Aerial Storytelling

Early this year aviation consultant Jeral Poskey took advantage of Google Earth 5’s new ‘tour’ capability to produce a re-enactment of the brief flight and emergency landing in the Hudson River of US Airway’s Flight 1549 that had happened a few weeks before. (Thanks to Marcus Gilroy Ware who showed me this.)

For the full interactive experience you have to access it via Google Earth, but the movie version is a powerful, dramatic watch. Your see the flight as viewed from the cockpit and you hear the unfolding conversation between the awesomely calm-sounding pilot – Solly – and the various flight controllers. Poskey put the re-enactment together from data plotting the flight path which he sourced online and eight separate audio recordings released by the Federal Aviation Administration. As a transportation expert Poskey wanted to contribute to an understanding of whether the crisis was well-handled. He explains how he went about it on his site.

The world is awash with data sets now – many of them publically accessible – and there’s great storytelling potential in all that information -as the BBC’s Britain from Above series showed.

A pioneer in turning data into kinds of stories is the American artist Aaron Koblin. He’s produced a number of works which use graphics to bring data sets to life, among them the gorgeous Flight Patterns – which visualises flight routes over the US.

A chilling news piece about the fate of a stowaway refugee gave the writer Kate Pullinger the seed of an idea for a novel. Rather than undertake the usual “solitary business” of writing it alone as a traditional linear piece Kate took note of the way that some non-fiction writers were opening up the development phase of books and decided to try something similar in fiction. Along with electronic artist and writer Chris Joseph, she created Flight paths, which they describe as a ‘networked novel’.

Their story puts a human face on one of today’s big global themes of political and economic migration. They are gradually publishing an episodic narrative told through words, audio and flash animation. Reader/collaborators contribute stills, text and video in response, resulting in a cross-media collage in which numerous flight paths – some real, some imagined – meet. I talked to Kate about this innovative project which she expects will continue to develop for years to come.