formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

To get your copy of "Ely Air Lines: Select Stories from 10 Years of a Weekly Column" volumes 1 and 2, visit our website at

Be sure to read your weekly Liberty Gazette newspaper, free to Liberty area residents!

April 20, 2021 Don't Mess With Texas

The Liberty Gazette
April 20, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Every day when we take our elderly German Shepherd, Hilda, out for her walk, we encounter trash along the sides of the neighborhood roads. It’s abominable, and it makes us wonder what kind of people these are who toss their trash out in front of someone else’s house. We pick up what we can, drop it in the poop bags, and add it to our trash bin, all the while muttering things about these characters who we think even live in this neighborhood. Have they no pride in their community?

One day, Mike was so angry with the amount of trash he collected on just two streets that he wished he could take the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17G Flying Fortress and scare the bejeebers out of those skunks who are littering here daily. “Just like that video,” he said. “I want to do that to them.” 

“What video?” I asked. 

“The B-17 that hunted down a screwball just like these. It was a commercial for the Texas Highway Department’s ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ campaign.” 

“Oh, cool,” I responded and rushed over to my comfy writing chair in the living room and looked it up on YouTube

You might remember it. A couple of yahoos in an old red pickup rumble down a dusty West Texas highway, country music playing, and the driver tosses trash out his window. 

Queue the announcer (in West Texas drawl): “Somethin’ to think about. If you throw trash on Texas highways…” (sudden change in music to a daunting, imminent “I will get you” bass note) “Somebody up there’s gon-be watchin’.” 

A heatwave-rippled silhouette rises ominously from over the horizon and, just feet above the ground, it zeros in on the truck.

Radio: “Ghost Squadron to Ghost Squadron Leader, we’ve got one in sight. Let’s make an impression on this guy. Over.”

Announcer: “And you don’t wanna mess with the Texas Confederate Air Force.” Whoosh as the B-17 passes so low you must duck. “So don’t mess with Texas.” 

Radio: “Bombs away.” 

Yes, how wonderful that would be to invite the CAF to Liberty to hunt them down. 

The CAF brought out their North American P-51 Mustang and Grumman F4F Wildcat along with the B-17, and the director tried filming the ad with all three aircraft, but the Flying Fortress produces so much wake turbulence that the other two couldn’t stay close enough behind it, and above the wake, they were too high for the dramatic effect.

Mike: Shot more than 20 years ago, people remember this commercial among all the other “Don’t Mess With Texas” spots, including those with Texas’ famous residents Chuck Norris and George Strait. 

I wonder if the perpetrator’s perspective would change if all the trash they dumped on our streets over say 10 years was collected and then planted on their own front lawn by a low flying four-engine WWII bomber. Would the B-17’s bomb bay be big enough to hold it all? Let’s find out. 

Bombs away.

April 13, 2021 A Little Local Flying

The Liberty Gazette
April 13, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Wheels up on a sunny Friday afternoon, and we’re over the hometown here spotting reality from a different perspective. I had wondered about those cranes along the river. For the past couple of weeks, I have noticed when driving past them at dark that all but the shortest one seem to be unlit. That’s rather unusual. The standard (law) is that anything over 199 feet must have a light on top. If the light goes out, a Notice To Airmen must be issued through the formal channels for the FAA to publish. The goal is to prevent pilots from hitting stuff. Smart goal, thank you very much. I’m not sure why only the shortest one has a light, so beware, if you’re flying low. 

After the birds’ eye view of the construction project, we flew on toward Conroe’s Lone Star Executive Airport to practice some instrument approaches. When the weather is beautiful, as it was that day, the skies tend to be more densely populated with small aircraft. I wondered why the Houston approach controller sighed after I asked for a practice approach. As we got close to Conroe and were switched over to the tower controller, we realized what that sigh meant. Lone Star Executive was abuzz with small airplanes, and the guy in the tower was spewing instructions rapid-fire! 

The wind favored landing on runway 14, so everyone was being funneled in, or out, that way. Some were flying multiple circuits in the traffic pattern, practicing landings, some were practicing approaches, like us. Others were arriving to dine at the Black Walnut, and some were taking off to who-knows-where. It was the start of the weekend, and people were getting out of Dodge. 

As the controller cleared us to land on 14, he said immediately after, “Exit One-Nine.” That’s a runway, not a taxiway. Okay, fine, runway 19 was not in use as a runway at that time, so it was being used like a taxiway. But being given this unexpected instruction while we are on short final meant we had to look quickly at how much landing distance we had before we would arrive at 19, the crossing runway, where we were expected to clear the way for the plane behind us. It meant we should plan on landing early, touch down close to the approach end of the runway and be ready to apply brakes sooner. For someone with a lot of experience, that’s a few quick adjustments. But for students and other low-time pilots, the fast-talking controller issuing orders, some of them unusual, this scenario can be intimidating. 

What probably got pilots’ attention more than anything that afternoon was his no-nonsense, gruff voice – “Listen up people! You have to be ready when I call you!” He left no question who was in charge, which is good. Later, we asked a friend who keeps their airplane there about him. “Ha! Yes, we know him. Yes, he’s very good at his job!” she said. 

How was your Friday afternoon?

April 6, 2021 If Only...

The Liberty Gazette
April 6, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Last week when we wrote about flying blind, we knew we would want to return to the British blind adventurer we mentioned, Miles Hilton-Barber. Miles lost his eyesight while in his early twenties. But he’s flown an aircraft halfway around the world from London to Australia, and that’s not all. Wait, let’s step back a bit. 

At age 18, Miles expected to follow his father, a WWII fighter pilot, into the Royal Rhodesian Air Force, but he failed the eyesight exam. Three years later, both he and his brother, Geoff, were diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disease that leads to total blindness. Game over? Yes, for Miles. He adopted an attitude of victimhood that lasted for the next 30 years. Then he helped Geoff build a boat, and Geoff went off and set a world record as the first blind person to cross an ocean solo. He sailed from Africa to Australia by himself. Afterward, he told Miles to stop focusing on his blindness, and start focusing on his dreams.

That was the kick in the pants Miles needed. Here he’d been waiting all those years for a miraculous healing. If only he could see again, then he could… but there was Geoff. He wasn’t waiting. He was living, while Miles had been telling himself, “you’re not meant to do that.”

He realized that we cannot always control things that happen to us, but we can control how we respond. He didn’t know how it would happen, but he would pursue his lifelong dream to be a pilot. It took years of perseverance, but he never gave up, and one day he took off from London and touched down in Sydney after 55 days and 13,000 miles in a microlight aircraft. Speech output technology and a co-pilot helped him do it, and most important to Miles, he raised money to eradicate preventable blindness in developing countries. 

Miles has set other world records and taken part in extreme events across all seven continents in mountaineering, desert and polar ultra-marathons, power-boat racing, scuba-diving, motor-racing, aerobatic and supersonic flying. He completed the Marathon Des Sables, 151 miles across the Saharan desert in the “toughest footrace on Earth.” He’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and holds the world record as the first blind person to man-haul a sled nearly 250 miles across Antarctica. 

But here’s the thing: If you’re Miles Hilton-Barber, you believe that God can use you to help others; that it’s not about you, it’s about relationships. He and his wife of several decades have children and grandchildren who are the light of their lives. 

He also says don’t let your achievements make you arrogant and proud. Rather, know that by God’s grace, if you can do these things, it must mean that other people can. “It’s like walking through deep snow,” he says, “you need a strong person up front, breaking through and making a path for others to follow.” That’s what his flight to Sydney did for preventable blindness.

March 30, 2021 Flying Blind

The Liberty Gazette
March 30, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

The phrase, “flying blind” may make you think of the titles of various forms of entertainment — a couple of novels, at least two films, a short-lived 90s sitcom, and an album by Irish vocalist Niamh Kavanagh. None, however come close to the reason the phrase exists, which is to describe flying in conditions so visually obscured that one must rely on the aircraft’s instruments in the panel to know where to go and how to handle the airplane. This begs the question, could a blind person fly an airplane? 

Blindness in one eye does not necessarily prevent the acquisition of a pilot certificate. There are airline pilots who have been able to demonstrate to the FAA that they can fly with the visual input from one eye. However, there really are fully blind pilots. While they cannot be given a pilot certificate to fly on their own, they can and do show the world how to overcome barriers. 

For example, British blind adventurer Miles Hilton-Barber flew a microlite aircraft halfway around the world from London to Australia using audio computer software.

A group of air cadets, the Flying Aces, led by the Air Training Corps of Scotland, are encouraged to consider that if they can fly an airplane, they can do anything. These teens with various disabilities are given a boost of confidence which leads them to think more broadly about their future. 

For those who prefer the experience on the ground, Canadian company Pacific Feelings Media created “It’s Your Plane,” which was light years beyond Microsoft Flight Simulator. In Blind Pilot Mode, this virtual co-pilot took voiced instructions and applied them to simulator flying, from pre-flight to shut down. 

And then there’s Jim Platzer, former president of a Fortune 500 company, forced into early retirement due to retinitis pigmentosa. Jim was a pilot before he went blind. His ambition to get back in the left seat (with dual controls and a flight instructor next to him) inspired Jason DeCamillis to take to the skies. Jason wanted to learn to fly a plane ever since he was a child, but he too has retinitis pigmentosa. As a special education teacher and advocate for students with disabilities, when he heard about Jim flying around, he quickly realized how many more people he could encourage in a new way. 

Jason’s flight instructor, Dr. Alex Arts, teaches people to fly when he’s not performing ear surgery. Ironically, Alex was rejected by the Navy for a pilot position because he did not have 20/20 uncorrected vision. Years later, he was helping Jason learn to fly an airplane. 

He says, “I can see people asking, why would you spend all this money when the endpoint is limited? But the endpoint is limited no matter what you do. So, we’ve gone from flying airplanes to the most fundamental part of being a human being.”

Jason agrees. “It’s not about overcoming disability; it’s about living my life. I want to share what is possible when we work together across ability.”

March 23, 2021 Here's Learing at You

The Liberty Gazette
March 23, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Last month, Bombardier, the builder of the Learjet, announced that it would cease production of that iconic aircraft. Though Lears will fly for many years to come, it is difficult to accept the end is on the horizon. The Learjet 35A is the model I have the most experience in. Since 1991, I have logged nearly 7,500 hours in Lears. There are 8,760 hours in a year, meaning about ten and a half months of my life were spent strapped to a hotrod. 

Learjet at La Carlota
The Learjet was the vision of Bill Lear, the inventor of the eight-track tape player. He was probably a genius, but he was also eccentric. I once landed in Salt Lake City unable to operate my landing lights. 

The mechanic found some funny looking crumbling electrical wiring that did not look like any of the electrical schematics. Yet, it looked like an original installation, so he contacted the factory folks. The engineers in Wichita didn’t know anything about what they assumed was a modification. 

They went looking for people who worked on the production line when our plane was built and found a guy who had been retired for more than ten years who remembered what happened. He told how Bill Lear came out to the production line one day and wanted to try out something new. I was told this was a common occurrence, Bill making ad-hoc modifications during production, which is what led to the affectionate saying, “the Learjet is the world’s most expensive homebuilt airplane.”

Learjet at General Fransico Miranda AB
Caracus Venezuela SVFM
 The first Learjet, model 23, took flight in 1963. Then came the 24, 25, 28 and 29 models, all of which comprised the “20-series”, followed by the “30-series” and the “50-series”. A pilot needed one type rating, LR-JET, on their certificate to be captain on any airplane in these series. Then, the Learjet 60 and later the 40-series were introduced, each requiring their own type rating. The Learjet 45 looks like its predecessors, but the first time I flew one, it flew more like a truck than a Ferrari, like the previous models. However, it is very efficient, and the pilots who fly it regularly, love it. 

I hold two of the three Learjet type ratings, the LR-JET and LR-60. I’ve flown the Lear at over 500 mph, topped 49,000 feet on a test flight, and across the Atlantic. 

Mike Ely, Captain, Learjet.
Winter 1994, Denver Stapleton
I once flew a Lear non-stop coast to coast in three and a half hours. Before take-off, the other pilot and I waited for an hour as technicians in San Diego carefully loaded a rocket guidance system on our Lear. 

They hooked up sensors to detect any possible damage caused by turbulence. A brisk tailwind kicked us all the way to Titusville, Florida where another group was waiting to offload our precious passenger. We were surprised because, unlike the careful loading, it took them just five minutes to rip it out.

The Learjet holds a special place in my logbooks, just like other pilots who’ve been fortunate to fly them.

March 16, 2021 Tails of Irony

The Liberty Gazette
March 16, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I have plenty more snow-blown tales to tell, but they can wait until next year. Our two weeks of winter seems to be over. Meanwhile, as we hope for a return to normal in airline travel, let’s discuss some do’s and don’ts. In short, do consider whether all your carry-ons are necessary and appropriate, and don’t abuse privileges or take advantage of animals. I’ll explain.

When Mikhail Galin bought a ticket for a flight on Russian airliner Aeroflot, he assumed his cat, Viktor, could ride along on his lap. The pair had a layover in Moscow on their way from Latvia to far eastern Vladivostok where the airline denied cabin seating to Viktor because the cat was too fat. He weighed 22 pounds, and the limit is 17 pounds. But Mikhail was determined to find a way, and with some quick thinking, he concocted a plan. He found a “double,” but one that had been eating fewer snacks than Viktor had. Her name was Phoebe, and she weighed only 15 pounds. Her owners brought her to the airport and loaned her to Mikhail to take to the counter and claim she was Viktor. Once they completed check-in, Phoebe and her people left, and Mikhail and Viktor boarded the plane. Too late to get in trouble, he thought.

They would have pulled it off had Mikhail not bragged on social media. Now Aeroflot was also determined to find a way. The punishment was revocation of Mikhail’s 400,000 air miles. That makes it one expensive seat for the cat. That’s about $4,500 worth of miles, or 333,330.75 Russian rubles. A cat sitter would have been cheaper.

Linda: But when it’s the pet that’s supposed to babysit the owner, an abuse of the privilege can also be costly. 

Without arguing the legitimacy of emotional support animals, many which are lifesavers for people suffering disorders such as combat-induced PTSD, there are times when our fellow two-leggers fail us, and them. A flight from London to Austin was one such time. A planeload of people aboard a Norwegian Airlines airplane were delayed from departing for an hour and a half thanks to a couple of passengers with their “emotional support” French Bulldogs dressed in pink tutus. Ironically, as the dogs boarded, they became distressed. It was clear to the captain, who has the final say on the flight, that this was going to be a problem, so the tutus trotted right back off the plane, their humans with them, under captain’s orders. 

A line has to be drawn somewhere. After all, do you want to share a few intimate hours with a horse or a peacock, trapped together in a shiny metal tube rocketing through the atmosphere? 

On the other hand, Bob Jamison once made an effort to give emotional support to a nine-foot python, at the emotional expense of pilot David Rogers, to return it to its home in Belize, conveniently when Bob and friends planned a fishing trip down there. 

March 9, 2021 More Snow-Blown Tales

The Liberty Gazette
March 9, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Early flying experiences can leave lasting impressions. Many years ago, I was preparing to fly home after spending a week visiting friends in Boise, Idaho. During preflight, I noted that the temperature was about five degrees and it was snowing lightly. The snow was very dry and not sticking due to how cold it was. The yellow ball of the sun was veiled but visible through low clouds, and a halo surrounded it. Two star-like bright spots (sun dogs) appeared on each side of the ring. Their presence told me there was a high layer of ice crystals, far above where I would be flying. The top of the cloud layer I was going to climb through was reported to be about eight thousand feet. The climb wouldn’t be difficult in the Cessna Turbo Skylane RG.

On my first attempt to taxi to the runway, the ground controller directed me down a taxiway that had not been cleared of snow, thinking it wasn’t very deep, which was a mistake. Turns out, the snow depth was about 18 inches, and once I got into it, I couldn’t turn around or go forward. I shut down the engine and stood in the snow as the ground crew dug me out. Embarrassed, I tossed $20 into their line service coffee fund, hopped in and fired up, determined never make that mistake again. 

This time, the controller directed me down a taxiway that was clear of snow. But a sheet of ice covered it, and with a stiff wind at my side, I had to taxi cockeyed to keep the airplane from sliding into the snow drifts on either side. By the time I reached the runway, I had learned how to sail and ice skate in an airplane. Fortunately, the takeoff was straight into the wind and uneventful.

As expected, I broke out above the clouds and into bright sunshine shortly after leaving the ground. I was flying on an instrument flight plan but wanted to remain clear of the clouds as much as possible on my way to Reno, Nevada, my refueling stop. The desert landscape, white and frozen, lay below multiple cloud layers between me and the ground. I would change altitudes to remain in the clear until shortly before my destination because clouds are wet, and cold clouds have ice.

As I began my approach into Reno at 12,000 feet, I flew into a thick layer of cloud and was immediately pelted by freezing rain. Without hesitation, I advised the controller that I needed to climb to clear and colder air. He cleared me to 16,000 feet. At 15,000’, I came out of the clouds with the airplane wrapped in ice.

We estimated that I landed with over 300 pounds of ice, collected in less than a couple minutes. I broke off the icicle that pointed straight out from the prop spinner. It resembled a 12-inch-long funnel and weighed several pounds. Lessons from that flight have stayed with me ever since.

March 2, 2021 Snow-blown tales

The Liberty Gazette
March 2, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: The recent ice storm was not entirely a surprise to me. Since moving here, I’ve noticed that whenever a hurricane hits nearby, the following winter we get at least a little snow.

The fun part was watching neighborhood kids trying to have snowball fights and skidding along the ice-covered streets, possibly for the first time. It brought back memories of some icy flights I’ve made.  

Once, while on approach to an airport in Pasco, Washington, the air traffic controller gave us a clearance to land while advising, “Only half of the runway is plowed.” The captain and I each raised an eyebrow. Which half of the runway was still covered in snow? The first half? The last? I radioed, “Okay, do you want to inform us as to which half is plowed?” 

With a chuckle, the controller replied, “Oh yeah, I guess that’d be important. The southeast side, the left half.” Meaning we had the full seven-thousand-foot of length to land on, but instead of a 150-foot-wide swath of asphalt, it was now only about 75 feet, with snow piled along both sides. The Learjet’s wingspan was forty feet.

Closer in on the approach, we were able to see the difference in the hue of gray defining the cleared side. After the captain plopped down hard on the crusty-icy surface, he slowed the airplane down well before the end of the runway, which was the only opening in the berm of snow. At five degrees and still snowing heavily, the powdery stuff covered the taxiway. We had to use the taxiway lights sticking up out of it as a guide to stay on the pavement while we taxied to parking. The nose bounced up and down and snow puffs “splashed” off to the side as we crashed through drifts. It felt more like a power boat than a jet.

Years later, I flew a charter out of south Florida after a major blizzard hit the northeast. Our passenger needed to get to a cancer treatment center in Baltimore for surgery, but all the airports around Washington were closed under a heavy blanket of snow. We watched the weather for a window that would allow us to get into an airport in the area. Anticipating one such opportunity, we departed from Fort Lauderdale for Washington Dulles International while arrangements for special ground transport were being made to get our passenger to Baltimore.

The airport opened, but with only one runway cleared. We came out of the clouds a couple miles from the airport in near whiteout conditions. A bright orange Southwest airliner that stood out from the white and gray environment was the only way we could identify it as an airport. We couldn’t even make out the runway, still covered in ice and patchy snow, until we were a half mile from it. The passenger made it to the hospital, and from what I learned later, the operation was a success. 

See you next week with a few more snow-blown tales.

February 23, 2021 Space Haggis

The Liberty Gazette
February 23, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last year, in honor of my Scottish ancestry, we flew to Chicago for one of the biggest Burns Suppers in the U.S. This is an annual event that celebrates the birthdate of Scottish poet Robert Burns. It’s the same every January 25, everywhere around the world. This year, however, health fears prevented the gathering, so instead, I and millions of others around the globe celebrated online. 

There were some fantastic presentations, including special productions from Edinburgh and Ayr in Scotland. All, of course, included haggis. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, and at every Burns Supper, a haggis is paraded into the dining hall with great bagpipe fanfare and presented to the crowd, while someone recites Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis.” Haggis is sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach. However, one can find vegetarian haggis in a can at Spec’s in downtown Houston, in the “finer foods” section. 

This year, there was something special about one celebration that was not just out of the box, but out of the atmosphere. Starting early, on Friday, January 22, “the Scottish Butcher,” Simon Howie, launched the first ever haggis into space. Mr. Howie’s plan to promote his prepared product, which Scots can buy at any grocery store, was out-of-this-world-fun. His packaged haggis soared over 20 miles (107,293 feet) above the earth. That beats the world’s highest Burns Supper he hosted on the top of Kilimanjaro in 2010. It’s four times the height of Mt. Everest and 2.5 times higher than most jets fly. It’s the edge of space. 

Visibility on launch day was so good that in the video, at altitude, you can see at least as far as 250 miles away. Their media team reported that when the balloon burst, Simon’s haggis was safely transported back to the company’s Perthshire headquarters. Actually, it’s more like it fell to Earth at nearly 200 miles an hour before the parachute took over, surely making it as well the fastest haggis ever. They say it will be preserved for years to come, as the first haggis in space. Search “space haggis” on YouTube to find the video. Or just go to

Aside from creative marketing, Simon Howie hopes to spark intergalactic and scientific interest in young people. In partnership with Stratonauts, they will, once gathering restrictions are lifted, run workshops in local primary schools to encourage more kids into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related careers. Stratonauts is a private organization that works to inspire students to become pioneers of the future.

Their record-breaking haggis made the flight in 2 hours and 37 minutes. The temperature got down to -60C, and the wind got up to 150.30 mph. This was done with a weather balloon, which expands as it rises. At its highest altitude, the balloon reached 10 meters in diameter. After that, it was a quick trip down. Robbie Burns would probably amend his address if he knew about this.

February 16, 2021 Aerial Mapping

The Liberty Gazette
February 16, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Our story last week was about an archeological discovery from the Iron Age, spotted in an aerial photograph. Aerial mapping has become big business. Just a week or so ago, standing outside in the front lawn, I heard an airplane and naturally, I looked up. Overhead was a Cessna Caravan making precise circles. At first, I thought the large single-engine turboprop might be a jump plane from one of Houston’s parachute centers. Then I saw a large hole in the bottom of the plane’s body. That, I knew, was for taking pictures. The airplane was mapping Liberty. 

In 2001, Google began stitching high-definition satellite photos together to create their Google Earth software program. Other companies have followed. In 2012, Google added to their universe as they began 3-D modeling of select cities.

The way it works is, a camera mounted on the airplane takes pictures of an area from four or more sides. Tilted at a 45-degree angle, it takes a series of pictures at one altitude, then the airplane climbs to a higher altitude where more images are captured. With each increase in altitude, the airplane circles at a calculated wider path, so the camera position has the same view as at the previous altitude. The photo frames are connected using algorithms and fed into Google Earth, making a three-dimensional view available from the highest altitude the aircraft took the pictures. When the screen is zoomed out to an altitude above that, the format reverts to a 2-D satellite view.

Arial photography has been around since long before satellites. Airplanes make mountain-top views available everywhere, even where no mountains exist. With their lenses pointed straight down from the airplane’s belly, the early images produced were two-dimensional; flat. Over time, the airplanes flew higher, and the cameras got better. Hundreds of pictures were taken from high-flying military airplanes flying a grid-pattern over the countryside. 

In the 1930s through the 1950s, cartographers used these photos to create topographical maps and aeronautical charts. Curved and wavy lines on the maps illustrate elevation changes, but before mapmakers could draw those, they needed to see the relief—the steepness of the terrain. The cartographer would then view the pictures through a stereoscope device to see the land in three dimensions while drawing the maps. The elevations were verified by ground survey at specific points. 

The cameras aboard Air Force spy planes take high-resolution pictures so we can learn what adversaries may be planning. They say pictures taken from the cameras aboard the SR-71 and U-2 are so clear, that even taken from 70,000 feet, you can tell the time on someone’s watch.

Though major cities were the first to be mapped, the effort has expanded regionally over time. Eventually, the whole United States, and maybe someday the world, will be available for viewing on our computers in three dimensions.  Today, the world is shrinking as cameras are coupled with GPS and are mounted in airplanes flown by pilots who fly precise circles overhead.