.
I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.
My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.
A growing pattern of attacks across Europe is as much about electoral opportunity as a conflict of ideas.
When Federico Batini, an Italian academic, wanted to research classroom bullying, he distributed a questionnaire to 54 schools in central Italy. The survey was carried out in partnership with local education authorities and sought to explore the extent to which young people faced racial, homophobic, or gender-based discrimination from their peers.
But instead of learning more about students’ experiences, Batini found his name smeared in the national media and his research abruptly discontinued. A senator from the far-right League party condemned Batini’s questionnaire as “gender indoctrination.” A national conservative daily, La Verità, berated the survey as “crazy gender ideology.” Then the Italian education minister, Marco Bussetti, a member of the League, blocked the questionnaire altogether.
After a lopsided World Cup game, the focus was once again on how female athletes behave, not on what they’ve achieved.
It was Megan Rapinoe’s goal in the 79th minute that really seemed to tick people off. Rapinoe, the vivacious U.S. women’s national soccer team forward with pink hair, ran with outstretched arms, spun around a couple times, then slid to the ground and kicked her right heel high in the air several times.
A whole lot of people were big mad at Rapinoe, whose goal made it 9–0 over Thailand, a team the U.S. thoroughly dominated in its opening World Cup match on Tuesday. The Americans eventually won 13–0. But, rather than being praised for setting a World Cup record for scoring the most goals in the tournament’s history and securing the largest margin of victory ever, the win turned into a debate about sportsmanship.
Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned business near Oberlin College accused of racism, just won a big payout.
The writer Jon Ronson once observed that every day in the social-media era, “a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping.” In Ronson’s 2015 book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, his subjects found themselves beset by angry detractors for, say, an insensitive Twitter joke or Facebook photo. They lost jobs, received threats, even pondered suicide. And they mostly retreated from view until the shame storm passed.
Today they might sue instead.
Last year, I reported on a lawsuit that a man accused of rape on the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet filed against the woman who had created and circulated the document.
In January, a viral video of the high-school student Nick Sandmann at a protest march in Washington, D.C., appeared to some to show him smirking at a Native American elder. That triggered a wave of inordinate social-media hate and flawed journalism. Now the young man who was at the bottom of the pile-on is suing The Washington Post for $250 million, NBC for $275 million, and CNN for $275 million.
As several states move to limit exemptions to required vaccines, the actor hit a nerve in a larger debate about personal belief in science.
One morning in 1934, panicked passengers jumped from the deck of the SS Morro Castle as it sank just off the coast of New Jersey. The ocean liner had caught fire, and the passengers had rushed to grab personal flotation devices. But some improperly wrapped the life preservers around their necks. As they fell and hit the water, the torque snapped their spines.
Personal flotation devices save exponentially more lives than they cost. Of the catastrophic boating accidents that occur daily, 84 percent of people who drown were not wearing one. But etch the details of this horrific wreck scene into one’s mind, and a person might become a life-preserver skeptic. Our basic tendency toward short-term thinking means we judge risk based on whatever is in front of us. We draw anxiety disproportionately from wherever we happen to be focusing our attention.
Interviews with the House speaker’s old friends and colleagues offer a window into her reluctance to pull the pin on a political grenade.
When Republicans voted on impeachment more than 20 years ago, Nancy Pelosi was right there on the House floor, watching as the GOP plunged headfirst into the process without broad public support or the clear prospect of conviction in the Senate. For many establishment Democrats of a certain age—say, those who are now eligible for Medicare—the lesson from that time is clear: Impeaching Bill Clinton was a bad idea that hurt the presidency, the country, and most of all, the House Republican majority.
How Pelosi handles the growing calls from her caucus to begin removal proceedings against Donald Trump will illuminate the degree to which she herself believes that lesson. But as she struggles to manage pressure from roughly a quarter of House Democrats, interviews with some of her old friends and colleagues, and others who were in the trenches of the Clinton impeachment battle, offer a window into Pelosi’s reluctance to pull the pin on that particular grenade just yet. For now, she seems to be keeping her options open, waiting to see whether Congress can unearth new allegations that might shift public opinion.
“I was struck by how much shame there was in Eat Pray Love, and how apologetic I was as a narrator.”
Like Spinal Tap, Elizabeth Gilbert goes to 11. Whether it’s the depths of her despair in Eat, Pray, Love, the intensity of her research in her fiction, or the openness with which she shares her life—romantic and otherwise—with her rabid fans, she lives in bold.
Gilbert has something of a two-track career toggling between carefully crafted fiction and confessional creative essays. The latter, of course, made her a guru for thousands of women who longed for similar arcs of self-discovery and thrilling lives. Now, after the death of her partner Rayya Elias, Gilbert has written a new novel, City of Girls, set in 1940s New York. The work follows a privileged woman’s adventures, headstrong mistakes, and growing self-knowledge. It’s sprawling and colorful, with characters firing off dialogue that would fit in a Howard Hawks movie. I spoke with her about her book, her craft, and what it means to be Elizabeth Gilbert. This interview has been edited and condensed.
American analysts keep trying to fit the country into familiar patterns—ignoring the many ways in which it’s an exception.
Thirty years ago this week, I watched the news from Beijing and started shredding my bedding. It was the night before my college graduation, I had been studying Chinese politics, and news had broken that college students just like us had been gunned down in Tiananmen Square after weeks of peaceful and exhilarating democracy protests—carried on international TV. In the iconic square where Mao Zedong had proclaimed the People’s Republic decades before, bespectacled students from China’s best universities had camped out, putting up posters with slogans of freedom in Chinese and English. A “goddess of democracy” figure modeled after the Statue of Liberty embodied their hopes—and ours—for political liberation in China.