A miracle of flight

That was the view to the south from 31,000 feet above the center of Greenland a few hours ago: a late afternoon aurora over a blue dusk. According to my little hand-held GPS, we were around here: “11/10/17, 11:48:32 AM” “2.4 mi” “0:00:16” “538 mph” “30072 ft” “283° true” “N70° 56′ 10.4″ W38° 52′ 59.1″”That’s about four degrees north of the arctic circle.

The flight was Air New Zealand 1, a Boeing 777 now on its way to Auckland from Los Angeles, where I got off before driving home to Santa Barbara, where I am now, absolutely fucking amazed that we take this time- and space-saving grace of civilized life—flying—so fully for granted. (I know this isn’t a good time to source Louis C.K., but his take on how “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” contains simply the best take on commercial flying ever uttered by anybody.)

Here’s another amazing thing: we were also inside the auroral oval, which at the moment maps like this—

Normally on transatlantic flights between Europe and the U.S., one looks north at the aurora, but in this case I was looking south, because we veered north to avoid headwinds on the direct route, which would have taken us over the southern end of Greenland, right under that aurora. The whole flight was close to 12 hours, went in a large crescent loop, and at the end had us coming down at Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast, roughly from the direction of Seattle:

(The map is via FlightAware. Details from that same page: Actual: 5,859 mi; Planned: 5,821 mi; Direct: 5,449 mi. In other words, we flew 410 extra miles to avoid the headwinds. Here is the route in aviation code: YNY KS21G KS81E KS72E 4108N/12141W HYP AVE.)

Get this: I knew that would roughly be our path just by first looking at Windy.com, which shows winds at all elevations a plane might fly. (That link is to Windy’s current air flow map between London and Los Angeles at 34,000 feet.)

Even after flying millions of miles as a passenger, my mind is never less blown by what one can see out the window of a plane.




  1. Steve Borsch’s avatar

    I so enjoy your photos, Doc, and that you share them. But almost always ones we’d never see any other way (unless we were in the window seat behind you on every flight!).

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Steve.

    I do see myself as a proxy for others, eyes eager to see what norms have led others to ignore.

    By the way, did you see my story of sitting by the window on my last flight over Greenland? On that one I had to fight to keep the flight attendants from darkening the view for me and for everyone else (including the people in the seats behind me), while some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth slid by below. Amazing.

  3. Steve Borsch’s avatar

    Yep…I did see that story since I’ve followed your blog for a very long time (we also met once when you came to the U of Minnesota to speak at Minnewebcon) and, until life got too busy for endless podcast listening, was a Gillmor Gang devotee.

    Keep publishing!

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, Steve.

    Thanks for weighing in. I’ll keep publishing, of course. Can’t help it, and nobody else will have me anyway. (I’m not complaining. Just respecting the simple fact that the future is here, and for most writers it doesn’t pay. And I’m cool with that.)

    The Gillmor Gang is still going strong, by the way. And I’m back on it more than I’m off it, which I trust is a Good Thing.

    It’s also interesting to me that my photos get by far more action than anything else I publish: 5000 to 10000 views per day, and north of twelve million views since Flickr started counting them. They also contribute to the public domain. For example, hundreds of shots have found their way in to Wikimedia Commons, and from there into thousands of Wikipedia pages. So that’s cool too.

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