Friday, May 29, 2009

Thunderstorm - Edwards AFB

Some things are just not meant to happen: Like me taking pictures of a Space Shuttle liftoff, landing or mounted on the 747 ferry aircraft. The one launch I was able to get to in Florida was scrubbed. I've been out of town or at work or not at Edwards for the last several landing opportunities that have happened there (I was in Colorado Springs last Sunday when Atlantis touched down). The one ferry flight take-off opportunity I had my car suffered a flat tire on the way and my spare was flat as well, so I missed the window. The only time I saw a shuttle on a 747 was way back in 1977 when Enterprise was displayed at the Edwards Open House, but I was too new at aviation photography so my pictures were terrible. The only decent shots I have of a shuttle are those I took of Discovery (if memory serves) in the Mate/De-Mate facility at the Dryden facility at Edwards several years ago - but it was surrounded by the structure so it's not a "clean" shot of the vehicle either.

Today I had the opportunity to shoot Atlantis at Dryden. It was supposed to be mated to the 747 and, with shuttle flights drawing to a close, was possibly the last chance ever to see the two aircraft in this configuration again. So it was with high hopes that I made the trek to the rendezvous point at Century Circle by the Edwards West Gate. I got there an hour early and decided to take some quick shots of the display aircraft at the circle. I had seen thunderclouds massing while traveling through the mountains on the 14 Freeway, but thought that they would stay at that end of the Antelope Valley. How wrong I was. I got a couple of shots with sun on the airplanes, as seen with the F-106B photo below, before the clouds moved in.

Desert thunderstorms are terrifyingly beautiful. The contrast between the swirling gray and black clouds with the sage and sand of the valley floor is startling, especially with the wispy veils of rain hanging in the distance.
Lightning was present as could be expected and at one point struck less than two miles away.

I stayed out shooting as long as I felt comfortable doing so, trying to get as many dramatic images as I could. The smell of rain was becoming stronger by the minute.
Shortly after this image was taken it really started raining and I took refuge in my car. About the time the rain began to fall the hardest the convoy to the Dryden facility pulled out. I normally listen to classical music or the local NPR station for news, but the last two days I've felt the need for hard, classic rock. By some serendipitous chance the station I was listening to decided that it was the perfect time to play the Doors. So there I was, convoying through the hallowed grounds of Edwards with an Air Police escort in the pouring rain, listening to the thrumming beat of "Riders on the Storm." It was a priceless moment.

Atlantis was not mounted on the 747; it was still in the Mate/De-Mate facility. Needless to say, with lightning striking very close, the media tour of the shuttle in the open-air structure was canceled. We waited for two hours to see if the weather would clear enough for us to go out to the site. Alas, it did not. My record for not getting good shots of the shuttle remains intact.

I did manage to get a long telephoto of Atlantis in the structure, but it is not very good. It is proof that Atlantis and I were there together, though, but that's about it. It's the best I could do today.

The Sunday 0530 take-off has now been pushed to oh-dark-thirty on Monday at the earliest. I'm guessing I won't go - but I may change my mind. After all, how many more chances am I going to get?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green River - Split Mountain Canyon

This was another of those compose-the-shot-and-wait-for-the-light moments. Fortunately I did not have to wait as long as I did at Yosemite. We were visiting the Utah part of Dinosaur National Monument a few years ago and stopped by the picnic grounds where the Cottonwood Wash flows into the Green River as the latter emerges from the Split Mountain Canyon. There were lots of broken clouds and intermittent rain that day. In short, it was alternating between dull overcast and dramatic light. This is the shot looking North from the West bank. The shot below, looking East from almost the same spot, has a whole different feel to it.

Tina is doing an oil painting based on this image. It's almost done and it is gorgeous! Keep checking her blog to see when she posts it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sea Fury

The Hawker Sea Fury is one of my favorite aircraft. Big, powerful and all-around cool-looking with its impressive five-blade prop, it was one of the last and best piston-engine fighters in the world. This shot was taken at the 2005 Hawthorne Air Faire at Jack Northrop Field, Hawthorne Municipal Airport. The show was over, but because I was shooting for the Western Museum of Flight I got to hang around after closing to record departures of the display aircraft. An onshore overcast was beginning to form and the Sea Fury taxied out and did its engine run-ups in shadows. As it started its take-off roll a break opened in the clouds and the big fighter emerged into the light. I was very happy with the result.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Edwards Reflections

Sometimes startling images occur when least expected. Edwards Air Force Base is located in the high desert of Southern California near Lancaster, Rosamond, Mojave and Boron. The base itself is surrounded by dry lake beds that are remarkably flat and hard, making for very long, natural emergency runways - a sometimes useful thing when performing military flight testing. In 2005 a heavy rain preceded the open house. The normally dry lake beds became very wet. This was shot on the road between the base's West Gate entrance and Rosamond. It is looking South towards Lancaster / Palmdale and the San Gabriel Mountains. The late afternoon light and the calm reflectiveness of the shallow water made for a very serene image.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Golden Hour - Garden of the Gods

There are times when you look through the viewfinder and hope that you can do justice to the image you see. This was one of those times. We were in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs on a late afternoon. I was concentrating on another composition about 90 degrees to the right when Tina called out to me to look uphill. It took my breath away. I quickly reconfigured the tripod and composed my shot, crossing my fingers the whole time. In another minute or two the light changed and the brilliance faded. I was on pins and needles until I got the slides back. Then I was elated. Life was good that day!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Golden Hour

The "Golden Hour" is a magical time. During that short period, the last hour or so before sunset, even ordinary things become extra-ordinary. This shot was taken many years ago on a trip to Prescott, Arizona. We were heading Northeast up U.S. 89 when we came to this "s" curve in our route. The glowing light on the roadcut hillside with the clouds behind was so spectacular I had to stop. Fortunately there was a pullout at just the right spot. I did about three frames before the sun dropped below the ridge behind us and just like that the scene turned ordinary. But, oh, while it lasted....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

As the Galaxy Turns

The inspiration for an image - its pre-visualization if you will - can spring from the most unlikely sources. This particular shot happened in 1997 during the media day that was held before the regular Edwards Air Force Base open house. I was walking down the ramp in the late afternoon when I saw the light on the nose of this Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. It reminded me of the old soap opera where the opening credits show a black and white image of a spinning globe with the terminator line dividing night and day. I think it was called As the World Turns or something like that - it was a long time ago. Regardless, that's the image I tried to capture. Whether other people get the symbolism or not, I don't know. But it made a dramatic enough shot that it was picked for publication by two industry magazines. All in all, that ain't too bad. I never told them about the soap connection, though.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raptor Vapors

As I mentioned, the F-22 puts on a heck of a show. If the atmospheric conditions are just right then the resulting display is awesome. "Clouds" or "vapors" form when the air pressure, which is lower and cooler on the top of the wing, drops below the point where moisture in the air condenses. It is most often seen during high "g" maneuvers, especially when the air is humid and cool like it is at coastal venues like NAS Pt. Mugu, where these shots were taken in 2007. Since high speed is not the conditional element, the fact that condensation forms does not necessarily mean the aircraft is breaking the sound barrier. I've seen condensation form on A-10 Warthogs, E-2 Hawkeyes, C-130s and airliners, none of which have been accused of being Mach-busters.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Raptor to the Fire-Wall

They say timing is everything. While that's true, a little pre-planning goes a long way, too. This shot was taken at the 2007 NAS Pt. Mugu open house. I had borrowed Kevin's Canon 10D to get the feel of a digital SLR before committing to buy the 40D (thanks Kev). There was one act in the show that involved a Czech-built L-39 flying down the length of the runway as a wall of pyrotechics gets set off. The F-22 was parked on the active ramp area with the runway behind it and I thought it would be neat to have the airplane framed by fire. So when it came time for the routine, I positioned myself to catch what I hoped would be a dramatic shot. It worked, the camera worked and I got the shot I wanted. Plus I was sold on the digital SLR.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Raptor Launch

The Lockheed Martin F-22A is not a favorite airplane of mine (more on that later), but it is an excellent fighter and an impressive performer. I got this shot as the Raptor was taking off at the Edwards AFB open house in 2003. Panning shots are always a bit of a challenge, so I was quite happy with this image; especially with the afterburner flame as well lit as it was.

The YF-22 prototype beat the Northrop - McDonnell Douglas YF-23 prototype for the Advanced Tactical Aircraft program in 1991. While I understand intellectually why the YF-22 was picked, I still feel the YF-23 was the better - and better-looking - airplane. But technical attributes are not the only criteria for award selection and while the YF-23 is my favorite plane, there is no denying the outstanding qualities of the Raptor. It will just never replace the '23 in my heart.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Mexico Dinosaurs

If there is one thing I like as well as airplanes it's dinosaurs. When I was 5 years old I wanted to be a paleontologist. My boyhood hero was Roy Chapman Andrews, the man who led the landmark expeditions into the Gobi Desert in the 1920s and 1930s and whose team discovered the first dinosaur eggs. He is also described as the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

I gave up the desire to be a paleontologist when I was 25 - sad to say the science and math that was required was too difficult for me. Regardless, whenever I can I like to visit the dinosaurs. If life had taken a not too different path I would've been perfectly happy doing bones as I am airplanes.

Tina and I had a couple of hours to spare in Albuquerque before our flight home, so we went to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. They have a marvelous dinosaur exhibit. This is their showcase for Jurassic dinosaurs: a Seismosaurus locked in combat with a predatory Saurophaganax. It is a magnificent display.

There are lots more fossil photos I could show, but I think I'll go back to airplanes on my next post. I miss them

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Santa Fe architecture

Here are a couple of images of Santa Fe's ubiquitous southwestern-style adobe architecture. In this setting it is quite nice and blends in well with the landscape. I like the roundness of the walls and buildings. The walls especially seem to foster a sense of privacy, but at the cost of open space. It might be a bit difficult to live here if one were claustrophobic. The architecture is not recommended for earthquake country, either, as California has discovered.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bend in the Stream, Abiquiu

This was the view from the small pass between Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. The water flows into Lake Abiquiu just a few miles downstream, also on the other side of the pass. The lake is visible from some points within the Ghost Ranch property.

I did not do much photography the last couple of days. We've been busy gallery-hopping in Santa Fe. It's a great town to visit; I heartily recommend it. The chili is good, too, although I'm not finding it super hot. Then again, I've been accused of not having any taste buds left after years of eating curry and other spicy dishes, but I dispute that scurrilous innuendo. My taste buds are fine - they've just been well-tempered by fire, that's all.