Quick Shot: Air-to-Air Stunt Flying

I had the great honor this weekend of joining pilots Mark, Chris and Bob at the Little Gransden Airfield for some more air-to-air photography - this time using stunt planes! 

Air-to-air photography is one of the less forgiving disciplines; like professional sports photography, you don't get a "do over" if you miss your shot! You have to be on your heels and ready for every shot by anticipating the shot and settings required. Adding a layer of complexity to an already challenging discipline is to shoot from a stunt aircraft while photographing two other airplanes flying in dangerous formations....

Let's begin by setting up the photo shoot. Mark (flying the red 'GOFF PETROLEUM' Extra) and Chris (flying the blue G-Force Extra) wanted to get some solo shots and then some group formation work. Since we were going to photographing airplanes that move relatively quick and that would be doing stunts, it was important that the photographs were being taken from another aircraft that could match the performance of their planes. To achieve that, I joined pilot Bob in a Chipmunk (DHC-1) with the rear left glass removed from the canopy to facilitate my shooting. The Chipmunk is a two-seat military trainer - although not as nimble and fast as the two Extra's, it was an ideal aircraft from which to shoot. 

To get the shots that Mark and Chris wanted, we were going to have to do some flips, tight turns, stalls, and dives. Experience has taught me several things - don't fly on an empty stomach and know how to squeeze so that you can continue to focus without feeling light headed. Oh, and did I mention that while you're trying not to loose your lunch, you also need to have your head sticking out of a plane and taking photos?!

The flight was a wild success - we were safe and I managed to get all of the shots that Mark and Chris were looking for - plus I had a good bit of fun doing aerial stunts over England! Shooting from the Chipmunk also proved to be a bit easier than shooting from the Air Ranger - I could keep the majority of my body inside the aircraft's canopy and only had to stick enough of my camera lens out to get the shots. This is key because at those speeds, the wind can really knock the lens around, so it's important to try and keep it stable by sheltering it from the wind.

In almost 20 minutes of flying and 4G's later, I had 771 photographs totaling almost 60GB of memory! After a big gulp of water (I had my mouth open as we flew) and a shower, I started the process of editing and here are the results. 

Mark showing off the beautiful smile on the front of that GOFF PETROLEUM Extra

The GOFF PETROLEUM Extra is extremely agile, as demonstrated here by long time stunt pilot Mark

Mark maneuvering the GOFF PETROLEUM Extra towards the sky, while the fields below help remind you that we're flying in England. The photo was actually shot level, but I liked the look when I oriented it off level.

There's a saying that where there's smoke, there is fire - but not in this case! The smoke is an effect to help you see the trail of their movements in the sky. Here pilots Mark (red Extra), Chris (blue Extra), and Bob and I (in the Chipmunk) are all going vertical while I shoot out the side of the window.  

Which way is up? Again, the three airplanes are flying in formation, so I'm also upside down as I take this shot. 

Do you feel like you've completed the entire loop yet? Did you notice that Mark and Chris are looking at me in all of the shots? That's not because they wanted to pose for the camera (although it's an added benefit!), that is to help them keep their spacing from one-another.

This stunt is known as mirroring. Mark and Chris must demonstrate accuracy, timing, and most importantly, trust, in order to execute this challenging stunt. And yes, they are really just feet apart from each other.

Now it's Chris' turn to show off the nose of his blue Extra as we fly over a farm house in rural England.

My view from the back seat of the Chipmunk. Pilot Bob did the navigating and coordinated the movements with Mark and Chris. 

After a safe landing - I'm in the back seat (the canopy was cracked open after we landed so Bob could have some fresh air) and you can see where the glass on the left side of the canopy was removed to facilitate my camera.

Quick Shot: Going Nuts

The most common critters can sometimes make for the best subjects. Such was the case with this chipmunk, who posed nicely for today's Quick Shot. 

Growing up, my sister and I used to call them "chip-a-monk-a's" and I still have the urge to say that every time I see a chipmunk. I love watching them dart through our backyard, but they rarely give me such an interesting pose.

I was actually on a hike to a raptor observatory when I saw this guy on the side of the trail. He had just scooped up an acorn and was peeling it in his mouth. I pulled out the camera and started snapping off a few shots. He seemed surprised by me and sat there for several minutes watching me as I photographed him.  

The lighting on his face was very soft and I thought it was the kind of photo that makes you say "aww, what a cute chip-a-monk-a"! 

Enjoy! 

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