Monday, June 29, 2009

A Whole Lotta' Props Goin' On

One of the more distinctive features of modern military prop-driven aircraft are the increased number of blades per engine. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules began life with 3-bladed props, then soon upgraded to 4-bladed ones. With the advent of the C-130J the blade count now stands at six per engine.

This is modest by some standards. The new Northrop Grumman E-2C/D Advanced Hawkeye carrier-borne aircraft has two eight-bladed props. The stalled, but still hoped-for Antonov An-70 had four engines with contra-rotating props of 6 and 8 blades. That 14 blades per engine.

Still, six-bladed props are impressive enough. I shot this particular J-model Hercules at the 2007 NAS Pt. Mugu Open House. The tight framing made for a more abstract image, which emphasized the blades.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Barking Up the Wrong Tree - In Black & White

There are times when I like to get close to a subject. Tree bark, especially the heavily textured kind, makes for fascinating images. I shot this at the Huntington Library, in the garden next to the tea room. This almost has the feel of an alien landscape or of something you might see in an electron microscope. The impression is accentuated by the use of black and white film. It is one of my favorite shots.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Turret Arch, Arches National Park

Usually landscapes are shot with the sun at your back. It's the light the makes the image pop, so naturally you want most of the illumination on the subject. But once in a while it's more intriguing to break outside of the conventional wisdom.

This shot of Turret Arch was taken on our first, brief visit to Arches National Park in 2005. When I say brief, I really mean brief. We were vacationing with the kids in Grand Junction, CO, for a few days and decided to take a jaunt to Arches. Unfortunately we got a later start than we intended (not unusual with our group). Plus we took the scenic route instead of the faster, more direct one. As a result we reached Arches near sundown. The Windows Section, with Turret Arch, was really the only part we could get to before we lost the light.

I was intrigued with the glow through the small window in the formation. The only way to capture it was from the dark side. There is a stark and dramatic quality to this image that I really like. I felt it would be equally impressive in black and white, if not more so, so I shot a roll of that as well.

I may have to break with convention more often.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arches Sunset - Part Deux

A couple of days prior to the photo in yesterday's post, I shot the sunset from the other side of the image. Roy and I were exploring the Windows section of Arches National Park at the end of a long day. As we began our short trek to Turret Arch I paused to shoot towards the fading light, silhouetting one of the rock pillars nearby. While not exactly pointed towards the spot I was standing days later, it was close enough to provide a complimentary bookend to yesterday's view. I love the shades of gray receding into the horizon line. It was very peaceful and beautiful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"El Dorado" - Arches National Park, Utah

El Dorado, the fabled lost city of gold, drove the Spaniards into the inhospitable desert in search of its gleaming walls and hoards of treasure. Alas for them, it was a myth of their own greedy minds. Many died in it the futile quest for its discovery.

Happily for us, we found our own version of the lost city in Arches National Park, Utah. I shot this when we were there last year, as the waning light bathed the Windows section of the park in glowing golden hues.

When Tina saw this image that night on the computer, her imagination ran rampant. She saw the weary Conquistadors gazing upon this sight and in their fevered minds seeing the object of their desire, only to pursue it to their deaths under a blazing sun and Indian arrows.

Did I say her imagination ran wild? Regardless, we now call this image "El Dorado," and she used it as the basis for her oil painting of the same name. You can see it on her blog at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Over a Sea of Clouds

I'm one of those people who has to have a window seat. If I can't see that I'm flying I might as well be on a bus. I love looking out and watching the ground go by and trying to identify the geographic features. I get a thrill when I can figure out where we are at a given moment. I'm getting pretty good on the Burbank to Denver route via Las Vegas.

If it's at night, the lights of the towns and cities provide clues. If the ground is obscured I enjoy looking at the clouds. The massive thunderheads that frequently develop between here and Denver are incredible in their beauty and power. It is fascinating to watch the light and shadows play across the towering columns and billowing gorges as the plane weaves its way around them. I will show some of those images later.

But one of the things I always try to look for is other airplanes. Seeing another plane passing in the opposite direction or crossing your aircraft's vector at a different altitude, or especially flying in the same general heading, is exciting - but only from a reasonable distance. The closing speeds of modern jetliners is about 1,200 mph. It makes one quite aware of the intricate ballet that occurs daily in the airspace above our heads. That the safety record is as good as it is makes a powerful statement about the professionalism and dedication of pilots, aircrews, mechanics and flight controllers alike.

Incidentally, the most aircraft I've seen in one L.A. area-to-Denver trip is about 30 planes at various altitudes. Yes, I try to keep count.

This shot was taken in May of 2008 as we were approaching Las Vegas from Denver. The clouds were gorgeous and I saw an approaching airliner with a nice contrail. I was able to get a couple of shots off as I thought it would make a nice air-to-air image that most people don't get to see. Since I doubt I'll be getting any airborne photo-op formation rides any time soon, I figured this would be my best opportunity to get a photo that attempts to capture a bit of the beauty and romanticism of flight - such as it is in today's commercial air travel environment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pre-flight check - New Year's Eve

If you're observant and fortunate enough to secure a window seat, you may witness the ritual pre-flight check conducted by the pilot or first officer. Day or night, rain or shine, hot or cold, the pre-flight routine is maintained in the traditions of aviation safety. All pilots must check to see if their planes are prepared and ready for flight. Even on a frigid New Year's Eve in Denver, CO, the walk is made.

This was taken with our little Canon A80 from a very cramped position. It's not a perfect shot, but it is a very atmospheric and evocative one. The cabin reflection on the lower right corner and the blurred movement of the first officer on his lonely mission only add to the effect I wanted to capture. Despite its flaws the shot pleases me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Canopy Cleaning on a Rainy Day - F-4F Phantom II

This shot was another instance of seeing what was possible when conditions were less than ideal. The F-4 Phantom II Society had it's annual convention at Holloman Air Force Base, NM, in late October, 2004. While we were there, a mid-day rainstorm passed through. Good overall documentary shots were not going to be possible at that moment, so I wandered the ramp looking for interesting angles. This one caught my eye: a diligent contractor wiping down the canopy of this F-4F Phantom as he prepped it for its next training flight. I liked how he was framed by the rear canopy as he cleaned the front one, so I composed the image while he worked away and snapped off a couple of shots. I was quite please with the results.

Other people must've like it, too; I've had it picked as "honorable mention" in the Aviation Week photo contest for that year and it's won in a couple of local contests, as well. Sometimes magic happens when you open your mind to the possibilities....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mission-X Sunrise - X-35B

If you are a part-time aviation photographer like me, once in a while you get to participate in what we like to call "one-time-good-deals." This was one of them. In July of 2001 the Lockheed Martin team (including Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems) and Boeing were locked in a hotly contested fly-off for the Joint Strike Fighter contract. In the midst of this competition, Lockheed Martin managed to pull off one of their patented PR coups that they are justly famous, or infamous for, depending on whose side you're on at the moment. On July 20 and 26 they flew their X-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing) test aircraft through a "Mission-X" profile.

Mission-X has been described as the "Holy Grail" of aeronautics. It has long been a dream of designers to build an airplane that can fly supersonic yet take-off and/or land vertically. Several aircraft have done both parts, but not on the same flight or sortie (mission). The X-35B became the first aircraft to do so. After making a short take-off of less than 500 feet, it went to altitude and flew supersonic, then returned to make a vertical landing. More impressively, it did it at Edwards AFB (about 2000 feet altitude) and, in a subsequent test, with a 10,000 lb fuel load.

I was fortunate enough to witness the July 26 flight test. This shot was taken as the Sun broke the Eastern horizon. The X-35B, with BAE test pilot Simon Hargreaves in the cockpit, was doing final systems checks before taxi. Once he was under way, we were taken to the runway and got to see the take-off and return vertical landing on the Mission-X flight and the subsequent hot-refueling, second take-off and heavy-load hover and vertical landing test flight. I'll post some of those shots another day. Needless to say it was a most impressive performance. It was then that I became convinced that Lockheed Martin would win the competition.

And so they did.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chasing the Moon - California Central Coast

The beauty of the Central Coast never ceases to enthrall me. Interestingly enough, I don't consider myself a beach person, even though I grew up in Redondo Beach, part of the South Bay area of Los Angeles. But the Pacific Ocean has always been a part of my psyche. I fear I would miss it if I were to move too far inland. This is one of the reasons why: The vast expanse of sky that rivals anything in the Mid-West. Seeing the Sun dip below the horizon of the wine-dark sea, bathing the water and air and cloud alike in crimson hues, is truly breathtaking. Long after it has sunk from view, the afterglow deepens the intesity of colors until the evening mutes them in shades of purple and midnight blue. Add to that the thinnest sliver of Moon and the image is complete. The Greeks saw the bow of Artemis, the huntress and goddess of the Moon, in this phase. It's easy to see why.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chasing the Moon - Sedona - Part 2

By shifting my position on the trail during the same morning as the previous post, I was able to position the Moon on the other side of the formation on the left. It also made for a very pleasing shot. I enjoy taking images with our nearest neighbor in the frame. There is something wondrous about that glowing, shifting, ever-changing sphere. It's hard to believe we landed astronauts there almost 40 years ago this July. I remember that event well. More on that on the actual anniversary.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chasing the Moon - Sedona

Sedona, Arizona, is another one of those magical places of red rock formations. Like Garden of the Gods, there are houses and structures nearby so certain angles are impossible to shoot without some sign of the human presence. But there are enough areas to maintain an illusion of nature's purity.

Also, as in Garden of the Gods, the moon was in a fortuitous quarter when we were there. One morning I went hiking up a trail by the road that looked promising. I got high enough to get a nice view of the formations to the West of me. With some careful maneuvering I managed to position the Moon in the vee.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chasing the Moon - Kissing Camels

The Garden of the Gods is this marvelous outcropping of red rock near the foot of Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs. Indians considered it sacred ground and the white man was simply amazed by the tall, fin-like formations. Along the ridge of one fin is this window. The combination of opening and ridge line gave rise to the name "Kissing Camels." A bluff overlooks the Northeastern corner of the Garden of the Gods. There are several homes along the edge of the bluff that have nice views of the red rocks. One woman who lived there was so enamored with the Kissing Camels she used to shine a spotlight on the formation at night.

This particular morning the moon was very much visible in that quarter of the sky. By carefully walking along the many trails in the Garden I was able to position the Moon just above the Kissing Camels. I thought about getting the Moon in the window, but its size ruled that out. Still, I was quite happy with the results.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

T-38 Talon - 50 years of flying

This past April the Northrop (now Northrop Grumman) T-38 Talon celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight. The Talon was the world's first production supersonic trainer. Over 500 aircraft are still in service and the type is expected to serve in the U.S. Air Force for at least another 10 to 20 years or more. That is a remarkable achievement in any airplane but more so for a supersonic one. It is also a very sleek and beautiful looking machine.

The picture above was taken last October while waiting for the F-35 AA-1 to return from its test flight. The photo below was taken at the 2006 Edward AFB Open House. I enjoy seeing what tight shots and reflections produce in the way of interesting forms and abstractions. In some ways it makes you focus on the underlying beauty of the structure more than in overall shots. I like both, obviously, but I confess to having a lot of fun with the artsy side. I'll show what I mean on another day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Patriotic Nighthawk

By far the highlight of the 2005 Edwards AFB Open House was the farewell flight of Lockheed's F-117 Nighthawk, serial number 782. A preproduction, Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft, 782 was the oldest F-117 still flying at that time (the fleet has since been withdrawn from service and mothballed, farmed out to museums or cut into very small pieces). In 2005, however, 782 was earmarked to be sent to Holloman AFB, NM, to be converted to a maintenance trainer. But she was not going without a spectacular encore. In 1983, at the height of program secrecy, 782 performed a fly-over at the F-117 unit's change-of-command ceremony, where the Secretary of Defense was in attendance. As 782 streaked over the dignitaries and personnel, she turned her belly to the crowd and revealed a specially painted, nose-to-tail American flag. In honor of that legendary moment, the American flag scheme was recreated for her farewell flight, to the gasps and cheers of the Edwards spectators. Days after the Open House, the special markings were removed and 782 flew down to Holloman into retirement.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Valley of Mist - Yosemite Fall

There is something ethereal about ground fog. It gives an other-worldly quality to the landscape, making it both dream-like and mysterious. Couple that with the clouds and mist around Yosemite Fall and the picture is complete.

These shots were taken the same day as the photo in yesterday's post.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Half Dome and Valley Fog

Bad weather can also make for some very atmospheric landscapes. This shot was taken last February from Yosemite Valley looking towards Half Dome at about 1:00 PM. The sun was struggling to break through the low clouds and mist. Fog was heavy on the valley floor for most of the day. Color images were almost black and white in many of my morning and day-before shots, but color began to seep back into view as the fog lessened. It was cold standing there for two hours, but I got several promising images on both the digital and medium format cameras. All in all, it was a very good day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dryden After the Storm

While waiting at the Public Affairs Office at Dryden FRC for the media excursion to Shuttle Atlantis last Friday, which was canceled because of the weather, I took the opportunity to shoot the aircraft on display in their parking lot. I already have shots taken on previous visits when the conditions were much nicer, but the atmosphere was decidedly moody and I thought I would see what I could do with some "artsy" angles.

This is the Northrop HL-10, one of the lifting body experimental aircraft tested at Edwards during the 1960s. The success of those tests led to the development of the Space Shuttle. The HL-10 was the highest flying and fastest of the four configuration types flown. It looked very dramatic against the gray clouds.

The Vought F-8 Super-Critical Wing (SCW) aircraft looked at reducing drag near the speed of sound (Mach 1) by lowering the effect of the shock waves that are created on the upper surface of the wing. The successful results of those tests were incorporated in commercial transports and other sub-sonic aircraft. While this angle doesn't give you a good look at the entire wing, it does highlight the blunt leading edge and shaping at the wing root. I found the resulting curves intriguing.

I did not go out to Dryden today to see Atlantis. Too much to do at work today. Oh, well....