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Missouri River, MontanaUSA Aloft's Lewis and Clark Project

In 1804, Lewis and Clark began exploring the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, traversing some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in North America. Now, 200 years after they opened the West to the pioneer spirits of the young country, USA Aloft is documenting their trail from the air.  So far, over 50,000 digital images tell the Lewis and Clark story with a 3D view of the natural beauty and unspoiled settings of their historic route.  Software to be released later this year will provide a selection of these images, augmented by text, ground based images and other material. You will be astounded by the terrain that Lewis and Clark covered when you “fly” it for yourself.  USA Aloft will also be offering a multimedia Lewis and Clark presentation based on the software and image database. 

Gates of the Rocky MountainsThe Vision

The goal of USA Aloft's Lewis and Clark Project is to document the Trail in its present day condition with images and other material for use in the classroom, by the enthusiast or for serious research. The database must be presented with an intuitive interface.  We began by photographing the Trail from the air in detail using twin mounted cameras to provide a 3D view of the topography.  The initial hope was to fly the route several times so that each region might be seen during the approximate season of  Lewis and Clark's traversal.  While the data collected is not survey-grade, the position and orientation of each image is known with an error on the order of tens of meters or less.  This makes the database an ideal companion to cartographic works describing the route.  The Plamondon reconstruction (where available) of the survey points taken by Lewis and Clark was used as a guide for much of the flight path. 

The database is useful only with some means of navigating and presenting the images.  USA Aloft's goal of making the database accessible with intuitive controls and displays is accomplished with a point and click graphical user interface.  The user may select an area of interest based on location, date or keyword. Data of interest, including text and images, are then displayed using USA Aloft viewers and web browsers. Read more about our software.

Looking South Across the Mouth of the Columbia RiverThe Project So Far

During the summer and fall of 2002, USA Aloft designed and constructed its camera system for taking aerial stereo views along a GPS assisted route.  In October, during an initial attempt to collect images along the Lewis and Clark route, weather closed in and limited collection to areas of Missouri.  During the summer of 2003, flights were made to collect forward looking stereo images over almost all of the west bound route.  The return flight collected side looking views over the same route.  Some initial ground based photography was done along the Columbia River, from the Gorge out to Astoria, including Fort Clatsop. The winter was spent performing initial processing of nearly 50,000 images to build a database that describes each image's position in space and time.   During the summer of 2004, a ground based photographic trip collected images from along the entire trail.  Starting in late June and traveling for nearly two months, we brought our database up to approximately 54,000 images.

What's Next?

If you would like to receive updates concerning this effort, you may subscribe to our Lewis and Clark Field Updates mailing list.  Now that our summer trip is concluded, we will be concentrating our efforts on final testing and release of the software. Presently a release date is planned for late Fall, 2004.

Once the software is released, USA Aloft hopes to make updates and additions to the database available for download to registered users.  Additional flights are planned to complete imaging of the various return routes.  

Sauvie Island, Columbia River Just West of Portland, ORHistoric Sites, Authors and Scholars

We are interested in hearing from sites along the Trail who would like to be included in our database. We may include information you supply or we may be able to visit you to take photographs.  Read more about this option.

If you are an author developing your own Lewis and Clark materials, read about using USA Aloft’s software to integrate images with your text to provide an interactive adventure to your readers.

The image database collected so far requires about 90 DVDs for backup in its raw form. To keep the initial software offering accessible to the general user, only selected images will be available at full resolution.  Serious researchers wishing to purchase the entire database, should contact us for details.

More about Lewis and Clark

If you would like to learn more about Lewis and Clark, USA Aloft has put together a short bibliography of the works that we have found most useful.