Ever stared down from your airliner window seat at a desolate tundra landscape or dramatic mountain wilderness and wondered who lives there, or where exactly ‘there’ is? Well, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) is hoping to supply the answer.
The RGS – or more formally, the “Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)” to denote its 1995 merger with the Institute of British Geographers – has just added its latest commercial airline route (Dar es Salaam – Johannesburg) to its Hidden Journeys website – a (free to use) public engagement project that reveals the people, places and environment below a flight path.
The Hidden Journeys project was launched in November 2010 and is slowly building a catalogue of some of the world’s most dramatic air routes, adding new flight paths every 2 months. Previous flight paths include LA – NYC, Denver to Seattle, Bangkok to Sydney and Cairo to Lagos. The latest flight path from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg went live on Monday.
Each route is covered at three “flight levels” eg. 10,000m, 3,000m & Street level, showing images and notes on landscapes, buildings, and people. For example whilst flying over the English Channel at 12,000m users can explore the geology of this narrow stretch of water and how a land-bridge once connected Britain to France. Fly at 1,000m, however, and they discover the history of smuggling on the South Coast of Britain. At ground level, having crossed the Channel, users can learn about the traditional cultures of the people of Normandy.
Ben Jarman, the project’s co-ordinator, explains:
Users can use the content before, during (if they have inflight connectivity) or after they fly. However, the website can also be used by people who are interested in the concept behind the project or want to explore various flight paths from around the world using striking images and text from the Royal Geographical Society.
We are currently working towards integrating our content on in-flight entertainment systems and moving map products so people can use it more easily whilst they are flying. With the Society acting as a specialist Point of Interest and travel content provider, we think there is an opportunity to develop a new IFE service or moving map that has additional layers of interesting and engaging information that allow the passenger in real-time to explore the peoples, places and environments which they fly over. Interestingly, 2 flights with the same point of departure and arrival can have routes that vary by hundreds of kilometres depending on fuel costs, weather etc. Therefore a GPS system or flight plan is very important in determining what you are flying over and when, and there are problems prescribing one route for all flights from x to y.
Not all the photographs are from the RGS’s stock. The project is supplemented by photos submitted by the public, and this may be of interest to travel photographers, as Ben explains:
We encourage users to contribute their photos through the website or through the project’s flickr page. If we use the photo, then we can usually link back to the contributor’s blog or flickr page.
The latest route guide to be released explores the stunning landscapes, wildlife and human history of eastern and southern Africa between two of the continent’s fastest growing cities: Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg, but is all this necessary? Couldn’t somebody just check out what interests them between Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg using Google Maps? Ben thinks not:
Throughout all our work, the Society adds knowledge to the interpretation and presentation of raw content and data.
The Hidden Journeys guides are unique due to the consistent high quality of the content which we use, and the value that the Society adds to the interpretation of this raw content and the structure of the guides. Google Maps offers the raw data, but not the structure, interpretation or added value offered by the Society and the Hidden Journeys.
For example, all the points of interest along a particular Hidden Journeys flight path are linked by a common theme which ensures a continuous sense of “journey”, instead of just hopping from one image to the next. We also divide the flight path into waypoints which make the flight path logical and easy to navigate with clear points of interest for the passenger to explore. We also divide each waypoint into three levels, so the user can explore that particular place from 3 different altitudes, with each altitude revealing a different story.
Google Maps is a very versatile tool, and we use it on the website so people can explore the satellite maps surrounding the flight paths: however much of the image content isn’t linked together or structured in the necessary way to explore flight paths. There are also often photos of things like graduation ceremonies and people’s dogs, which are not relevant to the passenger’s experience of the flight path.
Will you be contributing images to future Hidden Journeys?
Image: RGS/Bart Lismont