Right after the opening ceremony of Wikimania 2013 in Hong Kong last week and during a session showcasing projects from all around the globe, WikiAir (VikiAvir in native Hebrew) was voted by the participants (measured by decibels of applause) the coolest and most unique project of 2013.
WikiAir is a collaborative project between Wikimedia Israel and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA Israel), aimed at creating a freely licensed collection of aerial photos of Israel. The idea for the project started with the understanding that there is a lack of aerial photos in articles about Israel in the Hebrew Wikipedia and that Wikipedians rarely get a chance to take photos from the air. I felt that this was our place as a chapter to do something about it and started by approaching the folks at AOPA Israel. It took us a while to get over bureaucracy, legal issues and even some AOPA politics to get the project started. I also took the time to meet with a specialist on aerial photography to gather tips for our volunteers.
As part of the project, civil aviators volunteer to take Wikipedians on their routine flights so they can take photos from the air and later upload them to Wikimedia Commons, as well as integrate those photos into Wikipedia articles. We were able to have our pilot flight at the end of 2012 and regular flights began in May 2013. The flights are always on a light aircraft (usually a Cessna) and are being done as part of Israel’s General Aviation (GA) – either private pilots or AOPA events (e.g. navigation competitions). The Wikipedian is using the spare seat next to pilot or the back seat, if available. We require our volunteers to have an DSLR camera to make sure we make good use of the opportunity and get a good result.
After only a few months of operation, we now have over 1500 photos uploaded to Commons and around 200 Wikipedia articles illustrated with those photos (some of which previously didn’t have any photos). Next week we are expecting to have our first night flight, which will hopefully produce a new type of photo with a different added value to the project.
You are more than welcome to follow the project on our page (Hebrew).
With the help of the exposure of the project in Wikimania, we hope this will be a starting point for other Wikimedia chapters and groups within the Wikimedia community to start a WikiAir in their own country or area. Please update this page on Commons with any of your initiatives and feel free to contact us with any questions.
WikiAir Project Manger (Volunteer), Wikimedia Israel