Have you wondered what fireworks are like when seen from an airplane? Some pilots find it disappointing, in part because the sound of the explosions is absent. But others have pronounced an aerial view of a fireworks display to be a "spectacular” sight. Here are a few tips and ideas to make the most of an aviator's point of view on a holiday tradition that dates to 1777.
As with any flight, you need to plan. Check around your area to find out where the fireworks displays will be. Some big cities like New York have excellent displays but also have airspace restrictions that won’t allow you to fly near the fireworks. Often, major league baseball stadiums host fireworks displays, but there is always a temporary flight restriction over a major league baseball game, which rules out that option. If you live along the coast and the weather is good VFR, you may be in luck, as many coastal cities shoot off fireworks from barges just offshore. If you are comfortable with the idea of flying over the ocean, you can position yourself farther offshore and watch the fireworks, which also may be reflected in the water, from there.
A few places with exceptional fireworks displays are listed below. You also can check your local news, but remember to thoroughly check for TFRs and read notams.
Bristol, Rhode Island—This town claims to have the oldest fireworks show in the U.S. Fireworks are over Bristol Harbor.
Narberth, Pennsylvania—This well-to-do community typically puts on a lavish show.
Gorham, New Hampshire—Fireworks over a large carnival site.
Saratoga Springs, New York—Over Congress Park.
Corolla, North Carolina—Fireworks over the Outer Banks.
Hartford, Connecticut—Over the Connecticut River.
Nashville, Tennessee—Over the Cumberland River as part of the two-day “Let Freedom Sing!” citywide party.
Addison, Texas—This small town north of Dallas calls its show "Kaboom Town." The town goes all-out, and the flat terrain makes the flying/viewing easier.
Lake Tahoe, California—Over the lake of course, but watch the high altitude, which will affect performance, not to mention the “cumulus granite.”
San Francisco Bay—If you can safely navigate the Bay Area, San Francisco and Oakland offer great shows.
Seattle, Washington—Over Lake Union, but a heavy traffic area.
Laughlin, Nevada—One of the West’s best shows, “Rockets Over the River” is held over the Colorado River.
Farmington, New Mexico—My out-of-the-way favorite. Southeast of town and just south of the San Juan River lies the 12,000-acre B-Square Ranch. Its eccentric owner, Tommy Bolack, loves to blow things up. He has a Class B explosives license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and creates his own custom-formula fireworks. Locals come from miles around to watch him detonate some 750 pounds of explosive material in 500 large shots and about 2,000 smaller ones. For more on Bolack, his Electromechanical Museum, and Farmington, see this article in the Destinations section of the AOPA website.
And be safe out there.