TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
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It was our first shoot of the week for the Mid America Flight Museum. Departing Mt. Pleasant Airport almost one year to the day, the sun could not rise soon enough to cut through the chill of the Texas air.
Matt Bongers was at the control of the O-1 Bird Dog we were using as a photo ship when Scott Glover and Kelly Mahon joined up on our wing in the 1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin and a 1928 Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 4000 respectively. We did a few solo shoots first before having them join up together. The biggest challenge being the incredible amount of snot one can produce in the freezing air. Pretty sure no one will ever buy my camera now.
But I digress; Scott, Kelly and Matt quickly acclimated to the formation positioning, changes and lingo putting me at ease knowing the rest of the week will go smoothly. Once the sun began to peek over the light fog, steam also began to rise over Lake Bob Sandlin. Through the camera, it looked great, but my focus was on the two aircraft and how to get them to line up.
You see, my Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) seems to be getting worse as I age. Two different aircraft types typically result in two different angles of attack (AOA). An angle of attack refers to the perceived pitch of the aircraft. Some aircraft types have a perceived higher or lower AOA due to the placement of the wing, fuselage design, center of balance, etc. When formating two completely different aircraft, it’s not uncommon for the AOA to be different between the two. And that’s where my OCD comes in.
When it came to editing the resulting images, the solo shots were great! Everyone did a spectacular job. But when it came to selecting two-ship images to edit, nothing was calling to me. My OCD was kicking in big time due to the difference in AOA and what appeared to be an awkward formation.
Kelly Mahon wasn’t having any of that. He wanted to see formation shots so I compromised. I found an image that seemed surreal and majestic even though to me it was imperfect. The wings didn’t line up, it looks as though the aircraft are headed in slightly different directions, it just didn’t speak to me. Regardless, my issues shouldn’t get in the way of pilots and aircraft owners taking joy in their accomplishments. And let’s face it, flying these 80+ year-old aircraft in formation on a freezing morning is no easy task. They deserve every ounce of recognition for what they do!
So, I put my OCD aside and tried to approach it from another perspective. As someone who loves history and even going so far as to recreate historic moments, that was what I saw. The more I finessed the image, the more respect I had for our early aviators. This became a brief glimpse into the early days of aviation when pilots arose before dawn and began their cross-country journeys low over the countryside. They didn’t always fly in perfect formation, as a matter of fact, they hardly ever flew perfect formation. It was about getting from point A to point B and enjoying the smaller points in between.
To me, this image became more about drawing an end to the birth of aviation and ushering in the 1930’s with air racing, endurance and speed, improving commercial travel and making this world a little smaller. I didn’t feel it at first, but this has become my tribute to the pioneers of aviation; a good compromise!
Thank you to Scott Glover, Kelly Mahon and Matt Bongers from the Mid America Flight Museum for allowing me to document their collection. And thank you to Aviation Week Space Technology for awarding me 2016 Best of Show for this image.
Recently I ordered a bunch of GoPro stuff hoping to dive into video. Instead I ended up diving into a heap of random parts. As someone with a mild case of OCD, I needed to find a practical solution to not only organizing everything, but finding a system where I could account for each and every piece out in the field. I thought of old camera bags, Pelican cases, tool boxes, whatever, but none of those choices seemed like a solution to me.
Since I began photography back in the ’80’s, I’ve always had some sort of system. Making sure everything had a place and those places were occupied by everything meant that I should leave an event with the same number of items I arrived with. As aviation photography became more my forte, it became even more crucial that nothing gets left behind. If a random part were left on a tarmac or taxiway after a nighttime shoot, that part could easily get swallowed by the intake of an aircraft resulting in a very expensive mistake.
I had heard of a company called Cocoon and these boards with webbing aptly named ‘Grid-it’. On one side was a random series of straps used to secure small items and on the other side was a pocket perfectly sized for an iPad…or perhaps, instruction manuals, pens, lens cleaning tissues or whatever else you could fit. I ended up purchasing three of these for $25 each; one for each GoPro set up and one for the remaining oddball clamps, housings and other components.
An unexpected benefit to the system is the ability to cover the lens of each GoPro with the webbing meaning no scratches. Once all three boards are set, they can be stacked and placed in any bag safely. Removing a single board enables a complete set up to be used without messing up everything else.
There are no doubt other ways of organizing your system, hopefully this will just be another tool in your belt. And if this system ends up not being the best solution, the Grid-it boards can be used for just about anything.
As for a useful bag or carrying case, check out Sporty’s or PilotMall’s collection of flight bags. These bags are specifically designed to carry books, charts and other paperwork where the Grid-it boards will fit perfectly. Additionally, the exterior pockets will provide plenty of additional room for larger accessories and components that wouldn’t otherwise fit on the Grid-it boards.
It’s that thing we do when we’d rather be out shooting. First you dive into the really cool shots you created editing the best of the best to share with the world. Then you take a wee bit more time to scour through the thousands of rejects to find the obvious winners only to go through them all one more time to single out those with potential. Once everything has been separated, the editing and archiving process begins. But it shouldn’t end there.
All those supposed rejects that we hold onto for that ‘just in case’ scenario still need a little love. This is where I hope I can help.
Everyone’s archiving techniques are different and none of them are wrong so long as you are able to find what you’re looking for quickly and efficiently. If that’s not the case, maybe my system can offer a few ideas.
My system is very simple. I archive my digital images the same way I archive my slides and negatives. I never lose touch of the original file or frame number. A photo of an A380 taken at Airventure in 2011 will look just like this:
It denotes the location; Oshkosh, the year; 2011, the subject; A380, and the original file name assigned to it by the camera; 1234. I can even add a few more descriptive notes to the file name such as manufacturer or another aircraft that may also be in the image, such as an Airbus A330. It would look something like this:
Why might I choose to be more descriptive with a file name? A little thing called SEO is reason enough for me. Search Engine Optimization is the core tool used by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other companies to find appropriate images, links, websites and more. The more descriptive I can be in the file name, the better chance I have of my images showing up in a consumer search. It goes without saying Metadata and Keywording is also extremely important, but I’ll save that for later.
Now that you have a library of edited images with keywords built right into the file name, searching for the appropriate shot should go a lot quicker.
But what about all those rejects? Same thing. Before I even begin editing photos, I batch rename everything! I personally use Adobe Bridge, but this can be done in Lightroom as well as Aperture. Batch renaming will allow you to search your entire hard drive, whether the images have been edited or not, for that perfect image for which the client is seeking but may have not seemed relevant at the time.
Over the past few years, gatherings of like aircraft seem to be all the rage. Whether it’s the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends at Rickenbacker Air Field in 2007, the 50th Anniversary of the CJ-6 Nanchang at Airventure in 2008, the T-28’s 60th anniversary in 2009, or the impressive gathering of DC-3 aircraft at Rock Falls, Illinois in 2010, the coming together of groups of similar aircraft never disappoint. The weekend of September 11th, 2010 would prove to be another milestone towards insuring history not be forgotten.
Their airborne presence was made known across California’s Central Valley as they headed from Chino to Mather Field near Sacramento. Although it started as a flight of five, mechanical issues meant the highly anticipated arrival would only number four. Calls were coming in to the California Capital Airshow Director, Darcy Brewer as the aircraft would pass various points across the State causing the excitement on the air field to climb. Only after seeing the four dots representing the P-38’s and a fifth being a P-51D chase plane, did reality sink in. History was being made.
The endeavor to host six flying P-38 “Lightning’s” at one venue began nearly a year prior to Sacramento’s 5th anniversary show. Around the world, only seven examples remain airworthy. Of those, six are located in the United States with the seventh being owned by Red Bull based in Austria. With the help of Bob Alvis and the National P-38 Association, the “Lightning” aircraft owners and pilots along with Director, Darcy Brewer and air show volunteer, Scott Wolff, the coming together of these historic aircraft was anything but uneventful. Despite the hardships and monetary hurdles, however, four of the world’s finest examples touched down at Mather Field at approximately 6:45pm on Thursday, September 9th.
The aircraft taking part in the gathering included “Glacier Girl” flown by Steve Hinton, “Thoughts of Midnight” flown by Kevin Eldridge, “Ruff Stuff” flown by Rob Ator and “Honey Bunny” flown by Jeff Harris. Setting down in Fresno on the way to Mather was “23 Skidoo” flown by Chris Fahey.
What few know is that this event almost didn’t happen. While the coming together of six P-38’s had always been the goal, the ultimate mission was to showcase the aircraft at two separate venues. Both the California Capital Airshow and the Reno Air Races, which were to be held the following weekend, would host all six P-38’s. After the loss of a sponsor, Reno was forced to drop out of the program leaving the Sacramento Airshow footing an even larger bill.
Three P-38’s, “Glacier Girl”, “23 Skidoo” and “Honey Bunny”, were already in the process of attending Sacramento and were being staged at Southern California’s Chino Airport. With such a dramatic change in plans and only a week before the show, serious work needed to be made to raise additional funds as the remaining P-38’s had much further to travel. “Ruff Stuff” was coming from Minneapolis, “Thoughts of Midnight” from Texas and “Tangerine” from Oregon. With the last minute assistance of Dan Friedkin and Rod Lewis, two of the three were able to make the trip and ultimately, history. It would be the largest assembly of P-38’s since World War II.
During the weekend of the air show, the P-38’s would be put through their paces. All four would demonstrate their agility in front of the audience, but more importantly, show the attending WWII veterans that they are not forgotten. The four-ship of P-38’s would first fly the honorable “Missing-Man” formation to the tune of a solo trumpet and utter silence. With 70,000+ spectators looking on, a dropped needle could be heard amongst the silenced crowd as the aircraft’s eight Allison engines flowed harmoniously with somber tune of “Taps”. Once Rob Ator in “Ruff Stuff” pulled out of the number three spot, it became the most emotional memorial flight in recent memory. “It was so poignant and meant so much,” said Bob Alvis.
Upon the conclusion of the “Missing-Man” tribute, the P-38’s joined up in a very loose in-trail plane-chase as each aircraft would swoop in front of the crowd, their unique engine sounds paying homage to those who cared for them and worked on them tirelessly during the War.
Following the showcase, Steve Hinton and Kevin Eldridge would remain aloft. Hinton would spend the next few minutes flying an elegant solo routine looping and rolling “Glacier Girl” in the skies above California’s capital. Although the gracefulness of the “Fork-Tail Devil” would be briefly interrupted by the state of the art F-22 Raptor demonstration, both Hinton and Eldridge would re-enter the airspace taking on the number two and three position for the USAF Heritage Flight. More than 60 years of aviation history pass in front of the crowd, a sight none of the veterans of the P-38 program could have ever envisioned.
The air show weekend wasn’t without incident however, as “Glacier Girl” suffered a relatively minor mechanical issue on Sunday forcing her back to the hot pit. In the meantime, Jeff Harris had the misfortune of dealing with medical issues and was also grounded. With an inoperable P-38, Steve Hinton taxied “Glacier Girl” back to the line and hopped in Jeff Harris’ “Honey Bunny” to insure the show went on.
Throughout the weekend the P-38’s were on display for everyone to get a closer look at, especially the WWII veterans who worked so hard on keeping them airworthy when it mattered most. The entrance to the P-38 paddock played host to various vendors including the National P-38 Association, Lockheed Martin and others including a special area where spectators could reminisce with veterans.
One of those veterans was Capt. Bill Behrns (Ret.) who flew 104 combat and six weather missions during World War II, mostly stationed in Chittagong, Burma, now the country of Myanmar. During his involvement with the 459th Fighter Squadron, Behrns scored 4.5 enemy kills in his P-38 “San Joaquin Siren”. Behrns was the last of the 32 original pilots assigned to that special squadron of which only four survived.
Entrance to the paddock by voluntary donation enabled spectators the ability to pose with the aircraft and get a closer look. While most would expect these warbirds to be roped off, the pilots and crew instead remained with the aircraft answering questions and giving personal tours. In some cases, they even enabled a lucky few to sit in the cockpit.
When it came time to fly, the paddock was the perfect place to hear all eight Allison engines roar to life.
The weekend provided reflection for those too young to have known the P-38 as a front-line fighter. It provided a sense of peace for those who put their lives in harm’s way for the freedoms we take for granted today. It was a chance to touch a panel they had removed so many times before in a time of war. And it was a chance to recognize those who sacrifice so much to keep them flying today.
There will no doubt be another gathering of P-38’s sometime in the future, but this will probably be the last time they will ever gather for those whose lives depended on them.
Honey Bunny, a P-38L Lightning, NL7723C, was delivered to the Army Air Force as photoreconnaissance F-5G Serial# 44-26981. Its construction number is 7985. Aero Exploration Company Incorporated of Tulsa, Oklahoma acquired it from the War Assets Administration at Kingman, Arizona for $1,250 on March 22, 1946.
Originally registered as NX53752 on May 10, 1946 and then as N53752 in 1948, it was withdrawn from service in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July 1949. Despite changing hands many times, #981 remained relatively active compared to most acquired warbirds. Today she is owned by Jack Croul and operated by Allied Fighters in Chino, California.
Not only was #981 the only non-camo P-38 present, the airframe also boasts having the only functional turbo-chargers of any airworthy P-38 gracing the skies today.
Ruff Stuff, P-38L, N79123, entered civilian hands in July 1956 where she was originally registered as NX79123. Like most warbirds, the P-38 changed hands numerous times finally ending up with David Tallichet in Chino, CA.
Restoration of 44-27231 began in 1984 in Tulsa, OK before being moved to Chino in 1987. During the restoration process, the F-5G ‘recon’ nose was removed and replaced with the traditional fighter nose seen today. In November 1995, the airframe was once again airworthy and wore the name “Marge” along with a silver paint scheme. For three years beginning in 1998, “Marge” was on display at the USAFM at March AFB.
In 2004, the aircraft was purchased by Ronald Fagen and by 2007, the P-38 had a new paint job and the current nose art, “Ruff Stuff” which got its name from WWII pilot, First Lieutenant Norbert C. Ruff.
Thoughts of Midnight, P-38L, 44-53095, is one of the few existing P-38’s not formerly converted from an F-5G reconnaissance variant. Removed from service in 1946, #8350 was originally assigned registration number NL67745, but was soon to see service in Honduras as FAH503 and later, FAH506. The airframe was later brought back the States in 1960 registered as N9005R and stored in Blythe, CA.
In 1969, #8350 was given a new name, “Der Gabelshwanz Teufel” and remained so until 1986. The aircraft changed hands eventually ending up with the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX. Following an accident, she was repaired and renamed “Putt Putt Maru” until undergoing restoration in 2006. Now owned by Tom Friedkin and Comanche Fighters, the freshly restored and repainted aircraft flies with the registration NL38TF and the name, “Thoughts of Midnight”.
Glacier Girl is a Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning World War II fighter plane, 41-7630, c/n 222-5757, that was recently restored to operable condition after being buried beneath ice on the remote Greenland Ice Sheet for nearly fifty years.
On 15 July 1942, its squadron was forced to make an emergency landing en route to the British Isles during Operation Bolero and subsequently rescued. Glacier Girl, along with five other P-38 fighters and two B-17 bombers, was eventually buried beneath 270 feet of ice. Fifty years later, in 1992, the plane was brought to the surface after years of excavation and transported to Middlesboro, Kentucky, where it was restored to flying condition. So challenging was the excavation of Glacier Girl, she was documented in an episode of The History Channel’s “Mega Movers” series, titled “Extreme Aircraft Recovery”. Currently this airframe is equipped with the only genuine nose guns of any airworthy P-38.
To view additional images of the P-38 gathering, click here.
I first took notice about six years ago at the highly acclaimed McCall’s Motorworks party hosted by automotive aficionado Gordon McCall. They sat in the corner of the hangar at the Monterey Jet Center quietly calling for attention. A black one and a burgundy with loads of chrome trim and mesh accents. Surrounding them were elegantly dressed people pinching a wine glass with one hand and reaching for the hors d’oeuvre tray with the other. Hard as they try, it was impossible not to resist taking multiple glances at the metal and glass artwork. Like me there was a certain feature everyone wanted to take a closer look at, the chrome shifter.
Sure, it could easily have been the brush-swirled instrument panel dotted with aluminum toggle switches or the vintage-aero vents reminiscent of a turbofan engine. But it was the unique thinking of leaving the shift column and linkage assembly viewable to all that caught my eye and became the redundant question to which Spyker representatives learned quickly to respond.
“Most people are afraid of it.” Says Spyker representative JP Clinging, “But we simply explain to the customer it’s no different than any other shift assembly available on vehicles today. We just decided not to cover it up.”
What was then known as ‘Car & Cigars’ has become the official kick-off celebration for the famed Concourse d’Elegance week on the Monterey Peninsula. Each year Spyker has been present alongside a plethora of business jets, nostalgic racers and those vehicles predicted to be amongst the finest examples presented by weeks end at Pebble Beach.
Spyker’s unique aeronautical appearance was born in 1914 when the company merged with the Dutch Aircraft Factory N.V. Like many aviation to automotive adaptations such as the Studabaker’s jet engine intake-like nose to the Cadillac’s aerodynamically flowing fins, Spyker set the pace beginning with its prop and wire wheel logo. From there, aviation was in the car’s blood.
In 1898 two brothers, Jacobus and Hendrik-Jan Spijker, both coach builders in Amsterdam, founded the automotive business whereby bringing the first 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel brake equipped vehicle to market in 1903. In 1907, they took second place after entering their vehicle in the grueling Peking to Paris race earning them great notoriety.
Following WWI, the automotive industry stalled and Spyker was forced to merge with the aviation industry whereby producing 100 fighter aircraft and 200 high-performance aircraft engines. Despite the merger, Spyker continued building a limited number of performance and luxury-based vehicles until 1925.
It wasn’t until October 2000 that Spyker reemerged as a cutting-edge automotive manufacturer with the limited production C8 ‘Spyder’ followed a few months later by the C8 ‘Laviolette’ coupe. By June 2005, Spyker was finally allowed to bring the C8 class of vehicles stateside following emissions testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
I got the chance to meet up with the folks from Spyker at esteemed Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, CA. Though I had heard rumors of my being allowed to drive the car, I really didn’t expect it to actually happen.
They had a nice collection of Laviolettes bustling around along with the original “Peking to Paris” Spyker. A few minutes after I had arrived at Bernardus, the new C8 Aileron coupe coasted up the lengthy driveway humming a well-tuned throaty beat announcing its presence.
Compared to the original C8 Laviolette and the convertible C8 Spyder, the Aileron has a 6-inch longer wheelbase and front track increase of 6.1 inches for better road handling. Many of the ‘shark gills’ have been removed for a cleaner style and the split side windows have given way to the more functional single-pane windows that are now fully retractable. From the front, it sports a larger intake for increased engine cooling and from the rear light emitting diodes (LED’s) have taken the place of the venerable brake light bulb. That same LED technology is also used in the turn indicators as well as to accent the redesigned headlights.
A quick walk around followed by a more in-depth photographic look at each and every detail revealed the amount of creativity poured into the vehicle’s design. From the simplicity of the toggle switches to the elegance of the aeronautical clock, chrome and leather intertwined beautifully. Of note, Spyker designers chose to include aviation evolution into the design. Unlike the original C8’s use of piston era accents, the new Aileron boasts features reminiscent of the turbine propulsion age.
Connecting Carmel Valley to Highway 68, better known as the means to Laguna Seca Raceway, is the windy and hilly Laureles Grade. A short jaunt to the top of the grade yielded a nice turn out for some photos before my driver handed over the wheel to head back down the hill. Not exactly fair as little manual acceleration is required due to this thing called gravity, but the guardrail hugging turns were most certainly welcome.
My first impression was that of a solid car, including the suspension. One definitely feels each and every pebble not to mention the gentle soothing vibration of the rear-mounted 400bhp Audi 4.2 liter V8 engine. There’s no question acceleration is plenty to satisfy as are the over sized ABS brakes when it comes to slowing her down.
New to the unique shifting linkage is a teardrop twist control knob for the radio, but good luck in hearing tunes over the engine roar. After all, one would deduce the rumble in the rear is far more appealing than anything on the airwaves. However, should you force your ears to choose tunes over tones, the iPod-ready Kharma audio system should give your brain plenty of conflict.
Being a relatively short guy (5’3), the increased interior room of the lengthened Aileron chassis meant I had to move the seat forward. (Subtly suggesting this would be a really good thing for most people) Surrounded by plush leather, that of the Dutch Royal Tannery Hulshof, made my derriere feel not worthy, but oh so comfortable.
That interface between man and machine is none other than a perfectly matched 6-speed Getrag gearbox. Available as an option, the ZF 6-speed gearbox comes standard with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for that enhanced F-1 experience. And keeping the Aileron on terra firma is courtesy 235/35 tires up front and 295/30’s in the rear with wheels taking on the look of a jet turbofan.
Completing the package, a Lotus-developed rear double-wishbone suspension system attempts to make the driver more comfortable without robbing him or her of the ground-pounding fun. Taking on a new kinematic layout consisting of front and rear stabilizer bars, mono-tube dampers, coil over damper steel springs as well as an anti-dive and anti-squat layout all combine to improve handling over the C8 configuration.
While I found the Aileron to be an exhilarating ride, I quickly learned the vehicle is not on par with a movement from Mozart or Vivaldi, but rather that of Guns n’ Roses or Korn. The ride is solid and noisy, beasty and adrenaline inducing. At the helm of the hardtop was like being loaded into a shotgun. What this thing needed was air, room to breath, sun to warm. Low and behold, the Aileron Spyder!
Introduced at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance, the Spyder retains the classic lines of the hard top Aileron but with more California cruisin’ fun built right in.
The new Spyder utilizes a new semi-automatic canvas soft-top incorporating an electric/hydraulic mechanism secured by a centrally located manual latch. Once folded, the glass window-equipped soft-top is completely enclosed enabling the flowing lines of the Aileron to go undisturbed. On the rear deck rests a solid billet aluminum luggage rack complete with an aerodynamic wing-shape aluminum luggage case large enough for a well-folded shirt.
Written along the side of the tonneau cover is Spyker’s long-time saying, “Nulla tenaci invia est via” – for the tenacious no road is impassable.
For many of us, the DC-3 is seen as a tired workhorse of the skies, a third world answer for passenger and cargo transport. A fuselage full of chickens and wooden boxes might be high on the list of stereotypical thoughts. The gathering of DC-3’s and C-47’s in Rock Falls, Illinois quickly grounded that mindset and illustrated to everyone that the DC-3 is strong, active and still filling a void within the aviation community.
On the weekend of July 23-25, a record number of airworthy DC-3’s and military C-47 variants came together at Whiteside Airport in Rock Falls, Illinois for what would be called ‘The Last Time’. Although the original goal was to have 40 DC-3’s on the tarmac, due to weather and other complications, 27 made it to Whiteside. Of the aircraft gathered, 8 were military C-47 variants, 15 were DC-3’s with 10 of them being former C-47’s. Additionally the world’s only C-41 and C-41A were present along with an AC-47 gunship and one of only two flying DC-2’s in the world.
My entry into the world of the ‘Dakota’ began earlier in the year with a call to a good friend. Brooks Pettit, one of the operators of the American Flight Museum in Topeka, Kansas and pilot of the AC-47 gunship, ‘Spooky’, was working with the organizer of the The Last Time, Dan Gryder.
The plan was to divert from going straight to Oshkosh for the annual Airventure Fly-In and head to Kansas City instead. From there I would join up with the AC-47 crew and fly the short trip from Topeka to Whiteside in the gunship. Sounded like a great plan!
Stepping into a DC-3, the first thing most people notice is the steep floor and the slight workout necessary to reach the cockpit. With the start of each engine, a puff of smoke and a world of vibrations, ‘Spooky’ quickly took to the skies. There’s no doubt this plane was built to fly as the floor would conveniently level off once airborne. Once over Whiteside, we could see we’d be number four on the ramp. The party was just starting.
Although the local weather at Whiteside was excellent, a storm band was closing in preventing many of the aircraft from arriving Thursday afternoon and through the following morning. The aircraft that had touched down quickly became the subject of many photographers as lightning strikes and rolling storm clouds made for impressive backgrounds.
The storm continued on through the night and into the morning enabling most aircraft to make it in by late Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, whatever aircraft could make it were either parked on the tarmac or occupied giving rides.
It was decided the night before that Saturday morning would prove to be perfect for a three-ship DC-3 flight showcasing the various models. Dan Gryder would lead the pack in his DC-3, the 2nd oldest airframe flying today, followed by Brooks Pettit and Robert Rice in one of the few modified AC-47 gunships currently touring the country, and Scott Glover in a very historic C-47 having served in multiple WWII air operations including D-Day. Flying the Cessna 210 photoship was Tucker Nelson in addition to a second photoship with Greg Morehead in a T-6 ‘Texan’.
Each evening, Dan Gryder and the band would rock out with the visiting DC-3 pilots and crew. Before long, the band moved to the tarmac playing under a wing amongst more than two dozen DC-3’s and continued to jam into the early morning hours.
During the day, the tarmac was filled with spectators who were given unique opportunities to tour the various airframes. This gave some of the museum aircraft a chance to raise the funds necessary to keep ‘em flying. The gathering was not only recognized by media and aviation enthusiasts from around the world, but was probably one of the largest events the local community had seen in some time.
While some spectators toured the aircraft, others meandered through the maze of food and souvenir vendors located near the parking lot. For those looking for more of an adventure, C-47’s ‘Tico Belle’, ‘Southern Cross’ and ‘Sky King’ were offering a limited number of rides.
Sunday night marked the the eve of “The Last Supper”. All members of the flight crew from each aircraft were treated to a wonderful dinner hosted by the local eatery, Long Shot. Throughout the weekend, locals from Rock Falls provided free transportation, discounted hotel rates and more.
On Monday, July 26th, the dream of Dan Gryder was about to come true with a massive number of DC-3’s taking to the skies. Their destination was the Experimental Aviation Association’s annual Airventure Fly-In at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Throughout the course of the weekend, only one aircraft had prior obligations at Oshkosh requiring an early departure from Rock Falls, so the number of participating DC-3’s fell to 26. Still an amazing number!
One issue that remained unresolved was the use of a photoship for the mass arrival at Oshkosh. Originally Dan Gryder had enlisted the assistance of a CJ-6 Nanchang, but due to mechanical difficulties the aircraft was not able to make it. Saving the day was Mike Filucci who got in touch with good friend, Jim ‘Pappy’ Goolsby who was on his way to Oshkosh in a similar aircraft. I had the fortune of flying with ‘Pappy’ during the 50th Anniversary of the CJ-6 Nanchang a couple years prior as well as during a special assignment at his home airport. I couldn’t have asked for a better stick!
Shortly before noon, engines began to turn. Sitting on the tarmac in the back of ‘Pappy’s’ CJ gave me a panoramic view of two dozen DC-3’s in motion. One by one, they began launching out of Whiteside airport. Unfortunately, not everything went perfectly. During run-up, ‘Tiger Lady‘ (C-47 N47060 / AF 42-100603) had issues and removed herself from the line-up and C-41A (N341A / AF 40-070) aborted take-off for mechanical reasons. A third DC-3 returned to Whiteside due to oil temperature problems.
Those that made it into the air gathered in groups of three with a fourth in a disjointed position. It was similar to a standard fingertip formation with the number four aircraft flying further on the outside than normal. During the course of the trip each group of four would slowly creep up on the group ahead of them until a single mass formation could be achieved.
Circling the gaggle of DC-3’s was a Bonanza, a B-25 photoship and our CJ-6 with Nelson Tucker taking up the lead in his Cessna 210.
About 30 miles from Oshkosh, the mass formation began to take shape. Twenty-three DC-3’s, or forty-six radials, approached from the West blanketing the skies in metal. Not since World War II had this many of this airframe type come together for such an impressive sight.
After flying over Wittman Field, the formation separated into individual aircraft. One by one they landed on RWY18 taking only sixteen minutes for all to touch down.
The experience was one that defied the name. For most, the hopes that there will be “Another Time” lingers on the horizon. But for now, “The Last Time” simply proved the determination and passion in keeping the workhorse of the skies alive, is a dream held by many and will be for some time to come.
It started with a phone call one could only dream of receiving. “We need you to shoot a UAV. Can’t tell you what kind or where, but we need it done by the end of the week. Are you in?” Next thing I knew I was on flight to Southern California.
After picking up the rental car it was a quick hop over the San Bernadino Mountain Range to Apple Valley Airport. There I met UAV pilot and aerobatic competitor Tim Just along with legendary air show performer Wayne Handley. Just prior to dinner our roundhouse briefing enabled me to meet other members of the team like Mark Sutherlin, and Scott Berry of General Atomics.
The next morning, Just, Handley and I flew a modified Cessna 210 to a little known airport in the Antelope Valley, the same basin where aviation history had been made at Edwards Air Force Base and Palmdale’s Skunk Works.
With operations beginning in 1942, Grey Butte Airfield was established as a satellite airport for Victorville AAF and was used to train more than 30,000 pilots, eventually becoming a bombardier school. Marine crews based at MCAS Mojave would later use Grey Butte #4, as it was referred to on the Los Angeles sectionals of that time period, for carrier landing practice from 1944-45. By 1950, the airfield was abandoned by the military and briefly utilized as a civilian airfield. At some point between 1950 and 1960, the Los Angeles sectional charts finally acknowledged the airport as abandoned.
At some point in the early 1960’s two pilots, Al Adolph and Harry Bernier along with a mechanic operated a Borate air tanker operation from Grey Butte flying a converted TBM. Bored during the downtime, they devised a means of waterskiing along a nearby man-made reservoir using a station wagon. By 1964 Grey Butte was once again marked as being an active airfield with three runways, the longest being 3,740’.
Around 1968, McDonnel Douglas Aircraft Company chose Grey Butte as an aircraft radar cross-section testing range. Working with the Rosamond Dry Lake outdoor radar test range operated by the USAF, Douglas chose to move its Microwave Lab operations to Grey Butte, which would be under 100% Douglas control.
By 1971, the USAF Tactical Pilotage Chart listed the airfield as “Abandoned” despite continued RCS use. In 1975 it was reportedly used to test the cross-section of a full-scale model of the Lockheed F-117 Stealth Fighter. The RCS range was closed in the 1990’s and turned over to General Atomics in 2001 for unmanned aerial vehicle flight-testing.
It was this little bit of history that gave me a subtle hint as to what was in store. Upon landing at Grey Butte, the folks at General Atomics were already hard at work on various Predator A and B platforms lined up on the taxiway. I kept thinking how cool this was gonna be. Do I get to shoot the slightly larger turbine model or what has become the icon of the UAV world, the original Predator, better known as the MQ-1?
We were escorted over to a remote part of the airfield where under a cloak of secrecy lie the most incredible sight, the new Predator ‘C’, unofficially dubbed the ‘Avenger’. Almost twice as large as the turbine-powered Predator B, technically known as the MQ-9 ‘Reaper’, the new Avenger boasted an internal weapons bay, retractable landing gear and a more stealthy design. Simply put, this thing was cooler than anything Hollywood could dream of, as was attempted in the 2007 blockbuster, “Transformers” where an MQ-9 was given the jet-powered treatment.
With temperatures in the low-50’s, brought lower by the high-desert wind chill, we hovered around the unmanned aircraft as crews worked on a mechanical anomaly. Unfortunately flying was not in the cards. The next day I boarded a plane departing Ontario and returned home.
A couple days later I received word the photo mission was back on. In the early morning hours I met Wayne Handley in King City where we would fly back down to Grey Butte in his yellow Cessna 180. The flying banana we called it, an airframe I had many hours in prior to this trip. Upon landing at Grey Butte, we were immediately approached and questioned by security. Note to the wise, heed the big words written along the various runways at Grey Butte: “No Trespassing – Unsafe For Landing”. Fortunately, we had been cleared, though the memo hadn’t reached everyone quite yet.
Handley and I were escorted to the briefing room where we met with key members of the entire Predator C team, about twenty or so individuals. It was at this point I began feeling the pressure. This was kind of a big deal. We were handed a paper detailing the various points of view to be photographed, all of it relatively straight forward, but the views needed to be precise, yet more pressure. And of course this was a UAV, no pilot to look at and give hand signals to. Pressure gave way to queasiness.
With our checklist completed, I climbed into the back of the 210, sans-baggage door, with Wayne Handley at the helm and Jason McDermott in the copilot’s seat. At the time I was so busy fidgeting with camera gear and safety equipment I hadn’t even noticed we were now airborne. Looking down onto the airfield, I could see the Avenger taxiing into position at the end of RWY37, a truly freaky site knowing the pilot, Tim Just, was located in the confines of a distant trailer.
For an aircraft intended to fly relatively straight, it reached altitude and position in no time. With a flight envelope designed around a 160kt cruising speed and the 210 having a 160kt max speed, formation flying and positioning proved quite interesting. To make positioning and visibility easier, both Handley and I made sure to be on the same side of the aircraft, as opposed to using the ‘Banana’. This is where the baggage door of the 210 came into play.
Positioning was similar to that of a manned aircraft calling for a variable turn to the left or the right keeping in mind usable airspace around the airfield. Following a requested angle of bank, Handley would position the 210 high or low, forward or back based on the pre-briefed angle to be photographed. Little had I known, Handley’s experience in flying with UAV’s was quite vast and between him and Tim Just piloting the Avenger, I found myself amongst rock stars of the UAV world.
Obtaining a precise head-on profile followed by an exacting rear profile proved to be the most challenging. With Tim banking the Avenger to either the left or the right, Handley would lead the UAV and bank sharply in the opposite direction. While hanging out the baggage door, I had only a split second to capture the profile before overshooting to the left or right. It had to be done with minimal attempts, as repositioning at the same airspeed was a very time-consuming option. Shooting the aft portion of the Avenger was even more challenging as Handley needed to put 210 in a high-speed slip forcing the aircraft to shutter violently and placing me in direct line of 100+mph winds.
Despite the rush of adrenaline and intense concentration, there were moments of restful awe as the sound of the 4,800-lb. thrust Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW545B engine overpowered our own wind and engine noise. Just taking a moment to comprehend there were no eyes staring back at us completely changed how I’d come to learn aviation photography. As much as I live my life staring through a small square in a camera, I was sure to take a moment and enjoy the view of the this new technology flying only feet away with my own two unaided eyes.
Back on the ground in the standing-room only briefing room, a quick download of images enabled an impromptu slideshow followed by applause. The incredible flying skills of Wayne Handley and Tim Just allowed for some wonderful points of view designers, technicians and engineers could look forward to dissecting.
Before day’s end, I was flown to Van Nuys where I would join Clay Lacy and his video crew along with photographer Chad Slattery early the next morning. Knowing what views needed to be accomplished, I was to play the role of art director in the back of Lacy’s Lear. Unlike the 210, we would join up on the Avenger at a much higher altitude enjoying the slightly warmer confines of the small jet.
Seeing the Avenger piloted by Justin McDermott alongside us in the Lear was like déjà vu. Lacy’s crew displayed their amazement with oohs and ahhs while switching back and forth from video to still imagery. The confines of the Lear along with the ‘poetry in motion’ of all aboard drew the same kind of oohs and ahhs from me.
Throughout the rest of the day the desert winds howled through the Valley reaching speeds of nearly 50mph. The Avenger was safely tucked away in hopes of bringing her out for some nighttime static photography. As the evening hours approached, the wind showed no hopes of dying down with the temperature plummeting fast.
Hoping for the best, we returned to Grey Butte Airfield around 7pm and waited. Around 10pm, the winds began to subside enough to safely bring the UAV out of hiding though the prevailing winds would still prove a worthy obstacle for the purposes of photography. Regardless, we began putting everything in place from the tow vehicles to the mechanical lift. Despite the near freezing temperatures, the shoot was wrapped up around 1am.
It took about a dozen General Atomics employees to pull off the night shots and many more to coordinate the aerials. Many thanks to Tim Just and Julie Mangold for bringing me into this project along with Wayne Handley for making it easy. Additional thanks to Scott Berry, Mark Sutherlin, and Jason McDermott along with all the other General Atomics workers for their generous assistance during the intense week-long effort. Thanks also to Clay Lacy and his crew for allowing me aboard the Lear enabling me a behind the scenes look at how much of the aerial footage seen today was created.
More images of the Predator-C can be found here.
There’s no question the general aviation industry has been under tight scrutiny since those fateful moments of 9/11. Even after the dust had settled, new challenges arose that would place the freedom of flight in jeopardy. From user fees to budget cuts, both political and privatized, the trend of new pilots taking to the skies has plummeted in numbers due to the increasing cost of private flight.
For the majority of the general public, exposure to general aviation only comes by hosting of a local air show. Very few are able to experience flight in a small private plane let alone understand the fundamentals of air travel and its impact on the local and national economy. As intimately familiar as pilots may be with these challenges, most lack the ability and character to connect with the non-aviation community.
Someone with whom the public could trust and respect would need to step up and promote general aviation in a cohesive and personable manner. Who better than the man who epitomized characters displaying adventure, rebellion and determination on the silver screen? Hollywood aside, these traits flow deeply within the persona of Harrison Ford.
Fascinated with aviation at a young age, Ford made a valiant effort to chase his dream. “I wanted to pursue my pilot’s license back when I was in college, just three lessons I think,” Harrison notes. “I think it cost about $11 an hour for a plane and an instructor, I just couldn’t afford it,” he explains. His eventual success in movies gave him the means to buy a Gulfstream G2 and later a G4 for whom he employed Terry Bender as his head pilot. “One day about 14 years ago Harrison came up to the cockpit talking about going after his pilot’s license again,” Terry recalls, “and he asked if I would be his instructor.”
“I never lost the ambition to fly. I just hadn’t found the time,” says Ford. Acquiring a pilot’s license at the age of 53 at first seemed daunting. “I hadn’t before challenged myself to learn something that could be so formidable. I had great training, and it came in stages.” Starting with a Cessna 182, Ford mostly flew out of Jackson, Wyoming, and Teterboro, New Jersey, learning both demanding environments. “I love flying and, I love the airplanes themselves.” Since acquiring his private pilot’s license in 1996, Ford has amassed more than 3,500 hours of flight time in both rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft, and he holds Floatplane, Single Engine, Multi Engine, and Instrument Rating certificates along with being Type Rated in the Cessna Citation Sovereign 680. “In my life I have two roles,” he emphasizes. “One of them everyone knows about. It provides a means to the other, which I prefer.”
It goes without saying that certain films have had an impact on his flying interests. He recalls the making of Six Days, Seven Nights where the script originally called for a Stinson Reliant as the aircraft of choice. Ford felt the deHavilland Beaver was a better choice and took the director to see one. The plane was recast. Initially the insurance companies forbade Ford to fly in the movie, but Ford persisted and finally met all of the requirements enabling him to log nearly 120 hours of flight time in the deHavilland before the movie’s completion. Though Ford says the five deHavilland aircraft used in the filming were “not the finest examples of the breed,” he managed to find one in Seattle that he had restored and has owned for about twelve years.
Many of the locations in Six Days, Seven Nights, which was filmed in Hawaii, were accessible only by helicopter, and flying in a helicopter on a daily basis quickly piqued Harrison’s interest in piloting rotor-wing aircraft. By the time filming had come to an end, Ford had about 24 hours of rotor-wing piloting experience. Soon after, he completed his license requirements on the mainland flying a Robinson helicopter.
With both fixed-wing and rotorcraft certifications under his belt, he offered his aircraft and piloting services to the Teton County and Lincoln County Search and Rescue units. He has participated in two successful Wyoming rescues though he’s quick to give praise to the estimated 250 individuals who are full-time members of those organizations. “It was embarrassing to me to get credit for these saves when I was only a small part of this big operation,” says Ford humbly.
Ford’s interest in flight led him on a journey not even the greatest Hollywood script writers could have imagined. In 2003 Ron Kaplan, Enshrinement Director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, asked him to emcee a special Pioneers of Flight Homecoming gala honoring the Hall of Fame inductees. Kaplan notes, “Thanks to Harrison’s giving of himself to the Hall of Fame cause – passionately, patiently, and I must add, humbly – and the fact that when it comes to flying, he’s the authentic real-deal, our heroes and legends of aviation received the national spotlight they deserved.”
Having been a member of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) and participating in the Young Eagle’s program since 1996, attending the Homecoming sparked an even greater appreciation for aviation. On March 8th, 2004 Ford accepted the position of Chairman for the Young Eagle’s Association follow founding chairman Cliff Robertson and chairman emeritus Chuck Yeager.
“When the executive management of EAA approached me to become Honorary Chairman of the program, I did not immediately accept. I found it quite daunting to follow in the steps of Yeager and Robertson,” recalls Ford.
“Mr. Ford is a joy to work with and extremely dedicated to aviation, like so many of our volunteer pilots,” notes Steve Buss, who has served as director of the program since 1995. “Just like Harrison, all the pilots want to provide a different kind of spark to a child’s life compared to video games or television. During his tenure as chairman, we’ve surpassed 1.5 million Young Eagle flights, which have been accumulating since the program’s inception in 1992.”
Working with the Driggs, Idaho, and Santa Monica, California, EAA chapters Ford introduces children, and as a result their parents, to the joys of flying. Not only does the experience provide the groundwork for young people pursuing a future in aviation, but it also enables their parents to learn about the various aspects of the general aviation community. “The parents are excited that their kids are having a great experience and hopefully they will be more receptive to the aviation community,” said Ford. He’s flown kids in the deHavilland Beaver, a Cessna Caravan, Beechcraft B-36, and even a Bell 407 helicopter, and his only regret is that he doesn’t get to spend enough time with them individually.
Dr. Rich Sugden, owner of the Teton Aviation Center and former president of the Driggs, Idaho, EAA Chapter 1049, remembers when Ford first became interested in participating in the Young Eagles Program. “He made it a point to be present at all of our Young Eagles Day gatherings, and after about three years of working with the children we asked him to be chairman of the national program. He’s a very conscientious pilot who flies several different categories of aircraft and helicopters extremely well. I would not have any concerns about having him fly my grandchildren anywhere.”
In an EAA presentation, Ford explains, “One of the pleasures of exposing young kids to this experience is to excite in them an ambition to acquire the knowledge it takes to become a pilot and also to instill in them through your own enthusiasm that they too can acquire these skills and participate in aviation.” Since his involvement with the program, he has personally flown nearly 300 children with more than 500,000 children being exposed to the experience through the help of more than 40,000 pilots.
On September 29th, 2009, Ford handed over the reins to the now legendary pilots of US Airways Flight 1549, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles. EAA President, Tom Poberezny praised Ford for his contributions. “Harrison Ford was an outstanding chairman of the Young Eagles program. He was an active leader, flying hundreds of young people. Just as important, he motivated thousands of pilots and EAA members to volunteer their time, airplanes, and personal experiences. He significantly elevated the visibility of Young Eagles and the impact it will have on aviation’s future.”
Though the torch had been passed, his efforts towards the promotion of general aviation were far from over. In 2007 commercial aviation began to suffer due to the skyrocketing cost of crude oil. To turn a profit, airlines needed to raise the cost of airfare resulting in decreased consumer travel. A method airlines thought viable to regain some of their profits was to battle taxes imposed upon them that assist in maintaining general aviation airports and subsidize the FAA. In September of that year, the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill was up for renewal and the airlines were on the attack. Since funding has to come from somewhere, an alternative revenue source suggested by the airlines came through the idea of charging private pilots “User Fees”. This source of revenue is already being used in Europe, which has caused the average citizen to hang up their wings due to the burdening and unrealistic cost of aviation in the form of a pay-as-you-go plan.
Since the average citizen is unfamiliar with the financial workings of the FAA and general aviation, airlines spread convincing propaganda through in-flight magazines. Once again, the aviation community needed someone to provide an advocacy role and relate to the non-flying community. Donating his time towards the efforts of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA), Harrison Ford became the subject of numerous GA Serves America television campaigns asking the public to support general aviation during such challenging times.
On April 27th, 2010 Harrison Ford went to Capitol Hill on behalf of AOPA to speak with Congress about the impact general aviation has on America. He states, “One of the things people don’t realize is the importance of the general aviation aircraft manufacturing business and the economic impact of community airports in this country which produce 1.3 million jobs and pumps $150 billion per year into the economy.” He illustrates, “People also don’t realize that general aviation is basically anything that’s not commercial, from EMS flights, Police, Civil Air Patrol, to public safety and emergency services. It’s everything from corporations flying their staff, to a John Deer dealer flying parts or a fisherman getting his fish to market.”
“I can’t overstate the value of Harrison Ford’s contribution to protecting and promoting general aviation. He is a passionate and articulate spokesman, and by donating his time and his good name to this effort, he has really helped general aviation get the attention of decision makers. And because he doesn’t just talk about the value of general aviation–he routinely uses GA in humanitarian relief efforts, search-and-rescue operations, and for personal and business transportation–you simply couldn’t find a better voice to tell our story.” Explains Craig Fuller, president and CEO of AOPA.
Of course playing the role of advocate can only go so far if you don’t walk the walk or talk the talk. It is here Ford excels.
Deep in the heart of Northern Idaho, Ford joins two-dozen other pilots annually for a backcountry flying experience that would put the most hardened pilots to the test. While most arrive in Huskies or Cubs with oversized tires to tackle the terrain, Ford shows up with one of the few participating radial-engine aircraft, his trusty deHavilland Beaver. Over a four-day period, Ford and the other pilots will negotiate mountainous terrain performing multiple take-offs and landings on precarious hillside and riverbank strips.
The annual excursion was organized by Dr. Sugden as a means of exercising understanding and awareness of treacherous terrain. With the majority of the pilots living within a half-day’s flight, currency in backcountry flying is a useful and perhaps life-saving skill.
Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Ford piloted his Cessna 208 Caravan to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from Santa Monica, California. After negotiating three days of foul weather to get to Miami, Ford utilized his backcountry training making several trips to a remote dirt strip in Hinche, Haiti. His participation helped deliver a team of 20 volunteers consisting of anesthesiologists, plastic surgeons, an orthopedic surgeon, eight nurses and critical medical supplies. Ford’s actions are credited with greatly reducing the amount of time it would otherwise have taken to get needed help to earthquake victims.
For the week of July 17th through the 24th, Harrison Ford along with a several hundred other individuals and businesses have offered assistance to the Citation Special Olympics. The goal is to transport nearly 2000 Special Olympics participants to and from Lincoln Nebraska aboard various types of Citation model jets.
In its sixth year, Cessna has reached out to their customers to donate their time and aircraft. With 2010 being only the second Special Olympics National Games to be held in the United States, Cessna is aiming to have more than 325 aircraft participate. Citation jets will be touching down on average every 60 to 90 seconds over a 15-hour period.
To most of the world, Hollywood is a playground full of characters that seem to have lost touch with reality. Although the celebrities that grace center stage quickly become household names, to many, truly knowing them is something that will never happen. Thankfully there are a few that break that mold.
In the eyes of the aviation community, Harrison Ford is not an actor, but rather an advocate for an incredible industry. His passion for flight is contagious and his actions generous. For those who are pilots and aviation enthusiasts, a great debt is owed for his contributions. For those who have yet to take to the skies, Ford says, “It’s never too late.”
For their contributions toward the creation of this article, the author wishes to thank EAA President, Tom Poberezny and Young Eagle’s President, Steve Buss, AOPA’s President & CEO, Craig Fuller and Senior Vice President, Thomas Haines, former Executive Director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Ron Kaplan, Past President of EAA Chapter 1049, Dr. Rich Sugden, Director of the Cessna Special Olympics Airlift, Rhonda Fullerton, along with Terry & Barrie Bender and of course, Harrison Ford.
This article is not to be reproduced digitally or physically without the expressed written consent of the author and or the agency representing Harrison Ford.