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From The Cockpit: 26 Images That Only Pilots Can See (Until Now)

Most people have boarded an airplane at some point in their lives and everyone remembers how exciting it was the very first time. Almost every first-time flier is eager to get the window seat in hopes that they can finally see what it’s like to look down at the Earth from an altitude of thirty-five thousand feet up in the air. Some find themselves in amazement as they gaze down at the planet beneath while a few find the view a bit underwhelming when they finally get their glimpse, expecting more.

Those who find themselves saying it wasn’t that incredible simply don’t have quantity on their side. One flight or a handful under your belt simply might not yield the incredible views that one might get to experience if you practically lived in the air… like pilots for instance.

The people who practically spend their entire lives in the air would be the first to say that views from the sky can be absolutely magnificent and spellbinding if you get enough glimpses. With pilots spending years at cruising altitude, it stands to reason that at some point they are going to take in some stunning views from the cockpit. Some know this and don’t succumb to the regularity of being in the sky so often, not allowing themselves to become jaded about flying. These few take it all in, appreciating the views and have even made it a habit of photographing the things they see while flying aircraft.

Here are twenty-five amazing pictures of what pilots see from the cockpit!

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26 The Afghanistan Mountains

via CNN Travel

Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst captured this stunning image of the mountain ranges of Afghanistan from his cockpit decades ago during the first years of piloting career. This photo amazes for several reasons. The incredible clarity over the mountains with their snow-covered tips only add to the beauty of the photograph.

The image also does a fantastic job of showing the world a side of the country of Afghanistan that many would not otherwise know of. It should also be noted that even though many of us fly, we rarely get to take in the Earth’s curvature which is clearly visible in the distance, only adding to the amazing nature of the image.

25 The Aurora Borealis

via CNN Travel

In an image that many would envy, this stunning picture taken directly from the view of the cockpit is something many would-be travelers dream of seeing their entire lives. In fact, people plan entire trips based on the notion of seeing the magnificent Aurora Borealis, making this one of the most coveted bucket list destinations in the world.

Depending on a pilot’s route, absolutely breathtaking images like this can be part of their everyday lives. This nighttime photo of the wondrous natural phenomena certainly amazes.

24 Beautiful New York City

via Pinterest

Although this one doesn’t necessarily pertain to an image taken from the cockpit of an airplane, it still joins our list since it was taken by a pilot. This helicopter gets a direct view of New York City’s fascinating skyline with clarity that few get to ever see because of the city’s strict aviation codes that restrict flights directly over the buildings.

The Statue of Liberty gracefully standing in her place on Liberty Island overlooking the New York Harbor is off to the right while Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers loom ahead with the World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower standing out.

23 Chicago at Night

via Pinterest

Although no specific landmark from the great city of Chicago stands out in this image, it is still an impressive photo as viewers get to experience a direct view of what pilots actually see as they approach the city at night on their way to O’Hare Airport.

The never-ending sea of lights is spellbinding while the countless lights inside the cockpit are just as eye-catching.

It’s evident that the number of things a pilot must be in tune with to get us home safely is impressive in its own right.

22 Clouds at Night

via CNN Travel

In one of the more stunning images on our list, this photo captures an endless sea of clouds across the horizon at night from the cockpit. It’s hard to adequately describe how beautiful this photo is with the nighttime sky serving as the perfect backdrop to the clouds while the cockpit’s lights provide a stark contrast.

The pilot, via CNN Travel, who is responsible for the photograph puts it, “I think this is one of the few ways I can express in a photograph the feeling of solitude.”

21 Clouds from Stratosphere Altitude

via CNN Travel

It’s probably difficult to sometimes grasp just how high pilots take us in their airplanes. With cruising altitudes often reaching well over a mile high into the sky, we are quite literally much closer to space than we all realize.

This incredible photo taken from the cockpit highlights that surreal reality with the clouds seeming so far below the plane and the darkness from space so clearly visible from the altitude this plane has reached in the stratosphere. The planet's curve is also clearly visible as Earth and space meet.

20 Clouds over Germany

via CNN Travel

The pilot was flying over the country of Germany when he captured this beautiful image of the Earth beneath. Although it is difficult to tell, it is actually nighttime as the dark black from space is immediately over the planet’s stratosphere with some of the light from the sunlight starting to come through.

The clouds look perfectly placed as if painted in, with a few puffy cumulonimbus clouds jutting through the blank canvas of white.

19 Flight over Greenland

via Pinterest

Getting a direct view of what a pilot sees offers us incredible insight into what it is like to land an airplane. Well, more accurately we get to see what it is like rather than know what it’s like. Either way, the vantage point of the landscape of ice that makes up vast Greenland looms ahead as the pilots prepare to land on the runway below.

This view definitely validates how daunting it must be to be in charge of having to maneuver and land this giant aircraft with Earth and Mother Nature serving as intimidating backdrops.

18 The Himalayas

via CNN Travel

Considered one of the tallest and most magnificent mountain ranges on the planet, this image of the Himalayas captures their size and beauty as the sun rises over their larger than life peaks. The snow-covered mountain range is clearly giant, but from the sky, they are still dwarfed by the plane’s altitude, proving just how high we go when flying.

To somehow look like a toy while being tens of thousands of feet tall is an incredible feat, showing the magnificence of flying.

17 Impressive Storm at Night

via CNN Travel

This photograph, capturing this giant thunderstorm, is captivating and intimidating all at the same time. The dark clouds being lit up by the lighting, along with its impressive size make for a hauntingly beautiful image, but one that must be scary considering its close proximity to the airplane’s cockpit, adding an element of danger.

The incredible nature of the photo is only amplified with the lights from the city beneath further adding to the depth of such an incredible moment captured in time.

16 Milky Way Galaxy Over Brazil

via CNN Travel

In this once in a lifetime photo, pilot Van Heijst, was able to capture the wonder of space during a landing over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although the sea of lights from the city below is sure to amaze, looking up is where the true beauty lies, evident by the lights that make up space. The stars from our galaxy simply make for an indescribably beautiful image that cannot be replicated.

Van Heijst described this image as ”a peaceful solitude just flying high up in the sky away from the rest of the world and the planet.”

15 Mount Rainier

via CNN Travel

While flying over the state of Washington in the United States, this photograph taken from the pilot’s cockpit captures the impressive Mount Rainier, a famous landmark in the area.

It’s easy to see why the mountain is one of the most visited in the world, as this view from the sky really highlights its size while the airplane passes alongside it. The sun rising in the distance only adds to the wondrous nature of such a remarkable sight.

14 Mount Redoubt, Alaska

via CNN Travel

Another mountain from the United States makes our list of incredible photos captured by pilots in the form of Alaska’s Mount Redoubt. Although this mountain certainly isn’t as famous as Washington’s Rainier, its striking nature is just as inspiring.

Alaska’s beautiful natural landscape in the background along with Mount Redoubt’s size makes for an impressive shot from the sky as the sun begins to set in the horizon.

13 Nighttime Landing

via Pinterest

Although this picture doesn’t convey what it’s like to be a pilot from high up in the sky, it certainly captures a pilot’s view of what it’s like to land a plane on the runway.

As the plane is about to touch down on the concrete after its flight, the dizzying lights speeding by on both sides of each pilot show us just how fast airplanes are moving even after they have left the air and are on the ground. After all, typical airplanes are traveling well above 170 miles per hour on the ground!

12 Northern Lights Over Canada

via CNN Travel

Any pilot will tell you that the Northern Lights never get old, no matter how many times they have had the privilege of seeing them from their vantage point. They are simply too captivating and awe-inspiring to ever grow tired of.

This image taken from the cockpit while flying over northern Canada captures the Northern Lights in the distance with their beautiful green glowing in the distance, all while under the stars from space, making for a magical photo.

11 Runway in the Mountains

via CNN Travel

The beautiful snow covered mountain range in the distance is simply stunning as the airplane approaches the airport, ready for landing. Their size, shape and white hues are awe-inspiring all in one breath. Another item in the photo that stands out is the runway as well, which doesn’t seem to be very long, proving just how impressive pilots really are.

Having to land an aircraft after traveling nearly 500 miles per hour on a piece of concrete that is really not as long as we might think is pretty incredible.

10 Shooting Stars Over India

via CNN Travel

The beautiful country of India is captured as the airplane flies over one of its many great cities, ready to land any minute. Before doing so, the pilot snaps this brilliant photograph and once again, it is not what is below that amazes nearly as much as what is above in the sky.

The nighttime sky is illuminated by the stars and more dazzlingly, by the shooting stars making their way across the sky over the city as the plane approaches. Another shot taken at the perfect time, grabbing a perfect moment that cannot be repeated.

9 Minnesota Storm

via CNN Travel

As the plane approaches the great city of Minneapolis, the pilot takes the time to take this stunning photo of a thunderstorm taking shape, ready to unleash its wrath. The vantage point from the cockpit highlights the beauty of nature – the sun is still out even though a storm is about to take place.

The shadow from the giant cloud covers an area so large it’s even hard to grasp its size. And finally, the size of the cloud itself is simply magnificent, proving how great these storms can truly be.

8 Storm over Toronto

via CNN Travel

Another storm makes its way onto our list, but this time over Canada’s most famous city, Toronto. This photograph is amazing for several reasons. It shows the inside of the cockpit as the pilot looks on in amazement down below at the storm taking place over the lights of Toronto while lightning lights up the nighttime sky.

There’s a lot going on and as CNN Travel puts it, the image “depicts the contrast between a very technical environment, the cockpit, and the world outside."

7 Sunrise from the Cockpit

via Pinterest

This photograph taken from the cockpit by the Captain captures the essence of what it is to fly an airplane. The co-pilot is seated around the controls while the plane flies over the clouds while the sun begins to rise in the distance, all making for a stunning image of everything that makes aviation so incredible and serene.

It is not difficult to see how anyone who sees this photo will automatically become enamored with the life of a pilot. In fact, it’s images like this that probably entice the next generation of pilots, ready to embark on their careers.

6 Sunrise Over Brazil

via CNN Travel

It’s becoming more and more evident that the sun makes for a great inclusion into any photo as sunrises and sunsets continue to make for stunning images on our list. Another one joins the list as this morning time photo of the sun rising over the city of Curitiba in Brazil begins to wake up.

The clouds are beautiful while the fog over the city makes for a striking view. The runway looms in the distance as the plane begins to descent ready to land.

5 Almost as if From Space

via CNN Travel

This plane’s cruising altitude is so high up that it’s almost as if this photograph was taken from space rather than from the cockpit of an airplane. The pilot captured this incredible view which depicts the clouds below along with space up above.

Two features stand out. Firstly, the clouds look peculiar, instead resembling small pockets of hard land in the desert. The other is the moon in the distant floating in space with such amazing clarity, seeming to be much closer than it actually is.

4 The Nile River

via CNN Travel

Most of the images on our list have depicted clouds, space, city lights and stars, but sometimes world-famous landmarks given to us by Mother Nature are simply too good to pass up. A small section of the world’s longest river, the Nile, can be seen from this image taken from above in a pilot’s cockpit as they fly over Northern Africa and Southern Europe.

The river looks impressive even from so high up, illustrating its size, power and grace all at once.

3 The Nile with the Earth’s Curvature

via CNN Travel

The Nile has to make our list just one more time as it truly is one of the most incredible wonders of the natural world. In this stunning photo captured from the sky, its length is absolutely amazing, seemingly never-ending. The photo captures such a wide girth of the planet, so much so, that the Earth’s curvature and space are clearly evident in the distance.

Even so, the river still isn’t fully captured in the picture’s frame, showing only a fraction of the Nile.

2 Pilot Looks On in Amazement

via CNN Travel

Even though pilots get to travel the skies of the Earth day in and day out, they are still amazed at the beauty our planet has to offer. In this humbling photo of a pilot sitting in the cockpit, while guiding the plane at night, it is clear he is amazed by the stars visible from space along with the eclectic colors of the Northern Lights.

He looks on into the horizon in awe of what has to be one of the most magical views anyone could ever experience firsthand.

1 Thunderstorm Outside Cockpit

via CNN Travel

In an odd way, being able to experience nature’s phenomena so closely is one of the more rewarding perks of flying in the sky, albeit rather scary at times. In this image, pilot  Van Heijst captures a storm right outside the windows of his cockpit which is enough to make any regular person nervous as this seems way too close for comfort.

According to him in an interview with CNN Travel, “it sometimes happens when you fly through a very electrically charged cloud, let's say a thunderstorm or even snowstorms, where these snowflakes give a little friction to the airplane.”

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