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?

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