Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Amuse-Bouche: Tidbit from the Air

When you get scolded via email by a reader (I have readers??) for not having posted in waaaay tooo looong, it’s time to write.  I’m at least two good sized moto tours further behind than usual, including but not limited to: the Ducati’s first ferry crossing, a hunt for Chimayo chiles, a Huckleberry Helicopter ride, an embarrassingly slow run of my beloved Highway 12, another Ducati mechanical mishap (two, really, if you’re counting), a fruit stand campsite, and then – even better!- an actual orchard campsite, getting detained at an international border, saving a goat, and - oh, right - and milking a sheep. (Really).  But I – let’s all say it together, now! – “haven’t had time to write.”  I know, I know…

So here’s a quick post that has something to do with neither motorcycles nor food, unless you count lunch at Chicken Nuevo*, my guilty little secret, located conveniently close to the airport.
I had my first “Air-to-Air” photography gig last weekend!** For you and me, that means shooting, er, I mean photographing, airplanes in the air from – yes! – another airplane.

Let me begin by reminding you that I’m in no way a professional photographer***.  No, I’m not even a rabid amateur one. I don’t even own a decent camera. If fact, every time I’m ready to buy a decent camera, some disaster happens, like my car self destructing, or my beagle needing high dollar surgery, or, most recently, my former tenants trashing my house.  Evidently the universe is telling me, quite loudly, that I should really stop camera shopping.  So I was, despite being friendly with a few pilots, a teensy bit surprised to have this activity come my way. “Really??? Yeeeeahhh!”

A real aerial photographer would insist that the doors be removed from the platform aircraft, and wear a special safety harness, such that she (or he) not fall out of the bumping and rolling formation flying aircraft.  Said real aerial photographer might even be able to hang out of said platform aircraft to optimize angles and such, which sounds wickedly fun.  I want to be a real aerial photographer!  Not having a harness, I opted for the more conservative doors-on configuration.  The blue tinted, scratched, light reflecting windows were a challenge that marred, oh, say 90% of the photos beyond repair. A good 9% of those remaining were ruined by the simple fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

Shooting Planes Cessna 205
Camera vs. microphone made communication with pilots in both aircraft difficult.  Higher! No! Lower! Say again?

But the pilots did know what they were doing, thank goodness, because formation flying requires adept communication and piloting skills.  Our “photo mission”, as it was reported to Air Traffic Control, consisted of our platform aircraft (Cessna 205), and five subject aircraft (two Cessna Citation Jets, one Beechcraft/Raytheon Premier Jet, a Beechcraft King Air, and a Beechcraft Baron, if you care about such things.)  It helps if your platform aircraft is as fast as or faster than the subjects, but we made do.

Even light turbulence presents a challenge, it turns out. A real aerial photographer would have an awesome and gyroscopically stabilized camera, and the biceps to hold all that gear up for hours.  Instead, my borrowed camera and I just bumped around a lot, as we twisted ourselves into various contorted forms. And since the photos were requested, you know, NOW, I had to cull and edit on the fly. (Hah!) Delicate lap top mousing is also difficult even in light turbulence, as it turns out.  I even got a little queasy staring at the screen too long.
Editing on the Fly Cessna 205
High speed editing… on the fly.

It was all wildly fun, and surprisingly exhausting.  Here’s a sampling of my, no, our,**** work over the two or three hours we spent in the air.

First Cessna Citation
Citation Jet No. 1.  Meh.

Beechcraft Baron
Twin engine prop planes are far more photogenic. (Beechcraft Baron)

Beechcraft Raytheon Premier Jet
Beechcraft/Raytheon Premier Jet

Beechcraft King Air
Beechcraft King Air

Second Cessna Citation (1)
Citation Jet Number Two 

Second Cessna Citation (2)
Bye, Bye, Citation Number Two!

Coincidentally, when we returned to earth, and were refueling, I stumbled across this magazine article, which describes the topic better than I do.

Three pilots, one photographer, six planes, hundreds of gallons of fuel… it was not a day to be proud of my carbon footprint.

* Don’t let the fast food atmosphere fool you.  It’s actually… good!
**Imagine that!
***Evidently someone on the ground mistook me for a well known (in the field, anyway) aerial photographer, not by my photos, to be sure, but by the combination of my appearance, I guess, and the fact there was a camera hanging around my neck.
****Not your usual landscape photography, it was a team sport to be sure.

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