Missing the View from Above: aviation photographs from digital collections

When people talk about things they miss during this time of COVID19 restriction, it’s typical to hear things like parties, restaurants, bars, shopping, and other leisure activities which physical distancing has limited or eliminated entirely.

One thing I never thought I would miss was the sound of planes flying low over my house. I live blocks from the airport and spent most of my childhood and teenage years telling friends to “hold on” while I held the phone to my chest and waited for the loud interruption to pass: planes so close they seemed to nearly brush the tops of the trees in my backyard, or else assuring my dog for the thousandth time that there was nothing to fear from the roaring that filled the room and rattled the windows.

At Special Collections we care for a great many materials rich in aviation history, the most prominent of which is the Pan American World Airways Records, a massive aggregation of the highly successful airline’s papers and photos over many decades. The Richard B. Hoit and Floyd and Marion Rinhart Photograph Collections features a number of very early aerial photographs of South Florida, showing the growing sprawl of the cities from the air as far back as 1917. The Michael L. Carlebach Photography Collection offers some spectacular shots from inside commercial jets in the 70s as well as artistic color views of small, single passenger planes.

Sitting inches from each other and sharing the same air and armrest for hours is certainly not in accordance with safety ordinances brought on by COVID-19, so, I haven’t heard a plane overhead for many months now. While flying was never a regular enough thing for me to say I miss, I do remember how full of wonder I felt looking down on my city or a new unfamiliar one from thousands of feet above when I did have the opportunity and occasion to board a plane. It hasn’t been very long since humans have been flying through the air, but our ability to do so has become a cornerstone of modern life.

While I wait for the rumbling sounds of take-offs to resume and remind me that there are important people jetting off to do important things, I’m glad for the next best thing in Special Collections digital collections to show me the view from above looking down, from the outside looking in, or from the ground looking skyward.