Dallas Altitude: A New Perspective

[Hey normal readers of the blog, I’m proud to present to you a special project that had been in the works for quite some time.  You’re welcome to read it here but there’s a really cool interactive story over at a microsite that I’ve created just for this project: www.dallasaltitude.com.  It’s best viewed from a computer and I think it tells the story much better than I can here]

Dallas, Texas, is the quintessential American city and a beacon of economic revival. An eclectic blend of culture, food, nightlife, and sporting events greet visitors and residents alike. A great city is punctuated by great architecture, and the skyline of Dallas stands almost without equal.

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THE INCREDIBLE DALLAS SKYLINE

Dallas has a thriving photographic community who celebrate each other’s work on hundreds of social media accounts, each one trying to find a new perspective of a city we know so well. As for me, I’m an aerial and landscape photographer. Every chance I get I take to the skies with my friends from Epic Helicopters. Setting aside how cool it is to fly in a helicopter I find that, as an artist, flight takes me away from my typical street-level view of Dallas.

I’ve spent countless hours plying the skies of Dallas for unique views, both daytime and night. Eventually I decided the typical helicopter flight was no longer enough. I wanted to attempt something which had never been done before over Dallas. I wanted a new perspective.

Dallas is a collection of many parts and downtown reflects that, specific iconic buildings dot the cityscape and frame the rest of the commercial district. I wanted to see Dallas differently. I wanted to see Dallas as one. To do that, I needed one thing: altitude.

A NEW PERSPECTIVE

Before my new perspective came to life I had to overcome numerous obstacles.

Flying a helicopter at high altitude is challenging, a task for only the most skilled of pilots. The air is thinner at altitude, meaning the blades must work harder to generate the lift necessary to keep the helicopter stable. Doing this at night complicates things significantly.

The airspace above Dallas is highly regulated by the FAA and regional Air Traffic Control. Flight plans must be submitted and approved before attempting a flight like this. Surely enough, the morning of our first attempt we were notified that we would not be able to proceed, with little warning. We went back to the drawing board and waited for another weather front to come through and take with it the atmospheric haze of springtime. Eventually we had our clearance and were ready to fly.

The night and the altitude pose massive barriers for all but the most advanced camera sensors and lenses. We had our clearance, we had our weather window, and I came equipped with two of the finest cameras available today: the Sony a7rII (with the Sony Zeiss 35mm/f1.4 lens attached) and the Sony a6500 (with the Sony 85mm/f1.4 G Master lens attached).

Problems solved. It was time for altitude.

To help you realize just how high 5000 feet over Dallas is, note the Southwest Airlines 737 on final approach to Love Field…thousands of feet below us.
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We made a wide turn to the left and leaned to the side, one of the only ways to get a top-down perspective. The effort was worth it.
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Dallas surrendered views of more icons: the American Airlines Center (home of the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars) and the two new Calatrava bridges: the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and the Margaret McDermott Bridge.

As nighttime took over from dusk, the colors of Dallas shone brightly from my new perspective.

 

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Dallas gave me even more views of iconic structures.

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The views that stick with me, however, force me to take a step back and not look at any single building, rather to consider downtown, and Dallas itself, as a whole.

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Dusk turned to darkness. The skill of my pilot, the coordination of Air Traffic Control, and the technology of my Sony cameras all combined for an unimaginable look at this new perspective.

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From this new perspective Dallas told me stories with color. The orange lights are mostly old tungsten bulbs while the brighter lights are modern LED lights, which are more energy efficient. Looking around downtown you can see progress from this new perspective as Dallas does its part to be an example of sustainability.

Klyde Warren Park, sitting above Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Once separated by a canyon, this park joins downtown and the Uptown neighborhoods, bringing renewed investment into the critical downtown/uptown core of the great city. It truly is amazing how one small piece of land over a freeway can have such impact.

It was time. I turned to Wesley and excitedly asked, “Can we go higher?” A quick call to ATC and the sky yielded to our Robinson R44. I put my eye to my Sony’s viewfinder and gasped. This was it. The picture of which I dreamed. It was all I could do to keep the camera still. 6000 feet yielded and completed our project. I had found my new perspective.

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Dallas was no longer an assembly of individual parts. From this altitude it took on almost an organic quality, the bridges across the vast darkness of the Trinity River bed resembling veins and arteries to the heart of the city. As we made one final circle, Dallas yielded some of its most amazing views.

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I was left breathless by the view. Hoping my camera had captured the incredible sight, we had to begin our return to Meacham Airport in Fort Worth. I was confident I had what I needed but we decided for a small detour on the way home.

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Love Field Airport sits just north of downtown Dallas and was on our flight path home so we decided to stop overhead. As we entered into a holding pattern over the airport at the request of ATC I had one final view of Dallas. It was a view that tied this new perspective together for me.

With altitude I could no longer see where certain neighborhoods began and others ended. I could not see crime statistics or skin color. Altitude forced me to consider Dallas a single, living, breathing entity. One that must be cared for by all of us. None of us stands greater than the other. It took altitude for me to realize this. I leave you with a panoramic view of the quintessential American city: Dallas, Texas.

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EPILOGUE

Our photographic journey was not quite over. Love Field Airport serves downtown Dallas while DFW International Airport serves, well, the world. Both were on our flight plan and ATC granted us access to fly over these incredible centers of logistics and infrastructure. First was Love Field, where I managed to capture a Southwest Airlines 737 as it landed on the runway.

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We continued our journey west, where the last sight greeted us. DFW International Airport is the 11th-largest airport in the world, providing facilities for over 65 million passengers in 2016. Its five terminals are familiar to many who have passed through this gateway to the world. As we approached the terminals I was able to capture detailed images of planes either awaiting passengers or resting from a hard day’s work.

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AFTERWORD

91 minutes. The helicopter’s skids were off the ground for 91 minutes. Time has a way of going by too quickly. The effort and challenge of high-altitude aerial photography at night made the passing of time even more rapid. The memories of this incredible flight are captured in the images you saw in this story. For me, though, my favorite memories were when the cameras were down at my hip. As I gazed over my brilliant new perspective, I was grateful for altitude. It let me see what I had long hoped for.

Altitude is a challenge. What will I do with this new perspective? What will you do? My hope is that Dallas Altitude would challenge you to be a greater part of your community. To be involved. To love each other greatly whether you agree with them or not. To care for those who need it. To make your voice heard. And to never settle for that which attempts to divide us. We are one city. One Dallas.

7 Comments

  1. Incredible! All the pics are fantastic, but the ones taken over KDAL were my favorite. Way to get the plane landing!

    Reply
  2. Quite beautiful. Thanks for sharing with all of us and I hope your trip pays off commercially as well 🙂

    Reply
  3. In one word – AWESOME.
    I am Dallas resident, and this was a visual treat like no other

    Reply
  4. Those are some fantastic photos

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  5. Absolutely spectacular!

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  6. Congratulations, Andy.

    Reply
  7. I drove this weekend on one of the super tall ramps on Bush Turnpike and was wishing I could see DFW from higher up. Thanks so much for this timely post, which is exactly what I was looking for.

    Reply

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