See All 50 States From the Air

Smithsonian Channel's popular Aerial America series has filmed its 50th and final state

Soar over Chicago and back through the city's violent past. Illinois is the final state to be captured in Smithsonian Channel's "Aerial America" series. See clips from the other 49 states below.
Of the 2500-plus hours spent filming "Aerial America" over the past half-decade, director and producer Toby Beach has been in the helicopter for virtually all of them. This Sunday at 8 pm ET, Smithsonian Channel debuts its final state: "Aerial America: Illinois," preceded by a 49-state marathon beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 5. Launched in 2009, the series has provided a sweeping sense of each state's geological features and history.

Thanks to state-of-the-art Cineflex V-14 HD technology, cameraman Thomas Miller was able to capture footage from a camera bolted to the front of a helicopter at varying depths and 360 degrees, even in high winds. Up in the air, Beach, Miller and the pilot had to be in constant communication. Using GPS technology, Beach navigated while Miller manned the camera with a joystick and the pilot manipulated the helicopter to get just the right shots.

As much as they could plot and research their courses, the team was ultimately at the mercy of the elements when shooting. “When it’s overcast it’s very difficult to get good quality images...that can affect your entire schedule for a shoot,” Beach says. “We have canceled shoots at the last minute because of weather. Normally, it’s not such a clear-cut decision. You get there and there’s something moving in from some direction, and you’re trying to dodge that and go another way. So your schedule gets sort of tossed out."

Some of the most beautiful moments in the series were unplanned, according to Beach. “A few days ago we were flying across the [Smoky] Mountains," he says, "and we saw this kind of fog bank rolling across the mountains in the distance. You just get these amazing shots when you’re right at the level of the fog as it’s rolling over these peaks, and you see the trees kind of coming through the fog. It’s unimaginably beautiful. That’s something that you can’t predict – you just go for it whenever you see it."

Beach believes that this weekend's marathon will help to connect stories across episodes. "A lot of the themes and stories in different states work off of each other, especially in terms of Native American stories or the movement West," he says. “The goal is to give viewers a really big picture sense of American history and also the great natural spaces that define the country."

See flyover footage from all 50 States below, and tune into Aerial America's 50 State Flyathon beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 5, and culminating with the premiere of Aerial America: Illinois at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 7.

Be sure to check out Aerial America: Amazing Destinations and Aerial America: Wilderness, streaming free on SmithsonianChannel.com and digital devices.

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