Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free membership trial today! Click here

Portfolio: Filip Wolak

Moments in time

Immigrants who leave their homes to come to the United States often bring a fresh perspective on the beauty of this country. Polish-born photographer Filip Wolak adopted New York City as his home in 1999 and he has embraced the joy of general aviation to help him see all across this vast country. Winner of numerous photography awards for his aerial photography, Wolak came to our attention because of his—and partner Sarah Tamar’s—travels across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 in his 1973 Cessna 172. Both pilots, Wolak and Tamar took advantage of the quiet world, and inexpensive avgas, to see this nation the most perfect way: from a GA cockpit. Wolak learned to fly in Ellenville, New York, as part of a flying club. He credits a dedicated flight instructor at the club with helping him get his certificate. A self-described “dreamer, hopeless romantic, and stubborn perfectionist,” Wolak says, “There is nothing better than the ability to combine things you truly love and see the fruits of your obsessions come to life.”

Click on any image to start slideshow

Filip Wolak

Coney Island, New York, in the socially distanced last dog days of summer 2020. Photography and quotes by Filip Wolak “In addition to serving as a last stop for many retired aircraft, the airplane graveyard at Roswell’s use was recently extended as a temporary storage for airliners as the interest in air travel abruptly diminished. The disruption in the aviation industry has been severe, and the end seems nowhere in sight. As some countries make rapid recovery, the U.S. seems to be lagging behind gravely. As long as there are still issues or areas unsolved, aviation will suffer.
And for us, who have invested so much time, money and effort into being appropriately rated to make commercial aviation a career, this is rather a significant blow.”
Airplane boneyard in Roswell, New Mexico. Wolak calls this photograph “United They Stand.” “Turning the lack of work and cheapest avgas in the history of mankind into an opportunity to document this unique chapter of America’s history. A pair of adventurous aviators takes to the skies, to realize a long-term dream. Camping under the wing whenever possible (flamping = flying + camping), and figuring out the challenges as they come.”
On their flight across America amid the COVID-19 pandemic, photographer Filip Wolak and writer Sarah Tamar relied on his Cessna 172, nicknamed ‘Rusty’. “As protests against inequality and police brutality continued for weeks, they had their culminating moment on June 19, 2020. Spontaneous, yet well-organized protests had been popping up everywhere around all of the boroughs, in a peaceful atmosphere, and with joy in hope and expectation of changes to come. An important date in American history, the Day of Liberation is also commonly referred to as ‘Juneteenth.’ And as long as Google spell check still finds this word as an error, we have more work to do.”
Staten Island’s Ferry Terminal is the host to this community-made Black Lives Matter mural. “These photographs have been taken over the course of a few days, on the New York State/Connecticut border, near Croton Falls Reservoir. 
The low temperature/dew point spread created a beautiful ground fog that lasted over the entire early morning. The sky above was perfectly clear, and the landscape had been slowly revealing itself as the sun burned through the early morning fog. Sometimes, it pays to wake up early.”
Near Croton Falls Reservoir, on the Connecticut/New York state border. “The Winter from Above series is the result of passion, commitment, love of flying, and photography. For an experienced pilot and an accomplished photographer, this marriage is a natural way of expressing the beauty of the world as seen from above. It is also the appreciation of the simplicity and the elegance of nature. It offers a unique way to look at common things from a different perspective.”
“Yellow Plane”  was shot near Sky Manor Airport in Pennsylvania.  “The most notable thing on this flight were the salt lakes—these were similar, evaporation pools meant to extract minerals from the waters. They were brilliant blue and soft, buttery turquoise pools gridded out in the red rocks of Moab. Truly looked like someone had taken a paint brush and run it across the ground. Stunning and strange, we flew in varying altitudes above it, until fuel called and we landed at Canyonland.”
Potash mines near Moab, Utah. “We then departed for Page, Arizona, and this is where it gets really fun. To navigate, we decided to follow the Colorado River and Lake Powell, two beautiful churning bodies of water surrounded by some of the most insane landscape I’ve ever seen in my life, let alone from the air. Flying down the canyons following the water was some of the most awe-striking and pure fun flying I’ve ever done, and I was actively laughing the entire flight. I felt like we’d flown to a new planet. It was incredible, stimulating, almost incomprehensible, and truly, unbelievably delightful.” “incomprehensible, and truly, unbelievably delightful. 
Sarah Tamar wrote a blog chronicling the trip across the United States; the words above are hers.
Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

Related Articles