Thursday, August 6, 2009

Viper at Last Chance

One of the more coveted spots for the aviation photographer is the "end of runway" location known as "last chance." Last chance is the final groundcrew inspection area where all final "remove before flight" ribbons are pulled off the airplane and the weapons are unsafed (not necessarily armed, but the safety is removed so they can be armed then or later). The neat thing about last chance is the coordinated ballet of the groundcrews, the traditional salute by the crew chief to the pilot, and the sense that the airplanes are alive. In a very real sense they are: growling, screeching, menacing and full of raw, barely controlled power. It is a very visceral experience, especially if the planes line up and light their afterburners for take-off with you in a rear quarter position. Then you can not only see, hear, smell and taste the aircraft, but you can feel its power vibrate in your gut and chest. It is glorious!

This was shot last year at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona, as one of the pre-convention events held by the F-4 Phantom II Society before the main event in Tucson. The Lockheed Martin (nee General Dynamics) F-16C "Fighting Falcon," more informally known as the Viper, is spooling up it's engine as it pulls away from last chance and taxis to the hammerhead at the end of the runway. The heat plume from the exhaust is visible as mirage-like distortions behind the airplane.

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