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Pilot captures the terrifying beauty of the thunderstorms he encounters

Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst is taking weather photography to new heights – literally.

Just like us, the senior first officer and cargo pilot loves taking photos of scenes from up above the clouds. But unlike us, he doesn’t take pics from coach, but rather, he takes it from the cockpit.

The result of shooting from such a unique vantage point is an Instagram account filled with breathtaking images of blinding sunrises, the Northern Lights, and even frightening thunderstorms.

Imagine stepping up the ladder into the upper-deck of a Boeing 747. One of the most iconic and awe-inspiring airplanes the world has ever seen. Then suddenly, as you pass a few cabinets, a galley and move aside a little curtain, you are presented this view. The bridge of the flagship. The control room of the Queen of the Skies. This is where the entire plane with its 6 million parts is being flown across the skies with nearly the speed of sound, decisions are made and human muscles are directly manipulating the control surfaces through cables and a small steering wheel. For years this plane was the highest and most unreachable goal for me. Until one day, exactly 7 years ago today, I started the typerating training for the Boeing 747-400. Today, with 4000 hours on the 747 in my logbook I know my way around in the seats. Know every system, selector, button and computer by heart. If needed I could operate the airplane blindfolded and feel comfortable in any situation that's thrown at me. One very common discussion among aviation enthousiasts is why some Boeing planes like the 747, have a brown-coloured cockpit. In fact, this was chosen by Boeing to be more comfortable to the eyes if you're sitting in that seat for a long period of time. Personally I like the 'boeing-brown' colours. Not only does it make it easy to tell colleagues how I like my coffee (boeing brown please), but also because it gives a cosy and warm atmosphere during those long nights. Like you can see here. If you'd squeeze your eyes enough it could almost pass as a comfortable living room with a few candles and a softly cracking fireplace. Well, almost. #boeing #boeinglovers #boeing747 #cockpit #flightdeck #avgeek #aviation #flying #flight #aviationlovers #pilot #pilotlife #longexposure #photo #photooftheday #instadaily #instagood #instagramaviation

A post shared by Christiaan van Heijst (@jpcvanheijst) on

One of Christiaan’s most striking photos is that of a thunderstorm, pictured above. Captured while travelling between Beijing and Shanghai, the photo shows a cloud brewing with light, seemingly about to burst and wreak havoc on the city below.

Christiaan, who flies a Boeing 747-8 and -400 Freighter, has racked up 8,000 hours of flight time. He first dreamed of becoming a pilot after trying glider flying at 14 years old. He then received his private pilot license at age 18.

Now at 34 years old, he’s paired his dream job with his other passion, photography, to show us the beauty of the skies.

“When viewing a big storm of Northern Lights or an active thunderstorm,” he said. “I feel very small and insignificant, compared to the raw energy, beauty, and size that plays out in front of me.”

You can see more of Christiaan’s photography over on Instagram.

St Elmo’s fire. Somewhere over the Atlantic between South-America and Africa we encountered a huge front of active thunderstorms. Flying in thick clouds with zero visibility, we had to rely on our weather-radar to get a clear image of the weather ahead. It was obvious that there was no way to fly all around this squall line of entangled thunderstorms that stretched across our route for hundreds of miles to either side. Coming closer, the radar provided us with a more detailed image of the interior of the clouds ahead, enabling us to plan a route through this maze of violent weather. This time though, we immediately understood that we won’t get away with a smooth passage. The storms had almost grown together into one, forcing us to find the ‘least’ violent spot to fly through. Our long range HF-radio was already rendered completely useless with the nearby storms that charge the atmosphere and our airplane, thereby blocking all signals to and from the outside…. Full blog can be read here; https://jpcvanheijst.com/blogs/2017/06/574544-st-elmo-s-fire-4-minute-read #stelmosfire #elmosfire #aircraft #airplane #boeing #boeing747 #747 #cockpit #flightdeck #pilot #piloteye #pilotlife #thunderstorm #cloud #cloudporn #instaweather #instaflight #instagramaviation #instaaviation #aviation #flight #avgeek #instadaily #photodaily #photoaday #photography #nature #jpcvanheijst #nikon

A post shared by Christiaan van Heijst (@jpcvanheijst) on

Man-made rainbows. Every now and then all the conditions are just right for the most amazing shots from the cockpit. This time, the sun was straight ahead in the right angle, another Airbus A340 passed straight over us and all the specific conditions in the atmosphere were just right for a thick contrail. All those things combined resulted in a contrail that showed all the colours of the rainbow for a few seconds. By now I can already predict what kind of personal messages I’m receiving after posting certain photos so to prevent a lot of angry messages; this photo is not ‘photoshopped’ or fake, its merely (severely) under exposed and cropped out. On top of that, I had to remove some very annoying sun glare from the thick windows. And yes, the colours were definitely visible with the naked eye. #boeing #340 #a340 #airbus #contrail #sky #flying #flight #aviation #avgeek #aviationgeek #instagramaviation #instaaviation #contrail #rainbow #instagood #instadaily #instapic #photography #photoaday #photoart #piloteye #pilotlife #colors #colours #jpcvanheijst #nikon #d800

A post shared by Christiaan van Heijst (@jpcvanheijst) on

Via My Modern Met

About the author

Inigo is a writer and graphic designer from Manila, Philippines. He is a soldier of love who will carry you on his strong back of awesomeness when the zombie apocalypse arrives.