Passenger Pigeon is a project/concept for collecting aerial imagery from passenger plane windows with handheld digital cameras. To make a map, just take photos out the window of your commercial flight. Then use the free and open source MapKnitter.org to align the images with a map as soon as you land.
Examples (click links for TMS/Geotiff downloads)
- Utah (shown below): http://publiclaboratory.org/notes/eustatic/5-10-2012/hills-have-acne-passenger-pigeon-photos-drill-sites-out-west
- Manhattan/Brooklyn: https://mapknitter.org/map/view/newtown-creek-docsearls
Tips for photographers
- point the camera as straight downwards as possible
- hold the camera as stably as you can - brace it against the window
- try not to sit behind the wing, where the engine exhaust blurs the air
- take note of where the photos are, if you anticipate difficulty in placing them on a map later
- check flight-tracking websites ahead of time to plan when you'll be able to take good photos (possibly during landing or takeoff, if you're allowed to use your camera)
Some Public Lab folks have done multispectral imaging from a plane window -- see the near-infrared camera page for details on how to collect/produce infrared imagery with less than $150 of equipment.