The window is opened, camera is pointed out the window, and the pilot snaps a photograph. Thus far, this method has been used for the glaciers of the US Rockies (Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana), remaining cirques of the Pyrenees, the glaciers of the Alps, and the glaciers of southern Norway.
Fuel costs range from $20 to $80 per hour, depending on the country and current oil price. Total operating cost, including all maintenance, insurance & hangar, averages $140 per hour (much lower in the United States, somewhat higher in Europe).
At a cruising speed of 70 miles per hour, the airplane is slow enough to get close to mountains and glaciers, frame the shot, and take it. Fast airplanes leave little time to organize the photograph, require much larger turning radiuses in tight terrain, and have increased wind via an open window.
Not many airplanes make good aerial photography ships. The tire, propeller, wing, and lift strut on this model airplane conveniently are out of the picture for an 18mm APS-C or 28mm full frame photograph. The window is also conveniently placed to allow it to be opened to snap the shot, which is important as shooting through glass generally does not work.
With only 100 to 150 horsepower, the aircraft in the fleet can still make it to 16,000 to 18,000 feet, which is enough to exceed the highest mountains in the Alps, Pyrenees, Continental United States, Canadian Rockies, lower Canadian Coastal Range, Iceland, Norway, and New Zealand.
A quick view at the instrument panel, under the cowling, and into airframe structural areas makes very clear that these are simple aircraft. With less complexity, there is less to break, which makes them robust and reliable aircraft. There is also less for the pilot to manage. The engines are universally accepted and still in production.
There Are Many Ways To Photograph A Glacier. Using Small Aircraft Happens To Be Cost And Time Efficient.
Drones are advantageous when the operator can physically get close enough to a glacier, ideally through driving. In any case, battery power is limited and glaciers are usually very high up, large, and far away, which means that a drone flight is often coupled with a very ambitious hike or trek. An airplane, on the other hand, can usually cover the same territory in a fraction of the time. Miles per gallon consumed for our fleet of aircraft are comparable to a family car or pickup truck, which is comparable to fuel consumed when driving a car to multiple drone launch sites.
Science uses satellites to produce comparative datasets to monitor glaciers, which is very useful for the scientific process. For the average person, these images are orthographically corrected, which means that they are two dimensional, which makes it very hard to relate to the size of the glacier and its beauty. The mission of the Initiative is to preserve images of glacial treasures in a relatable form, which means that beauty and an artistically motivating image are important to our outreach programs. It is our view that our work complements scientific pursuit instead of competing with it.
Glaciers are basically publicly owned and either extremely high in elevation or very close to the poles. They are all very cold, generally windy, in poor terrain, and far away from civilization (all of which is why we like them!). Ground treks are an option for single glacier pursuits; however, the workload requires significant physical endurance and skill while exponentially greater than a flight in a small airplane. It simply would take immeasurably longer to hike to all of these glaciers versus flying to them.
The PA-11 is the original airplane for glacier flying, used in the American Rockies and for the glaciers of the Alps. Restored by the Founder’s grandfather, it is a classic airplane largely meant for enjoying the virtues of slow flight. It happened to be through the characteristics of lift (it climbs to 16,000 feet) and the determination of its pilot that its capabilities were stretched for the missions at hand. Since the arrival of the second aircraft, it serves as a backup.
The Super Cub was added to the fleet in 2021. After decades of service as a seaplane in Oslo, Norway, it was retired in the early 2000s until its restoration from 2016 to 2020, where it received a new fuselage, struts, landing gear, and tail, along with a full recover, restoration, and overhaul of part of the engine, the entire electrical system, and new avionics. The aircraft type is much more reasonable for such glacier flying, to the point of being the de facto bush plane of Alaska to this day. Since its acquisition, some avionics upgrades, and an increase to its gross weight have been added.
As glaciers are photographed, images will be uploaded, geotagged, and shared in an interactive map for the public to consume.
Through collaboration with other organizations and working with scientists, original content to explain the significance of glacier images to the general public will be generated and published on our site and through other channels.
To aid in funding the Initiative while maximizing outreach, glacier images for commercial use will be made available with a paid license.
Limited edition sales of glacier images achieve three goals: aid in funding our activities, share the mission with influential consumers of fine art, and continue the outreach message by placing a disappearing global treasure as a centerpiece to social discussion.
Our images are licensed to nonprofits, climate outreach programs, educational, and scientific institutions automatically and for free.
The founder of the Initiative began his glacier discovery as an author. Like a piece of art on a wall, a coffee table book funds Initiative activities, increases international press awareness, and continues the glacier awareness conversation.