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.)
I flew out to Los Angeles late last year. I’m a good plane sleeper and was snoozing, but luckily I awoke just as we were flying over the Grand Canyon. Buildings, mountains and monuments tend to look tiny when viewed from the air, but nothing can diminish the awesome size of one of America’s greatest national landmarks.
If you happen to have any great aerial views above a national park, please let us know. When I asked Daniel if he was on an American Airlines flight, he replied:
Haha, yeah I thought that might be an appropriate touch given the name of the series. Good guess but it’s Virgin America. I guess as we’re seeing from the Budweiser “America” rebrand, no one does campy faux patriotism like the Europeans.
For Independence Day, a collage of photos from three readers on the flight path leaving Reagan National:
Bill Ruch sent the lower-right photo, adding: “There’s a reason why I go out of my way to book a seat on the right side of the plane when flying out of DC.” Jim Ciszewski sent the sunny one. Jada Chin sent the upper-right one:
Weary from waking up for my early flight to Boston, I peaked outside my window view to see the sun rising as the plane took off from DC. The city from above looked so small, and I could see the array of lights from each building shine next to the Washington Monument. This was no ordinary sunrise. It was a perfect view of the city that I call home.
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:
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
Why having a woman vice-presidential candidate is historic—and painful for young feminists
The morning before Kamala Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president, I met Amanda Litman at the Javits Center in New York City, a mammoth building near the Hudson River made almost entirely of glass. Four years ago, Litman spent Election Night here, waiting excitedly in a holding area with other staffers on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The intended metaphor was not subtle: Clinton was to declare her victory as America’s first woman president beneath a literal glass ceiling, shattering the most notorious gender barrier in politics.
When Clinton lost, Litman, who served as Clinton’s email director, felt more than just professional defeat. She believed the election was about proving that a woman similar to herself—often described as too ambitious, too much, or too loud—could succeed in America. “If you had asked me the next morning, ‘Will we ever have a woman president?’ I would have stopped crying hard enough to tell you to fuck off,” Litman told me. “It felt unimaginable.”
Short of an outright constitutional crisis, a lot could still go horribly wrong.
A brazen refusal by the president to leave office is surely a nightmare scenario. But even if President Donald Trump were to lose and accept the results on November 3 or soon thereafter, he could nevertheless wreak significant damage during the period between the election and the inauguration of Joe Biden—endangering the incoming administration, at best, and actively sabotaging it, at worst.
Presidential transitions are perilous even in normal times. With each inauguration of a new president every four to eight years, the executive branch undergoes a massive overhaul; more than 4,000 new political appointees flood into federal departments and agencies, including 1,200 senior officials who require Senate confirmation. The minute a new president is sworn in, his administration assumes responsibility for everything from nuclear launch codes to pandemic response, economic policy, and counterterrorism—at the very moment when the government’s capacity is most diminished. At the Defense Department alone, the nation’s largest employer and perhaps the world’s most complex organization, the top 59 senior civilian leaders, from the secretary of defense on down, are political appointees requiring Senate confirmation. A private-sector company would be crazy to emulate this approach, yet the security, the health, and the prosperity of Americans depend on its success.
WhatsApp diplomacy seems to have worked for the Trump administration.
This morning, Donald Trump announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also committing to not annexing the West Bank. The agreement will shock those who thought the portion of the Jared Kushner portfolio devoted to peace in the Middle East consisted of a single briefing folder filled with printouts of Wikipedia articles. But there were signs that this agreement was coming, and that the Trump administration would be uniquely suited to making it happen.
Saudi Arabia is not officially party to the agreement, but its relationship with the UAE is so fraternal that we should assume that it eagerly approved, and that the UAE will represent its interests in Israel as if they were its own. The Trump administration deals with these countries through the same personal channels, which look opaque and corrupt to us because they are. A few months ago, a Saudi academic told me that Trump was easier for him to understand than for me, because I live in a country where nepotism is a crime, and he lives in one where it is the system of government. The idea that a president would appoint his son-in-law to manage the most sensitive aspects of his administration offends me. To a Saudi, he said, it is just how things get done, and there is nothing mysterious about it at all.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
India’s and Turkey’s leaders are turning buildings into battlegrounds for nationalists.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acted on his yearlong quest to restore the historic Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine-era cathedral and museum, as a functioning mosque. Three thousand miles away, in India’s northeastern city of Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a similar promise, last week laying the foundation for a new Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque where Hindus believe an ancient temple once stood.
Yet the transformation of these sites marks more than a simple manifestation of religious adherence. At its core, it represents a concerted effort by Turkey’s and India’s leaders to galvanize support from their religious and nationalist bases, even if doing so comes at the expense of their countries’ religious minorities. Even more fundamentally, it is changing how these two countries see themselves, demonstrating a simultaneous recasting of once-secular republics into fully fledged ethnonationalist states.
A long obsession with Mars makes all the other worlds seem a little neglected.
Paul Byrne loves Mars. He wrote his doctoral thesis and several research papers about the planet. Most of his graduate students study Mars. And yet, earlier this year, he posed this question on Twitter: “If you could end the pandemic by destroying one of the planets, which one would you choose and why would it be Mars?”
What does Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University, have against the red planet? Nothing, he told me. But everyone else loves Mars too, and maybe a little too much.
Aside from Earth and the moon, humankind has studied Mars more than any other world in the universe. In the United States, many planetary scientists are devoted, in one way or another, to the study of Mars. Since 1996, NASA has sent more than a dozen robots to orbit, rove, dig, and hop around the planet. The latest NASA rover, Perseverance, departed for Mars in July, days after China and the United Arab Emirates launched their own missions to the planet.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
“Mystery” toys that kids peel open and cast aside speak volumes about consumer culture.
Kids like weird things: Yellow sponge-boys, talking doe-eyed ponies, ruddy-cheeked rodents that say only “pika pika,” and, especially in the past few years, unboxing videos.
Kids’ unboxing videos are YouTube series in which children, or in some cases just disembodied hands, take toys out of their packaging and play with them as uplifting music plays in the background. One particularly popular video shows a small boy unwrapping and then assembling a child-size electric car, using plastic tools that would surely fall apart in less practiced hands. He then drives the car down the sidewalk through an eerily empty neighborhood to a playground that is also completely empty, where he plays by himself, presumably because all the other neighborhood children are busy watching YouTube. The video has 267 million views.
Boris Johnson has faced his share of blame for the country’s death count. But the British system was failing long before the coronavirus struck.
Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s leaders asked their people to do three things, captured in one pithy slogan: “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.”
On the first of those edicts, Britons largely followed through. Main streets, town centers, and public spaces were mostly abandoned, and the government pulled together a far-reaching job-protection program, ensuring that those who feared losing their jobs felt safe enough to not go to work.
The second request was more unusual. During the pandemic, Britain was the only major country in the world to make protecting its National Health Service a central goal. Signs and placards went up outside people’s homes, declaring their appreciation. The words Thank You NHS can now be seen on sidewalks and soccer jerseys, in children’s bedrooms and even, until recently, the windows of 10 Downing Street. In part, this worked. The NHS adapted to the crisis at extraordinary speed, creating the emergency capacity required to deal with the surge of patients. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from the hospital after contracting COVID-19, he said that Britain was winning its battle against the disease because the public had “formed a human shield around this country’s greatest national asset,” the NHS.