As my regular readers surmise, on travelling back and forth to "Ketelsen East" in Illinois, I enjoy looking out the window. Looking at my fellow passengers, it seems I am nearly alone pressing nose to window watching the country pass by. It seems most can't be bothered even having the shade open - how can you rather read a book than see the world zip by at 3/4 the speed of sound?!
I've also made comments that I suspect the pilots enter the destination or waypoints into the flight computer and it follows the same path. Every time. Not that I'm complaining, but it is fun to see the same landmarks swing by. This last flight I recognized a reservoir in NE Kansas, and my seatmate asked where I thought we were. I told him I thought we were near Topeka, and wouldn't you know the pilot came on and confirmed it 15 seconds later! He also said something about flying over El Paso, normally a ways out of our way. I got a little excited, but then I think he confused it with the normal Albuquerque waypoint! As shown here at left and at right, from Chicago O'Hare to Tucson, AZ, we ALWAYS pass just south of Albuquerque before turning south towards Tucson. That is it just east of the Sandia Mountains in the center of the left photo taken on 15 November. The most recent trip, on 31 January, you can see a little snow in the mountains. What is more interesting is that at the very top of the photo, you can see the snow-capped Rockies well up into Colorado!
The plane turns slightly more southwards and we pass down parallel to the Rio Grande River - yes, the very one that runs down and eventually becomes the border between Texas and the United States. About 6 minutes after making the turn, we always seem to pass over this remarkable mesa that I've yet to find on Google Maps, though I know pretty closely where it is located. The landform and subtle coloration is exquisite! And you can also see from the near-identical images that we are almost flying over the exact same spot! It is a big sky up there and I would think it would be tough to occupy the same spot without help!
A few minutes later and outside the right windows, we seem to always pass over the VLA - a huge radio telescope that uses 27 dishes, each about 82 feet diameter. As shown on the left photo, both these recent trips, we've passed over the very end dish of the east arm of the array. Each arm is 13 miles long - the best way to think of the radio telescope is as if the 82 foot dishes are tiny parts of a huge dish 25 miles across! The left photo was taken on the most recent return trip. The dishes are mounted near railroad tracks, so they can be moved to adjust the telescope's resolution and sensitivity, which happens on a regular basis. At right you can compare the center of the array 11 weeks apart. In the lower, more recent image, they are reconfiguring the array for the "D" close-pack configuration which has lower angular resolution, but the highest sensitivity.
Somewhere down in southwestern New Mexico, we adjust our course more to the west to pass over the big copper mine in Clifton/Morenci, and a few minutes later, Mount Graham and the Large Binocular Telescope(LBT). I always look for LBT as a waypoint, and also because we made the mirrors for it at the Mirror Lab where I work. Sitting atop the mountain very near the peak, it is easily visible. Once seen, the Sub-Millimeter Telescope is spotted adjacent to it, and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is there too. You can also see here that in the 11 weeks between my return trips, Graham also picked up quite a snowpack, as seen at right.
From there we follow Interstate 10 into Tucson, usually circling over the north side of town before landing towards the southeast into the south-side airport.
Normally the photos I take include image pairs taken a few seconds apart for making 3D images, and there is no lack of them on these trips too. But I know that many of you don't have the glasses, so am slowing down my production of anaglyph images. I'm looking for an inexpensive source of them so I can offer them to you in exchange for a self-addressed-stamped envelope, but still looking for a suitably cheap source! In the meantime, open your window shades and enjoy the view out the plane!