Now THAT’S a good view from the office: Pilot’s jaw-dropping cockpit images of thunderstorms, moon-lit clouds and the Northern Lights show why life at 38,000ft is unbeatable

  • Feast your eyes on some of the best pictures that pilot and photographer Christiaan van Heijst took in 2017
  • He flies a Boeing 747-8 cargo plane and produced jaw-dropping pictures from the cockpit last year
  • The incredible pictures give a glimpse of the view from the office pilots are treated to every day
Mesmerising: This beautiful picture by 34-year-old Van Heijst shows a sunset over Alaska
Beautiful: Here Van Heijst has snapped the Pakistan landscape in a picture that’s truly ethereal

We all know that the best view in a plane is from the cockpit – and these stunning pictures underscore that.

Feast your eyes on some of the best pictures that pilot and photographer Christiaan van Heijst took in 2017.

He flies a Boeing 747-8 cargo plane and produced jaw-dropping pictures from the cockpit last year, of thunderstorms, shooting stars, the Northern Lights, carpets of cloud and cities lit up at night.

A dramatic lightning storm erupts in front of Van Heijst’s 747-8 cargo plane. Pictured is the first officer. Van Heijst told MailOnline Travel: ‘Flying with our 747 through a heavy thunderstorm, the airplane is building up a lot of friction from the heavy electrically charged clouds around us. If the electrical charge becomes large enough the whole airplane skin starts to glow purple and dozens of little sparks start to dance over the cockpit windows. This electrical discharge is completely harmless but a beautiful view for the lucky few sitting in the cockpit. This shot was taken over the Equator over the Atlantic Ocean, between South America and Europe’
Planet earth couldn’t look more peaceful in this shot of moon-lit clouds, taken at high altitude over the Pacific Ocean. Van Heijst said: ‘All photos together create a much bigger picture of what it’s like to fly high up in the empty skies, an isolated vastness where humans or animals naturally have no place to be’
A gigantic storm erupts over Arkansas, USA, in this stunning picture. Van Heijst said: ‘Views that are unique and never to be seen again, I just feel I have to capture and share them, before they are gone for good’

The incredible pictures give a glimpse of the view from the office pilots are treated to every day.

Van Heijst, 34, from Haarlem in The Netherlands, said: ‘All photos together create a much bigger picture of what it’s like to fly high up in the empty skies, an isolated vastness where humans or animals naturally have no place to be.

‘One of the fascinating aspects of flying for me is being in this vast and nearly empty world that is completely alien for human beings and can only be seen and experienced when flying a modern aeroplane.

‘These are views and impressions humankind has only been able to behold for a hundred years, and before that it was only seen by birds.

‘There is a powerful and peaceful sense of solitude about it while sitting in a small cockpit, 38,000ft up in the sky with a vista that extends thousands of miles from horizon to horizon and not another human being close for hundreds of miles, except my colleague of course.

‘Views that are unique and never to be seen again, I just feel I have to capture and share them, before they are gone for good.’

‘In general, I always look forward to flights to and from Anchorage, Alaska, because of the Alaskan landscapes and the high chances of Northern Lights,’ says Van Heijst. This image, however, was taken over Canada
This amazing picture, taken in May 2017, shows a Chinese rocket streaking across the night sky. Van Heijst said: ‘We flew over the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America when suddenly and unexpected a huge fireball appeared to the left or our airplane, high up in the atmosphere. Later, it was confirmed we were the lucky witnesses to an unscheduled re-entry of an old Chinese rocket booster that had been circling the earth for nearly three years before burning up in the atmosphere, right at the moment we were flying there’
The Milky Way shines brightly over Brazil. Van Heijst says he has been mesmerised by flying since he was four years old
Van Heijst said that the secret to taking good photographs from the plane window is to ensure that only light from outside the plane falls onto the lens. ‘Try covering up the window and/or camera with a blanket,’ he said. This picture was taken while flying over a cloud-covered Alaska with the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) showing herself among the countless stars that twinkle above

Van Heijst has been mesmerised by flying since he was four years old and worked towards getting his pilot’s licence at 18.

He always kept his camera with him as he began flying, and over 14 years as a professional pilot he has honed his photography technique.

He said: ‘One of my favourite shots are the two where we see the Northern Lights or the thunderstorm with a small glimpse in the cockpit of the 747, as if we’re hanging outside the aeroplane.

‘By placing the camera like this I was hoping to capture the unnatural sensation of flying a very sophisticated aeroplane and complex cockpit in an endless natural environment where neither human or animal would be able to observe the world.

‘The aurora is still one of the most magical and inspiring phenomena I have seen so far, no matter how often it shows up during our night flights.

‘It adds to the almost super-natural sensation of seeing the world from that unique angle and perspective and makes us feel so small and insignificant in comparison to the dimensions of the weather and aurora.’

The Northern Lights look simply stunning in this startling shot over Canada. ‘The aurora,’ says Van Heijst, ‘is still one of the most magical and inspiring phenomena I have seen so far’
Heavens above: This superb shot shows the so-called zodiacal light — a faint glow that is sometimes seen at twilight when the sunlight is scattered in the interplanetary dust between the sun and the earth. ‘On top of that,’ said Van Heijst, ‘the International Space Station made her third visible pass during our night flight, seen here as a bright trail of light as it reflects the sunlight from over the horizon.’ He explained that the green glow on the right is known as earth glow, ‘not to be confused with aurora (or Northern Lights)’. ‘It’s actually a faint glow that is being produced by the oxygen in our own atmosphere,’ he said, ‘and not a side effect of the sunlight or radiation. Sometimes visible with the naked eye, but you’ll need to find a place with as little light pollution as possible’

Van Heijst says that one of his favourite routes is to and from Anchorage.

He said: ‘In general, I always look forward to flights to and from Anchorage, Alaska, because of the Alaskan landscapes and the high chances of Northern Lights.

‘If you want to see the Northern Lights, you’ll have the highest chance if you go and fly up to Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland or high up Norway. For spectacular mountains the Himalayas or Afghanistan are absolutely breathtaking when flying between Europe and south-east Asia. But nearly every part of the planet has its own beauty in its own way.’

His advice for budding photographers wanting to take the perfect shot from a plane window is to make sure that only light from outside hits the lens.

He said: ‘Try to keep the camera as still as possible, maybe even by securing it between the seat and the window. Next to that, it’s important to make sure no light from the cabin is falling onto the window and camera at all. Try covering up the window and/or camera with a blanket so only the light from outside is falling onto the lens.

‘Long shutter times are possible, but you have to keep the camera as steady as possible. The benefit we have as pilots is that the windows are much larger and I can simply place the camera in the corner of the window frame where I can easily keep it still.

‘Try using shuttertimes of a second, and turn that up to longer shuttertimes if you manage to keep the camera steady.’

Van Heijst said: ‘There is a powerful and peaceful sense of solitude about it while sitting in a small cockpit, 38,000ft up in the sky with a vista that extends thousands of miles from horizon to horizon.’ Pictured is a sunset over Mongolia
Shutterbug: Over 14 years as a professional pilot Van Heijst has honed his photography technique. He said of this picture, taken over Canada, that it’s ‘one of the few times I’ve been lucky to witness the Northern Lights during summer since they are normally hardly visible with the sun still so close to the horizon on the Northern hemisphere’. He added that ‘the sun is in a constant state between sunset and sunrise and at the same time we are treated to a nice show of dancing Northern Lights’
Here shooting stars burst over India. Van Heijst said that the perspectives he achieves makes humans seem small and insignificant

 

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