On night flights, there's more to see than airline movies

The orange starfish stretched wide and large below me as I looked down from a great height...It was a reminder of how the view from an airplane window can sometimes be quite remarkable. In this case, it was a different perspective on the city of Winnipeg.

In the surrounding blackness, urban centres from the air look like crystalline decorations on the vast expanse of our planet. Despite the internal glare from a plane's lighting system, night views are not only possible, but frequently satisfying, if you happen to have a window seat.

During daylight hours we forget how widely developed our lighting systems have become. At night the grid structure of the streets and buildings look like lit-up circuit boards with capillary tentacles reaching to the outlying regions.

Many European cities, having evolved from walled enclosures, castles and market squares, spread out from a central hub evenly in all directions. I remember one night looking down on Dublin and being amazed at the symmetry of the radiating pattern. It looked like a perfectly-designed citadel or spider web.

Interesting night views are not limited to cities. Natural features like lakes and rivers are visible under clear skies and moonlight. Mercury snakes twist and turn under aircraft wings.

Clouds are equally fascinating. Flying south under a Caribbean moon one time, the clouds looked like dark gray cotton balls. They left darker shadows over the ocean below. At first I thought I was looking at islands in the water, but after a minute of looking down under the brightness of the moon, I realized the black shapes were patches of cloud shades on the water. Like herds of elephants slowly crossing a savanna, they marched in silent formations over the waterscape. It was a surprising and stunning sight.

If this is what we can see from our small oval windows along the fuselage, imagine what pilots see up front.

If you've had similar experiences, why not a add a comment below. I'd really like to hear about yours.


To get a sense of how our cities look from outer space, see this illustrative YouTube video: "Cities at Night: An Orbital Tour Around the World."

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