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Remote sensing is the art and science of obtaining information about a subject using some type of instrument, without it physically being in contact with the earth. Air photos are the earliest form of true remote sensing.

The first air photos were taken by Gaspard Felix Tournachon in the late 1850s from a tethered balloon in France. James Wallace Black took the first aerial photograph in the United States in 1860. His photograph of Boston is the oldest extant air photo (Avery and Berlin, 1985; Benton, 2000). By the time the Civil War broke out, there were several balloonists willing to use aerial photography in the war effort (Evans). The art of taking air photos from a balloon first reached California in the early 1900s when George Lawrence took images of the 1906 Earthquake from a tethered balloon (Benton, 2000). Following World War II, balloons were mainly used for scientific observation of the weather. Hot-Air Balloon Ed Yost was involved in the development of scientific balloons as an engineer for General Mills. He received a grant from the Navy to develop a hot-air balloon (as opposed to using helium, which is highly flammable). Yost's experiments eventually resulted in the first modern hot-air balloon in 1960 (Denniston, 1999). By the 1970s ballooning was becoming a popular pastime. With the advent of ballooning in the Shasta Valley in the 1980s, numerous air photos of Mount Shasta have been taken by reknowned photographers such as Jane English. You might be interested to note that Ed Yost himself said that Jane English's Ballooning 2001 calendar (featuring photos of Mount Shasta) is "the best balloon calendar I've ever seen" (Osner, 2001).


Like ballooning, kite aerial photography (KAP) also began in France, in the late 1880s. Arthur Batut and Emile Wenz developed the system of hanging the camera from a suspension system on the string of the kite, rather than on the kite itself. The first kite aerial photograph taken in the United States was in 1895 (Aber, 2000). KAP was used extensively in the military and scientific observations. The only kite aerial photography of Mount Shasta known to me was performed by Jim and Susie Aber in May 1999.

L. P. Bonvillain took the first photograph from an airplane while flying in the Wright Brothers' craft in 1908 (BDM Federal, Inc). At about the same time, the filming of a movie was transferred to California and Hollywood was born. In the 1920s, due to the combined effect of World War I and the growing movie industry in California, aerial photography became more commonplace. The oldest known air photo of Mount Shasta taken from a plane was photographed by the USGS in 1959. Mount Shasta, along with most parts of the United States, is now regularly photographed through the National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP). These air photos have been widely used by planning agencies.

Air photos taken from kites and balloons were superceded by photos taken from aircraft during the period surrounding the two world wars. However, both KAP and ballooning have experienced a revival beginning in the 1960s. In addition to obtaining air photos from these two platforms, people are now enjoying taking photos from model rockets and remote-controlled devices.

Air Photo Thumbnails


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