Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

America by Air
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Bill Barse has been one of the main contributors to our aerial series, namely with his tours of Appalachia from the air and an archeological site in Florida. This time he provides a glimpse of a historic airfield in southern Florida. Regarding the photo above, Bill writes:

Coming in low to land at Airglades Airport in Clewiston, Florida, I noticed my plane’s shadow flying in tandem with me. I took a photo because it’s rare that I’ve flown in tandem with my shadow. It actually took me quite by surprise!

It seems like the entire past year has been one of chasing shadows—multiple shadows and to what end.

This second photo shows another shadow, but only if you know where to look. It’s a view of Airglades Airport, which used to be BFTS #5 (British Flying Training School #5) established in 1942 to train British RAF pilots to fight in WWII. Records suggest that about 1,700 cadets did their primary flight training at BFTS #5 before going back to Britain to fight in the war.

There is a trace of one of the old runways—a shadow, to wit—that I used frequently, since it was nothing more than a grass strip that once ran beyond the current paved runway. It’s perfect for the tail-wheel Aeronca. You can see it as a faint shadowy line with brushy vegetation at both ends, to the left and right. The old grass strip once crossed the end of the current paved runway. I called it RAF Clewiston when I was working there. It is an archeological remnant of earlier times.

And wait! As I stare again at the clear shadow of the tail feathers of my plane, I see what could be a head, and a leg dangling below the vertical fin! Well, notions of ghosts aside, perhaps it could be seen as the shadowy wraith of an RAF cadet, riding along with me looking for the nostalgia of earlier times, and staring at the shadowy trace of the field he once trained at.

Kaye Richey

A reader sends an autumnal view over Pennsylvania:

Here’s a shot of Point State Park at the Forks of the Ohio River. I shot it on October 12, 2016, at 3:37 PM on Delta Flight 869 from Atlanta to Pittsburgh as the plane was on its approach to the Pittsburgh airport. Alas, the Pirates were not in the playoffs.

The team placed 3rd in its division this year, with a 78–83-1 record. Here’s a bit about the park across the water from the ballpark:

The fountain in Point State Park, which sprays water up to 150 feet (46 m) in the air at the head of the Ohio River, draws upon water from an aquifer that passes beneath the park known as the “Wisconsin Glacial Flow,” an ancient river channel now filled with sand and gravel as a result of the Pleistocene glaciation and the consequent re-routing of Pittsburgh’s rivers.

Our list of power plants continues to grow: a nuclear one over Michigan, a bunch of wind turbines over Colorado, some solar panels with crop circles in Arizona, a pair of coal-fired plants in Iowa … and now another nuclear one, this time on the California coast (followed by a bonus AbA photo from a new state—Maine!):

Dan Terzian

Here’s the Pacific Gas & Electric nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon, near Avila Beach, California. The picture was taken from the front seat of a Pitts Special biplane. The Diablo Canyon plant has churned out energy for the state of California for over 30 years but may finally succumb to requests for its closure from environment groups.

Not if local Ellie Ripley can help it. From her letter to the editor of The San Luis Obispo Tribune:

For 40 years, the anti-nuclear groups have been spouting off about how unsafe, poorly designed and outdated Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is. Where are their credentials? Have they had any training, any experience in nuclear? Clearly they have not. They make their claims without any truth-based facts.

Diablo Canyon has been producing power for more than 30 years that has proven safe, clean, affordable and reliable. Shutting down Diablo Canyon would be trading 2,250 megawatts of clean, nonpolluting energy to substitute it with fossil fuel which will be needed to back up intermittent renewable energy. Where is the sense in that?

Another Tribune reader looks at the cost factor:

[R]eplacing Diablo Canyon requires 14 500-megawatt solar farms. Solar farms like the Topaz facility take three years to build and cost about $2.4 billion each. Building two a year it would take seven-plus years, 133 square miles of land and cost $33.6 billion. Guess who pays the $33.6 billion!

Circling back to wind turbines, here’s an AbA submission from a reader flying above “Vinal Haven Island, Maine, on the way to and back from Portland”:

Doug Magruder

With Maine now checked off the list of states we’ve covered in America by Air, only eight remain: Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. Do you happen to have a good photo above one of those states? We’d love to post it: hello@theatlantic.com.

John Matthews

A reader sends a shot above Fiesta Texas, the Six Flags amusement park in San Antonio (and one that would drive the bigoted Eric Cartman crazy):

From the air you can see the giant Texas-shaped wave pool and the massive parking lot. The photo was taken by me, John Matthews, from about 3500 feet MSL [mean sea level] from a friend’s Mooney [a type of single-engine plane].

I spent part of my early childhood in Stuttgart, Germany, where my mom was stationed with the U.S. Army, and some of my fondest memories were of the waterparks big in that area. The waterslides were much faster and more fun than the ones I’d seen in the States, and for the first time I experienced what a massive wave pool was like. A cursory history of wave pools suggests that my first encounter with one in Germany wasn’t a coincidence:

Wave pools go as far back as the 19th Century, as famous fantasy castle builder Ludwig II of Bavaria electrified a lake to create breaking waves. The first [swimmable] wave pool was designed and built in 1927 [1] in Budapest, Hungary, and appeared in a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer documentary about the city in 1938, as one of the main tourist attractions.[2] Palisades Amusement Park [in NJ] had a salt-water wave pool during the 1940s. This was a huge pool whose waves were generated by a waterfall at one end. The pool in Point Mallard Park [in Decatur, AL] was developed in the early 1970s after Mayor Gilmer Blackburn saw enclosed “wave-making” swimming pools in Germany and thought one could be a tourist attraction in the U.S.

There’s also a fantastic video on YouTube purportedly shot in 1929 showing a wave pool in Munich (“This is the new kind of swimming bath that is becoming the rage of Germany,” the opening card reads):

As far as present-day superlatives, Siam Park City Water Park in Thailand is home to the world’s largest wave pool (video here) and the similarly named Siam Park (Tenerife) in Spain produces the largest waves—nearly ten feet tall (video here).

Christopher Baker

I wrote a post yesterday about the wildfire raging along California’s Big Sur coast that has surpassed the $200 million-mark to combat—and it’s only two-thirds contained. A reader in California, Christopher Baker, saw the fire when it started two months ago. He writes:

I saw your article and thought you’d find interesting the enclosed photo I took out the window of a Southwest flight on the evening of July 23 flying north from San Diego to San Francisco. It was extremely clear and I saw what I think is the first day of the fire out the window. The fire was very bright but still somewhat small, and I think I could see backfires started by the firefighters. It’s a remarkable sight because during my 50 years in California I’ve seen many brushfires from the air but never was the view this clear; normally they are obscured by the smoke.

At its peak last month, more than 5,600 firefighters were working to put out the blaze. It’s destroyed 57 homes and threatens another 400. And all of this because someone left a small campfire burning while visiting Garrapata State Park.

Jimmy Rollison

Here’s another beauty from Jimmy Rollison, one of the top contributors to this series (with views over the Continental Divide, Monument Valley and Lake Powell, Dinosaur National Monument, and the rolling hills of northern California):

How to start a Monday: Southbound at 10,500’ looking west, en route home from Hood River, Oregon, from a large antique airplane get-together once a year. As the song says: “Nothing but blue skies do I see.”

The lake—the deepest one in the U.S.—formed around 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama collapsed after a massive volcanic eruption, one that was 42 times greater than Mount St. Helens in 1980. The resulting caldera is what you see above (and in this Orbital View). Rain and snowfall fills the caldera, and no rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake, so it takes about 250 years for the total amount of water to cycle out.

A 33-mile road, Rim Drive, wraps around the lake, and my first long bike ride happened to be around it, in the summer of 2010. The gorgeous locale and sunny weather of that day was only dampened by the timing of the ride—just a month after my brother got into a terrible bike accident in Portland that resulted in several broken teeth and nearly a broken neck. His bashed-up face loomed in my head as I raced down Rim Drive to catch up with the more experienced cyclists. Every tiny rock on the road felt like a speed bump, and my clenched hands were sorer than my legs by the end of the ride. But my brother is braver than I am; he was back to his long bike commutes in no time.

We’re down to the final stretch of U.S. states in this series, so if you happen to have an aerial view above CT, GA, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV, please send it our way.

I just came off a two-week vacation that included six days at Burning Man—the art-infused, music-filled, drug-fueled festival held every year in the desolate Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. (This satirical video of a guy coming back from BM has a lot of truth to it, and this tumblr of Burner mockery is also pretty brilliant.) The 30th Burn attracted more than 70,000 people to this pop-up, semi-circle city:

By Jim Urquhart / Reuters. (My camp was right next to that fluorescent orange one in the middle right, the latter called “Comfort & Joy.”) More photos of Burning Man 2016 are compiled here by Alan Taylor.

But I could barely see Black Rock City myself during the short flight from Reno due to one of the sudden dust storms that are all too frequent in that desert. (I might have missed the dusty deluge if I hadn’t been delayed at the Reno airport for several hours because President Obama was in nearby Tahoe for an environmental summit and Air Force One was on the tarmac freezing flights … Thanks, Obama!) So instead of getting an aerial photo similar to the one above, all I got was this dust-shrouded scene:

Graham W. Hankey

We usually prefer images that include a piece of the plane or other aircraft, but reader Graham—hovering here over Ketchum, Idaho—included his own feet:

I was on a hiking and biking vacation in Ketchum, Idaho, and decided to try paragliding (much to my wife’s chagrin) after watching several gliders launch from the summit of Mt. Baldy, the major ski mountain in the valley. I contacted Fly Sun Valley, the only licensed paragliding outfit in the area, and made arrangements for a tandem flight the next evening before sunset.

The flight was incredible. We sailed for 25 minutes, launching from Baldy’s summit and heading west while we gained another 1,000 feet of altitude, and then turned and came back across the mountain at 10,000 feet and slowly began descending into Sun Valley, making a series of lazy circles before landing in a large field just outside of Ketchum. I was able to take many pictures on my iPhone (permissible, but I was warned that several phones had been dropped, never to be seen again) and even shoot a video. The experience was wonderful—a great perspective to see a beautiful part of America.

Beautiful, indeed. Here’s Graham’s shot looking into the Sawtooth Wilderness, with the resort town of Sun Valley in the foreground:

Amanda Lewellyn

Reader Amanda sends in two gorgeous photos—the first of sunrise over the Mississippi River, near her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee:

I’m a college student who frequently travels for school, for extracurriculars, and for summer programs. Being a student means I’m living on a budget. Translation: Most of my flights take off either pre-dawn or very late at night. Despite the absolute obliteration of my circadian rhythm, there is a silver lining—I get to see the sun rise and set over many cities both foreign and familiar.

I flew out of New York City twice a year as a college student, so Amanda’s shot of sunset over Manhattan was a welcome sight to me:

Amanda Lewellyn
Looking toward Lancaster airport, in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, as it is drenched in a downpour. Deborah Fallows

Genuine thunderstorms, of the type that form a long line when a cold front is moving across the country into warmer, wetter air, or that pop up as isolated cloudbursts on summer afternoons, are weather perils that even big, powerful airliners must avoid. When you’re flying in thunderstormy conditions, you hear airline pilots asking controllers for re-routes around the storms. “New York Center, United 1234, we’ll need to go 30 degrees left to avoid these buildups.”

The updrafts and downdrafts of wind around a thunderstorm “cell” can be so powerful that small aircraft are supposed to fly at least 20 miles away from the storm’s edge to avoid being tossed up and down. But “non-convective” rain showers, those not from thunderstorms, are more benign. On a trip this past Wednesday from Eastport, Maine, all the way back to the Washington area in a little Cirrus, my wife Deb and I flew in rain for most of the journey. But the rain was falling from a flattish, non-stormy cloud layer far above us, and it spattered on the wings and windshield as we flew in clear skies at 4,500 feet. (For the aviation crowd: this whole trip was VFR and free of turbulence and clouds at 6,500, then 4,500, then 3,500 feet, KEPM to KGAI, with a fuel stop at KPSF.)

And sometimes we passed localized rain showers, always keeping a respectful distance. Here is how the area just over the Lancaster airport, in the heart of the Amish country of Pennsylvania, looked at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from 10 miles to the east, outside the rain.  What looks like a cloud reaching all the way to the ground, off the plane’s wingtip, would have seemed to people in Lancaster to be a drenching downpour. The gray you see reaching from cloud to ground is rain.  

From the ground, it’s hard to see or imagine weather other than what is affecting us at the moment. From a distance in the air you can see, godlike, the movement of different weather across the land.

Jim Ciszewski

Reader Jim Ciszewski answers our call for photos from Indiana:

Taken on a recent trip from GSO to MDW [Greensboro, North Carolina, to Chicago, Illinois], this photo shows the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in northwest Indiana, including ArcelorMittal (originally Inland Steel), the Whiting BP (originally Amoco) refinery, etc. I grew up on the far South Side of Chicago, not far from here, in the ’70s and early ’80s, when the “rust belt” was beginning.

Lots of rust color—and conveyor belts in action—to be seen via satellite here, where the canal empties into Lake Michigan near the plume of steam in the background of Jim’s photo:

Google Maps

What’s going on down there? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has these statistics about what passes through the Indiana Harbor :

Commodities are iron ore, limestone, coke, gypsum, steel, cement and concrete, petroleum products, and miscellaneous bulk products. ...

Bulk commodities that pass through the harbor ... generate $332.M annually in direct revenue while supporting 1,495 direct, indirect, and induced jobs that produce $263.M per year in direct income.

Pretty impressive, Indiana. If you’ve got a photo to share—particularly one from CT, GA, ID, IA, ME, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, or WV—let us know.

Jimmy Rollison

Here’s the latest from Jimmy Rollison, one of our ace photographers for the series, who’s provided stunning views over Monument Valley, Dinosaur National Monument, and the Continental Divide. This colorful one was captured over Duncan Mills, California. “It’s west of Sacramento,” he writes, “looking at the coastal range that separates the Sacramento Valley from the Napa Valley in a 1939 airplane.” Update from another reader, Frank:

That “1939 airplane” is a Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing” biplane, and I think it is the most beautiful single-engined propeller driven aircraft ever produced (although the Supermarine Spitfire is very closely competitive). The Staggerwing is, truly, Walter Beech’s masterpiece. Notice how the upper biplane wing is mounted aft of the lower, a rare feature called “negative wing stagger” that gives the airplane its unique appearance and grace.

Next time you are in DC, wander by the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall and make your way to the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Therein, a yellow Model 17 is suspended for your examination and admiration.

Thanks for the series; the photos are great.

So are the emails! Here’s the beauty that Frank mentions:

Smithsonian