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Category Archives: How’d You Get That Shot

How’d You Get That Shot? Learning to Compromise

1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin C/N 237 and 1928 Curtiss-Wright Travel

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.

1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin C/N 237

Scott Glover flies the 1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin C/N 237

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.

1928 Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 4000 C/N 416

Kelly Mahon flies the Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 4000 C/N 416 just after completing delivery of the aircraft from the state of Washington to Mt. Pleasant, TX.

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.

1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin C/N 237 and 1928 Curtiss-Wright Travel

Kelly Mahon in the Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 4000 and Scott Glover in the Curtiss-Wright Robin join Matt Bongers and me in the O-1 Bird Dog photo ship over Mt. Pleasant, TX.

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.

How’d you get that shot – Rare Bear

An underside plan form layout of Rare Bear's new paint scheme lies on the work table along with dozens of engine parts soon to be added to the aircraft.

Let me first start by saying, I have never witnessed harder working aircrews than those who toil over air racers. Months before the Reno Air Races, air racing crews are diligently working on their aircraft tweaking and modifying every square inch for that one extra mile per hour. And as race day nears, they become sleepless masters of aeronautics and duct tape. It was this very essence of commitment I was tasked with capturing for Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine.

Arriving at Stead Field in mid-July is fairly anticlimactic if you’ve ever been to Reno during the height of the air races. The hot ramp is void of horsepower, the spectators are nowhere to be found and the track is deafeningly silent. However, hidden in a nearby hangar a ferocious racer is being prepped for race day only three short months away.

It had been twenty years since I first saw this aircraft rounding the pylons at Stead Field. My first time attending the races in 1991, Lyle Shelton pushed the radial engine hard beating out the inlines, Skip Holm in Tsunami and Bill DeStefani in Strega, for the win. I was in love. Forever more this would be the aircraft for which I would push to win.

Rare Bear Preparation 2009. (L-R) Mechanics Keith Geary and Rob Grosvenor discuss aircraft modifications with Team Lead Alby Redick and Crew Chief Dave Cornell.

When I came upon the ‘Bear Cave’, chief mechanics, Keith Gary and Rob Grovesnor were deep in concentration running through a rather long checklist. Team Lead, Alby Redick, was tending to other tasks in preparation for Crew Chief, Dave Cornell’s short visit. For a brief moment, they all stopped for a quick greeting and introduction, then it was right back to work.

I was grateful for the brief moment of attention, but even more grateful for their ability to focus on their duties despite my presence. There is nothing more annoying than posed photos. These guys had no doubt been in this situation before; a photographer sticking a camera in their face while they do their best to troubleshoot a problem that if not addressed, could jeopardize the life of a pilot, at the very least. However, as a photographer, knowing the circumstances and the main purpose of why they are doing what they are doing, remains a fundamental responsibility that every photographer must embrace.

Crew Chief for the 2009 Rare Bear team, Dave Cornell, discusses improvements made to the highly modified F8f Bearcat prior to the Reno Air Racing Championship held at Stead Field near Reno, NV. Here he inspects the firewall just aft the engine.

With that mutual understanding, the team quickly came to trust me…at least I think they did.

When Cornell arrived, the tools were put down and the list came out. I have no experience as an aerodynamicist, none whatsoever in aviation circuitry, nada when it comes to high-pressure and low-pressure airflow, zip with composites, fuel flow, ventilation, compression, not even paint. Everything these guys talked about was complete Greek to me, with the exception of the word airframe. I know what an airframe is and I know I heard that word a couple times, so I must still be in the right place.

Rare Bear Team Manager, Alby Redick, listens to his teammates as they run through a maintenance checklist and appropriate solutions.

I followed the guys around during their checklist tour and relevant minor tweaks. I never butted in, only captured what light was available to me as they made their rounds and did my best to capture expressions and juxtapositions as they occurred. As quickly as Cornell arrived, he was gone. And back to work went the team.

It was already known this was to be a cover story and we needed to get a cover shot. A short time earlier I had completed a shoot with the General Atomics Predator C ‘Avenger’ in Southern California. I figured I’d apply what I learned from the late night photoshoot to capture the vibrancy of Rare Bear under controlled lighting conditions.

The tail fairing from a 2007 Rare Bear paint scheme lies discarded amongst other pieces of scrap metal in the fabrication shop. History lies everywhere in the 'Bear Cave'.

When nightfall came, the crew pulled Rare Bear out of the hangar and headed toward the run-up area at the end of RWY26. Although it took about an hour, we managed to get the old scissor lift next to the hangar out to the run-up area as well. This enabled me to get the camera onto a raised platform for a much better overview of the historic racer.

One of the initial factors on this night was that there was a near full moon. At any other time, this would have been great. A timed exposure with a full moon present will bathe the subject in ambient light at a fairly controllable rate. Unfortunately, due to the direction we needed to shoot, the moon threatened to cast a huge complex shadow of the scissor lift over the tarmac and eventually the aircraft. When we initially set up the shot, this wasn’t going to be an issue, but as the moon moved across the sky, we came to the realization there was a time frame we needed to work within. If we took too long, the scissor lift’s shadow would ruin the image.

Mechanic Keith Geary peers into an access port while assisting with the installation of Rare Bear's canopy.

The image had already been preconceived on a pad of paper. Space needed to be provided for the magazine cover’s masthead, contents and bar code. Angling the aircraft in such a way, and providing plenty of background would do the trick. Once the Bear was positioned, I went up in the lift to compose the shot, mount the camera to the scissor lift’s railing and attach all the necessary cables in order to remotely operate the camera from the ground. The lift was lowered, I exited and sent the lift back up with just the camera. Connected to my laptop, I could now see what the camera was seeing and began working on lighting the aircraft.

Once the images had been captured, I made some minor tweaks and sent it off to the magazine. The next morning I got a call from Caroline Sheen critiquing the image. Although we were on the right track, it just wasn’t cover-worthy material, and I agreed. The image itself was strong and technically perfect, but it lacked the human element. It was just a plane.

Although the original image was technically perfect, it lacked the human touch and the real essence of the Reno Air Races. It was a photo of a static aircraft, nothing more.

Caroline asked for what I thought was the impossible however, I didn’t realize the level of efficiency and dedication air racing teams posses. She asked, “How difficult would it be to make the aircraft appear as it should on race day?” There were no control surfaces, no canopy, no prop, missing panels, missing fairings, no spinner and a host of other things an aircraft must have in order to fly. I laughed a little, the team did not. They simply responded, “No problem, we’ll get right on that!”

They spent the day putting the aircraft back together. This would be the most complete Rare Bear had been since concluding last year’s races. While I did my best to stay out of the way and document their progress, I continuously racked my brain on how we were going to utilize the same lighting method, but with people. I hadn’t done that before with a long exposure lighting technique.

Once nightfall came, everyone jumped into action repeating exactly as we had done the night before. Since we hadn’t planned on a remake, there were no markers or place cards denoting where everything should go. We had to do our best to compare the existing photo with where everything had to be. And of course there was the moon. That constant nagging reminder that we had to remain on our toes and not waste any time.

The final published image shows Reno Air Racing champion Rare Bear, a highly modified F8f Bearcat resting on the tarmac at Stead Field while (clockwise from top) Keith Geary, Rob Grosvenor and Alby Redick work on preparing the aircraft.

With everything in place, we briefed the shot once more. Since the guys had all been there the night prior, they were all familiar with the lighting technique and understood the fundamentals of what needed to be accomplished. Essentially, they needed to assume a comfortable pose and maintain that exact position for two to three minutes. If you’re wondering why the long exposure instead of a quick pop of portable strobes, certain elements such as the dimly lit taxi lights, distant mountain range and its separation from the sky, could only be accomplished with a long exposure using the moon’s ambient light.

With the conclusion of each exposure, a giddiness looms over as the guys leave their respective positions and head for the computer to see what progress has been made. It reminds me of why I do what I do. Here are a group of guys I would trade anything for to experience a mere fraction of what they have, and yet a simple picture is enough to ignite a sense of genuine excitement.

Just before 1am on July 9th, it was a wrap! The moon had moved westward making the scissor lift’s shadow too dominant to continue. Not to mention we were all working to the point of exhaustion and still had to move everything back to the hangar.

Using the moon, a flashlight and my camera bag as a tripod, this would be my closing shot following three days of documenting the hard working Rare Bear team at Stead Field.

Each member of the crew took responsibility for hauling a vehicle back to the hangar leaving me all alone on the ramp with one last machine, Rare Bear. With only the moonlight and a flashlight, I set out for one last shot. Knowing the guys would be back in a few minutes, I rested the camera on my camera bag angling it upward at the sleeping beast.

Back lit by the moon, I lit the aircraft with the flashlight for a near 3-minute exposure. The lights in the immediate background are those of the Lemmon Valley residents with the horizon being lit by the nearby Reno cityscape.

After nearly 20 years of watching and cheering on the Bear, I’ll never forget the surreal feeling of being on the ramp at Stead all alone with this magnificent aircraft.

Special thanks to the Rare Bear team for their passion and dedication not only for their assistance with this shoot, but for all the years of work they’ve poured into the Bear to keep her in the skies. Rare Bear Team Lead, Alby Redick; Crew Chief, Dave Cornell;  Lead Mechanics, Keith Geary and Rob Grosvenor; Public Relations, Lisa Snow and aircraft owner, Rod Lewis. Of course the shoot would not have been possible without those at Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine, Linda Shiner and Caroline Sheen.

For more images from this shoot, follow the link here.

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: 17-35mm f/2.8 @ 17mm
Exposure: 228 seconds – Manual
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 100
Image Created: 7/8/09 @ 11:08pm pst

How’d you get that shot – Blue Angels over Big Sur

Michael Goulian with passenger Bill Whitaker from CBS News flies in formation with Ed Hamill behind a C-130J belonging to the 146th Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island Air National Guard.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it all started with a phone call. Make that two cliches. John Cudahy, President of the International Council of Airshows (ICAS), asked if I would have any interest in joining and assisting a news crew on various photoshoots during the weekend of the California International Airshow in Salinas. It didn’t take long to provide an answer.

It was Fall of 2009 and home foreclosures were at an all time high. The market had already crashed and the unemployment rate was not about to decline anytime soon. Due to the popularity of airshows during an otherwise miserable economic downturn, CBS contacted ICAS to find out the secret behind these entertaining venues. Because of time constraints and accessibility, Salinas would be chosen to host the news crew for their national story.

For 2009, Salinas had a stellar line up. Military demonstration teams included the A-10 Thunderbolt, USAF Heritage Flight, US Army Golden Knights and the USN Blue Angels. On the civilian roster was Michael Goulian, Ed Hamill, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucey and Teresa Stokes, John Collver and the ever popular Robosaurus and the Wall of Fire.

Major Paul "Harb" Brown of the West Coast A-10 Demo Team points the business end of his Thunderbolt II toward the open ramp of the C-130J.

The first photoshoot involved Michael Goulian with CBS news correspondent Bill Whitaker as his passenger. Flying Wayne Handley’s yellow and blue Extra, Goulian teamed up with Ed Hamill in his patriotic Pitts biplane. Assisting the news crew and the airshow throughout the weekend was the 143rd Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island Air National Guard (RIANG) with their extended body C-130J Hercules.

Once Goulian and Hamill completed their formation fun behind the C-130, it was time for Major Paul “Harb” Brown in the A-10 and Steve Hinton in his P-51D “Wee Willy II” to join the fun. Harb expertly approached the six o’clock position of the C-130 swaying from side to side providing the news crew with various bank angles followed by cautiously placing the business end of the A-10 within mere feet of the extended ramp. After a few brief minutes, Hinton joined Harb demonstrating the dissimilar formation of the USAF Heritage Flight. A quick glance at the CBS videographer revealed a grin from ear to ear. The news crew was no doubt getting what they wanted.

From the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California, Steve Hinton flies P-51D 'Wee Willy II' during a media flight at the 29th annual California International Airshow in Salinas.

As with just about every exhilarating air to air shoot, it was all over too soon. The ramp of the C-130 slowly closed until the last sliver of light glistening off the maze of pipes along the internal fuselage walls disappeared. A small bump a few minutes later indicated we were back on the ground.

Throughout the weekend the excitement of one of the country’s most successful civilian airshows drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The news crew could be found hard at work at every corner of the airfield capturing these magical moments. All the while, Commander Greg McWhirter lead the precision Blue Angles demonstration team through three flawless performances giving us a hint of what was to come at the conclusion of the show.

High over the cloudy California coastline, the 2009 Blue Angels Demonstration Team flies their famous six-ship formation behind a RIANG C-130J at the conclusion of the California International Airshow in Salinas.

Early Monday morning, absent of crowds, aircraft were being closely inspected by their aircrews in preparation of heading home. Vendors were disassembling booths and temporary stanchions were being collected. The airport was still however, far from looking like an airport.

Proudly sitting on the flightline were the six primary Blue Angel aircraft, their canopies freshly cleared of morning dew. Looking on was the RIANG C-130J complete with aircrew and passengers, but without one major entity…CBS. Unfortunately the news crew was on deadline and was forced to head back to New York in order to prepare the piece.

Just as we had done before the airshow started, we received our brief, buckled in and watched from the rear of the aircraft as we taxied toward the runway. Slowly the ramp began to close and we were airborne.

Tilting and tightening in on a singular subject adds to the variety of a shoot.

As soon as we were ‘feet wet’ over the Monterey Bay, the cargo door came down revealing the thick marine layer covering the Central Coast. In the distance a dot could be seen, followed by another dot, and yet another two dots…pretty soon seven random dots could be seen closing in on our aircraft. In no time at all those seven dots became a tightly knit formation of gold and blue F-18’s with the seventh aircraft, F-18B #7 hanging just outside the formation.

By this time we were about five miles off the coast of Pebble Beach, California rounding to the south to follow the Big Sur coastline. The surrealistic view of six F/A-18A Hornets being flown by perhaps the best pilots in the world warranted a few moments of contemplation without a camera in front of my face. Fortunately that didn’t last long and I got back to shooting.

Clearly this wasn’t the first time the Blue Angels had pulled up behind a C-130 full of camera-wielding photographers. The six pilots were as one as they swayed from side to side, smoke on then smoke off.

Just seconds before the six-ship formation broke away from the C-130, the skies opened up over the Point Sur Lighthouse. This was literally the last image shot before the shoot came to an end.

Not that any ‘impact’ needed to be added to illustrate the sheer power and agility of of today’s front line fighter, let alone six, but I did attempt various angles and isolating individual aircraft. A tilt to the left or a tilt to the right managed to fill the frame and add a sense of dynamics. Zooming in on individual aircraft revealed unique views and perspectives, especially with multiple aircraft and multiple angles from which to choose.

During the entire eighty-mile flight down the Big Sur coastline, the marine layer was ever prevalent with no sign of revealing the breathtaking cliffs. But as all hope seemed lost, a break in the clouds appeared just as we approached the Point Sur Lighthouse, made famous by the USS Macon (ZRS-5) which crashed just off shore. A small trough of warm air carved an angular wedge out of the persistent coastal gloom revealing a beachhead and a hint of the lighthouse. Seconds later the six-ship plus one departed in search of an awaiting KC-135. Once topped off, they would be on their way home to Pensacola, Florida.

It was an incredible honor to have been the first civilian photographer to have an image featured as the official team litho for 2010. Thank you to everyone on the team who made it happen!

Special thanks to John Cudahy of ICAS for the special invite along with the entire Board of the California International Airshow for creating the logistics to make this reality. An enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the USN Blue Angels Demonstration Squadron as well as Col. Larry Gallogly and his crew of the 143rd Airlift Wing Air National Guard. Additional thanks to Blue Angels CDR Greg McWherter and Public Affairs Officer, CAPT Tyson Dunkelberger for selecting the resulting image as the official 2010 Blue Angels Lithograph.

For more images from this shoot and the 2009 California International Airshow, Salinas, click here or pick up a copy of the 2009 California International Airshow – Salinas Pictorial.

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: 28-135mm f/3.5 @ f/5.6
Exposure: 1/500 – Aperture Priority
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO: 100
Image Created: 8/10/09 @ 9:10am pst

For more images from the Blue Angels photoshoot, including additional photography and details of each performer, check out the "California International Airshow" book by clicking on the above image.

How’d You Get That Shot? – Silver Stealth

Without the usual armed guards and miles of redundant security stanchions typically present with the F-117, photographers could exercise their creativity in documenting the aircraft and the event.

“Ok guys, here’s what I want; let’s get five Night Hawks…no wait, fifteen…aw heck, twenty-five F-117’s in formation on a heading of 162 degrees so they align perfectly with the flag pole at the base’s static museum. Sound doable?”

So, that discussion didn’t actually happen, but the results couldn’t have been planned any better.

On October 27, 2006, Holloman Air Force Base helped celebrate the F-117 Night Hawk’s 25th Anniversary of active duty service. For many it seemed like the F-117 was still a relatively new aircraft, but for those who knew America’s best kept secret, the aircraft had already served combat in other countries.

Having first flown on June 18, 1981, the F-117 was the world’s first real stealth fighter. Designed with faceted surfaces, radar waves would bounce off the surface of the aircraft at angles preventing the waves from returning to the point of origin. In addition, the aircraft could also absorb radar waves by use of a special radar absorbent material (RAM). In all, 64 F-117’s were built including five experimental airframes.

Following a pre-flight of the aircraft, Lt. Col. Chris 'Hans' Knehans fires up the F-117 in preparation for the mass flyover.

The 25th Anniversary of the F-117, or Silver Stealth, as it came to be known, was a not a highly publicized media event. With such few individuals present, the Public Affairs Office could be a bit more accommodating with unusual requests.

First on the shot list was a pair of Night Hawks set at a 45-degree angle facing toward one another on a vacant ramp. Since the F-117 possessed features that were still top secret, aircraft on public display were always accompanied by armed guards and two rows of stanchions. But on this day, things were different. No ropes, no military police, no snipers, just two of the most guarded aircraft at our disposal – unguarded.

As the sun set over the New Mexico desert we continued making the most of the light. So relaxed and trusting were the escorts, I had the opportunity to refine a relatively new technique for photographing an aircraft at night with very little gear. This required me to crawl around and under the aircraft placing lights in strategic areas necessary to illuminate a black aircraft against a night sky. With an exposure of about two minutes, strobes assisting for back-lighting and the night sky glowing with the faint remnants of the earlier day’s light, those escorting us allowed for continued photography based on the immediate results from my Canon 10D.

In an incredible show of power, 25 stealth aircraft taxi toward the runway at Holloman AFB in New Mexico.

The following morning Rich Cooper and Kevin Jackson of Combat Aircraft Magazine finally made it in from the UK. Tommy Fuller from Public Affairs met us at the gate and brought us to Brig. Gen. David Goldfein’s office, the base commander. Following a warm and generous greeting, we were off to check out some sheltered Night Hawks.

The maintainers from the F-117 Demo Team had already been hard at work preparing the aircraft when pilot, Lt. Col. Chris ‘Hans’ Knehans arrived to inspect his plane. Once more we were allowed unfettered access to the stealth bomber as well as the routine each pilot goes through prior to flight. Following his pre-flight, he patiently posed as we snapped a few portraits.

In an adjacent hangar, Captain Christina Szasz, one of the few female pilots to fly the F-117 was also completing her pre-flight. To top off the hangar tour would be one final aircraft hidden away.

For the mass flyover, the plan was to have five aircraft in ‘Vic’ formation with a total of five groups in-trail totaling 25 aircraft. An additional five aircraft would be airborne as mechanical in-air replacements with yet another 5 aircraft ready for launch as redundant backup. The discussion amongst photographers was where to be for the launch and flyover.

Five groups of five represent the 25 years the F-117 Night Hawk stealth fighter has served the USAF.

With limited support, photographers couldn’t be randomly dispersed across the base so the choices were limited to the tarmac for taxi shots, the point of rotation along the runway or the ceremonial grounds where the base commander and special guests would be conducting speeches. Following a discussion amongst photographers, most chose the congested grouping along the taxiway.

As the aircraft all lined up, it was apparent the tarmac wouldn’t be long enough for all 25 aircraft to be positioned side-by-side, but the sight was still staggering. One by one they taxied forward and headed toward our position in two long rows. Upon reaching the runway, the aircraft were put on hold as they were a few minutes early. This gave us time to convince public affairs to rush to a new position, the ceremonial grounds.

Once on the grounds, the photographers spread out to cover the various speakers, attendees and static aircraft as we all awaited the mass-flyover. Of the speakers, base commander, Brig. Gen Goldfein became the last ‘Bandit’ trained to fly the F-117 and spoke alongside Gen. Lloyd “Fig” Newton, the first F-117 Wing Commander of the 49th Fighter Wing. Meanwhile, I was doing my best to find a suitable foreground for the impending flyover. Though the formation itself will no doubt be impressive, aircraft laid against a solid blue sky tends to be somewhat less impressive than an image with depth.

While still a beautiful and precise formation, seen from the rear a gaggle of F-117's make their way past Holloman AFB following their historic flyover.

With a pause in the presentations, everyone began looking around for the black cloud of aircraft soon to approach. With no hope of a decent foreground, I spotted the triple mast flagpole valiantly waving our country’s pride along with the state flag of New Mexico. Right on time from the North, 25 arrow-tipped stealth fighters approached. The last minute choice of a foreground ended up representing a location, emotion and precision as the pilots threaded the proverbial needle in perfect formation.

As quickly as they approached, they disappeared, a massive clump of flying metal. The formation definitely looked better coming from the other direction.

Another last minute decision offered by Mr. Fuller was to catch the remaining F-117’s as they touched down. We jumped into the van and raced across base to the far end of the runway. We caught the last formation of five making the overhead break and the eventual touchdown.

A few months prior to the mass formation of F-117's was this mass formation of F-14 Tomcats returning from deployment, and leading to eventual retirement at NAS Oceana.

It was a remarkable couple of days, one that could not have been recorded without the assistance of all those aforementioned in this piece. Of note, 2006 was certainly the year of mass formations. A few months earlier, the final deployment of the F-14 came to an end with an incredible formation of 22 Tomcats over NAS Oceana.

To view more images from the Silver Stealth celebration, click here.

How’d You Get That Shot? – Zeppelin Passenger

What ended up becoming an award winning image was the result of a series of events that just happened to come together. The image provided a unique panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay along with the ehtereal feel of lighter than air flight.

The challenge was to not only describe the sheer size of the only flying Zeppelin in the United States, but to also illustrate the serenity and awe one feels floating above the earth. When I think of an airship, I think back to the carefree days of the 1930’s when people adorned their best attire for air travel and took in the amazement of flight. The gondola of the airship resembled a floating restaurant, the gentlemen grasping a glass of Jack on the rocks, the women competitively showing off their uniquely designed dresses and over the top hats. While the austere of aviation has subdued slightly and the attire somewhat less formal, some facets of aviation will never change.

Oracle's enormous campus is one of many tech firms dotted across the Silicon Valley. The slow speed of the Zeppelin allows for plenty of time to compose images.

At Moffett Airfield in Palo Alto, California, a rare Zeppelin named “Eureka” and owned by Airship Ventures offers the unique experience of slow speed, low level flight over the San Francisco Bay area for a tidy sum of $400 and change. It truly is an incredible experience for those wishing to know what flight in a glass elevator is really like. With the exception of take off and landing, passengers are free to move about the gondola and even chat with the pilots as they’re doing their thing. The airship’s seating can accommodate 12 people including the pilot and copilot so intimacy and getting to know your fellow passenger is expected. But, unlike the Hollywood scenes of past, there is no bar or balcony, no waiter, no coat check and no need to load or unload that big bulky trunk. There is however still no smoking.

Katherine Board has the honor of being the world's only Zeppelin pilot. She and a select few pilots fly the airship not only around the Bay Area, but across the United States.

Our trip was to be the typical Bay cruise departing from Moffett Air Field, over-flying Google, Oracle and other iconic tech business dotted across Silicon Valley on our way to the San Francisco Airport. Continuing north to the Golden Gate followed by a brief turn to the East over Alcatraz, then to the south down the length of the Bay ending up back at Moffett Field. Before we departed, it was necessary to photograph Kate Board, the world’s only female Zeppelin pilot. After all, that’s who the story was about. While all the other publications did a great job covering the airship, PilotMag was looking for something a bit different.

En route to Ecuador, the 741-ft oil tanker, Overseas Cleliamar, lost power and nearly ran aground just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately the tanker had offloaded its oil prior to leaving the Bay.

I concentrated on Kate knowing there were paying passengers on board deserving of a unique experience. At times, even though the light was perfect, a passenger would remain hovered over the cockpit area asking endless questions. No pressure, the time would come and eventually it did. Fortunately Kate is quite photogenic and capturing her at work was the easy part.

As we approached the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands, I continued to take advantage of the light and the scenic vistas adding to the backdrop. I briefly looked down to see where we were when I noticed a tanker had come dangerously close to the rocky coast just outside the Golden Gate. It was learned later the ship had lost power shortly after leaving the Bay and was victim to the tide bringing her back in. Fortunately the tanker was empty and with the help of a tug managed to get clear of the coastline. She was brought back to the shipyard and the problem eventually fixed.

Following those few minutes of excitement, my mind returned to creating that iconic image of the 1930’s and how it could possibly be done. The gondola’s interior consisted of leather FAA approved airline seats, grey carpet, state of the art instrument panel and lot’s of rounded, blended, modern surfaces. What I was looking for was clearly not inside the Zeppelin, so I had to look outside.

Airships and Blimps transport passengers via a gondola. Similar to an aircraft cabin, the gondola hangs beneath the larger structure of the airship.

The Zeppelin flies at a speed of about 30mph so it’s not too incredibly windy when you stick your head out of one of the many window openings. Sticking a camera out isn’t any more difficult. The challenge came from the diminishing light as it was already 30 minutes past sunset. The shimmer on the Bay was incredible and the reflection off the side of the gondola was simply breathtaking. Only problem was the empty seat that could be seen through the window from the outside. Coincidentally, right next to me was a gentleman dressed in casual suit, minus the jacket. I asked if he wouldn’t mind having a seat for a moment while I reached outside the gondola with my Canon 5D and a 15mm lens. Without being able to look through the viewfinder, I took three quick photos attempting to keep it as perceivable level as possible before bringing the camera back inside. What I hadn’t expected to capture was the outboard engine far above the gondola giving me that sense of size. Between it, the appropriately dressed passenger and his thought-provoking gaze, along with the vastness and color of the Bay, I think I got my shot.

A passenger aboard Airship Ventures "Eureka" Zeppelin gets a closer view of San Francisco with a pair of binoculars.

There is something magical about a balloon ride. Albeit the Zeppelin is far from a balloon, it’s the closest some will ever get, especially when it comes to hovering over Northern California’s busiest aerial real estate. Somehow the photo also managed to capture the eye of Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine judges during their 2009 photography contest garnering a first place win in its category. At the time of this writing, Airship Ventures is currently touring the Zeppelin across the United States. Its most recent stop was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for EAA’s 2011 Airventure Fly-In. For more information on Airship Ventures, visit their website. For more images from this shoot, check out the Gallery.

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: 15mm f/2.8 @ f/3.2
Exposure: 1/40 – Program
Aperture: f/13
ISO: 320
Image Created: 1/27/09 @ 5:55pm pst

How’d You Get That Shot? – Legacy Hornet / Helldiver

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, an F/A-18C Hornet takes on the colors of a WWII Helldiver unit and joins the world's only airworthy Helldiver in the skies above Central California. The F/A-18C is flown by VFA-122's LT Alex "Scribe" Armatas and the Helldiver is piloted by Mark Allen.

When I arrived at NAS Lemoore in California’s Central Valley, I had already seen many of the commemorative jets painted to celebrate the Centennial of Naval Aviation. Sitting on the ramp, all by itself, was an F-18C adorned with a paint scheme I hadn’t yet seen before. If it weren’t for the presence of the world’s only SB2C-5 Helldiver operated by the Commemorative Air Force, I don’t think I would ever have made the connection. The Hornet emulated the looks of a WWII Helldiver unit. What were the odds that both of these aircraft would be at the same location?

What brought them together was the annual gathering of civilian warbird pilots and Naval aviators chosen to participate in the 2011 Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight program. To celebrate the history of Naval Aviation and bring together generations of aviation enthusiasts, the Legacy Flight was devised combining 60-year old aircraft and modern day fighters at air shows around the country.

Following the arrival of civilian warbird pilots to NAS Lemoore, a formation flight list is circulated detailing the flight curriculum. The list contains information such as which civilian pilots will fly with which active duty pilots and what aircraft will be flown in that designated formation. Unfortunately no commemorative aircraft were scheduled to fly during this training exercise.

Lt. Kyle "Groper" Jason with warbird pilot Doug Rozendaal in the back seat, flies perhaps one of the most unique-looking aircraft to adorn a Centennial of Naval Aviation paint scheme. Dubbed the "Digi-Cam" Hornet, Groper pulls along side the world's only flying Helldiver piloted by Ed Vesely.

The F-18C in Helldiver colors had just come out of the paint shop and the scheduled post-maintenance had yet to be completed. Additionally, the digital camouflaged (Digi-Cam) F-18F Hornet had just reached a certain number of flight hours requiring routine maintenance that also had yet to be started. Fortunately the folks at VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” were just as sentimental about the joining of these aircraft as I was and were willing to make miracles happen. Pleading my case to Lt. Erin “Eeyore” Flint and Captain Mark “Mutha” Hubbard, they saw to it the aircraft would be readied for flight and added to the roster. Just as much a challenge was finding a pilot qualified to fly the F-18C since all of the pilots scheduled to fly the Legacy Program were all SuperHornet pilots. One of the few qualified pilots authorized for participation in the program was Lt. Alex “Scribe” Armatas. Slowly but surely, the gathering of these aircraft was becoming a reality.

The F-18C and Digi-Cam F-18F completed maintenance and flew on February 15th, the 2nd day of the 3-day training program. The Digi-Cam went on a second flight later that day flown by Lt. Kyle “Groper” Jason with warbird pilot Doug Rozendaal in the back seat. Joining on his wing was the Helldiver flown by Ed Vesely. The photoship used was a T-2 Buckeye flown by Peter Kline, owned by Dr. Rich Sugden.

Making a figure-eight pattern enabled us to shoot the formation from both high and low vantage points.

With adverse weather approaching the area, flights scheduled for day 3 were not looking good. On the morning of February 16th, an F6F Hellcat operated by the Commemorative Air Force in Camarillo, CA launched from NAS Lemoore to get a better idea of the operating ceiling. With a low, but serviceable ceiling, flights continued. Once more, I strapped into the T-2 and watched as the Helldiver fired up. The F-18C however, sat on the ramp surrounded by maintainers. “Scribe” was already in the aircraft, but something was wrong. After about 15 minutes, the Helldiver shut down and we continued to wait. The maintainers worked tirelessly and after only a few more minutes, the Hornet fired up, followed by the Helldiver and the T-2.

Normally the skies above NAS Lemoore are filled with haze and harsh midday light, but as the morning storm cleared, the skies gave way to puffy white clouds mixed with azure blue. As we caught up to the aircraft, the Hornet and Helldiver, flown by Mark Allen, were already in formation. The moisture lingering in the air added to the dramatic sight as vortices trailed from the wingtips of the Hornet.

The completed image as seen in Airventure's 2011 marketing materials. Utilizing a high-resolution camera such as the Nikon D3x enabled EAA to crop the image vertically for use as their poster and program cover.

The entire photoshoot lasted 10 minutes where Peter in the T-2 led the formation for most of that time. Flying a figure-eight enabled us to capture the best angle of light in both a high and low echelon formation. The T-2 itself proved to be an incredible photoship due to its roomy interior and wide angle of view. Of course, it goes without saying the piloting skills of all those involved proved invaluable to obtaining the resulting imagery.

Camera: Nikon D3x
Lens: 24-120mm @ 85mm
Exposure: 1/160 – Shutter Priority
Aperture: f/13
ISO: 100
Image Created: 2/16/11 @ 11:11am pst