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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (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: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: email@example.com. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission guidelines here.
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.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
It’s not just one problem—and we’re going to need a portfolio of approaches to solve it.
Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine?
Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world.
Or not. One-third of American adults said this month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls. But it remains disconcertingly high among Republicans, young people, and certain minority populations. In pockets of vaccine hesitancy, the coronavirus could continue to spread, kill, mutate, and escape. That puts all of us at risk.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
Adam Kinzinger says he’ll fight to take his party back from Donald Trump.
adam Kinzinger is a liberated individual—liberated from his party leadership, liberated from the fear of being beaten in a primary, liberated to speak his mind. The 43-year-old representative was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t have a constitutional duty to defend against a guy that is a jerk and maybe says some things I don’t like,” Kinzinger told me, explaining what had pushed him to finally break with the president. “I do when he’s getting ready to destroy democracy—and we saw that culminate on January 6th.”
This was the sort of language a number of Republicans used in the immediate aftermath of the riot. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on January 13. But by the end of the month, McCarthy was traveling hat in hand to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.
A global pandemic doesn’t give us cause to treat the aged callously.
Crises can elicit compassion, but they can also evoke callousness. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve witnessed communities coming together (even as they have sometimes been physically forced apart), and we’ve seen individuals engaging in simple acts of kindness to remind the sick and quarantined that they are not forgotten. Yet from some quarters, we’ve also seen a degree of cruelty that is truly staggering.
Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook about an experience he’d just had on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: “I heard a guy who looked to be in his 20s say that it’s not a big deal cause the elderly are gonna die anyway. Then he and his friend laughed … Maybe I’m lucky that I had awesome grandparents and maybe this guy didn’t but what is wrong with people???” Some have tried to dress up their heartlessness as generational retribution. As someone tweeted at me earlier today, “To be perfectly honest, and this is awful, but to the young, watching as the elderly over and over and over choose their own interests ahead of Climate policy kind of feels like they’re wishing us to a death they won’t have to experience. It’s a sad bit of fair play.”
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
Chloé Zhao’s Oscar contender about one woman’s itinerant life speaks volumes about this country’s myths of self-sufficiency.
Fern (played by Frances McDormand), the hardscrabble hero of Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, is the kind of resolute, independent protagonist that has dominated American movies since the dawn of the Western genre. She drives around the country in her van, living as self-sufficiently as possible, and carries a flinty affect with people, revealing little about herself and the turmoil that has led to her life on the road. But Fern is not a bullheaded cowboy fighting on the frontier. She’s a newly widowed woman in her early 60s searching for meaningful existence in a nation that’s become hostile to ordinary citizens in need of help.
Zhao’s epic sweep of a movie, which travels the American West from Nevada to South Dakota, is crammed with beautiful photography of some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes. It’s also overflowing with Zhao’s empathetic style of storytelling, and the ensemble largely features nonactors playing themselves, relaying stories of survival on the road in the aftermath of 2008’s Great Recession. As the United States weathers another seismic economic and humanitarian crisis, Zhao’s film offers insightful perspective on how terrifying and tenuous the American dream can be.
We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.
Every day, more than 1 million American deltoids are being loaded with a vaccine. The ensuing immune response has proved to be extremely effective—essentially perfect—at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. And now, with yet another highly effective vaccine on the verge of approval, that pace should further accelerate in the weeks to come.
This is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique. Anthony Fauci said last week on CNN that “it is conceivable, maybe likely,” that vaccinated people can get infected with the coronavirus and then spread it to someone else, and that more will be known about this likelihood “in some time, as we do some follow-up studies.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had been no more definitive on Meet the Press a few days before, where she told the host, “We don’t have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you’re asking.”
An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?
Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past year; summer could, miraculously, be close to normal; and next fall and winter could bring either continued improvement or a moderate backslide, followed by a near-certain return to something like pre-pandemic life.