Every two years, the best of the best from across the Air Mobility Command get together at Joint Base Lewis McChord. WA in an undisputed, winner take all competition that pits over 50 aircraft and 2,500 Airmen from across the world in a skills competion to crown the best of the best. This year, I have the chance to observe the March ARB Team as they participate in the Air Mobility Rodeo 2011.
Recently I had a chance to collaborate with revolutionary photographer, Thomas Bunce of Riveting Photos on one of his ultra unique high resolution projects. I have been following his art for some time, and after my recent trip to Florida, I was able to work with him on an image of the Space Shuttle Endeavor just before its’ final journey to space.
Thomas took 11 of my overlapping 12.2 megapixel images and weaved them together to create a single ultra high resolution 41.9 megapixel image. This single stitched image has enough data to zoom in and view details that even NASA camera don’t capture. To view our creation, click on the image of Endeavor below and experience it for yourself. See if you can find the word “Loaded” on the Solid Rocket Booster or check out the peeling paper on the nose of the Orbiter. Absolutely amazing!
Laying on my belly in the back of the KC-135 from March ARB at 20,000 feet, I stared out into a ominous grey cloud. I couldn’t see the ground nor had any sense of depth or movement even though we were going 315 knots. It was like we were just in a grey void hanging in the sky. And to compound my fear, there was a thin coating of hydraulic fluid all over the Boom’s window. It was like looking through a window coated in vaseline. Knowing that there was going to be an F-16 just 10 feet away from us, both of us bouncing around due to turbulence from the clouds, and the Boom Operator not clearly being able to see the plane was less then comforting.
Fast forward two weeks and numerous potential launch dates, and it was time to fly back to Kennedy. You know you’ve been here enough times that you don’t need a map to navigate to the routine spots. But with that familiarity came the confidence to get the shots I wanted. Unfortunately with two weeks passing, the narrow launch window to send the Orbiter to the International Space Station (which moves 30 minutes earlier each day) went from a beautifully lit afternoon shot to a harsh back lit morning shot. And subsequently a very early morning for the Astronaut walk out. But the same was true for the RSS roll out, which was at night during the first launch attempt, but now would be basking in the warm Florida sun.
With half open eyes, and in a semi-awake state of mind, I spotted the now familiar 52-story Vertical Assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center. It was three a.m. eastern time, and I had just flown in the day before. My body was wondering why I was just waking up when normally I would be falling asleep at this time. It was confused and for a fleeting second so was I. But then I saw the innocuous sign on the side of the road. “Days till Count Down: 0.” And a small smile crept across my face. This was finally the day I would get to witness history and create some of my very own.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see first hand the aerial refueling capabilities of the mighty KC-135R Stratotanker with an aircrew from the 912th Air Refueling Squadron attached to the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base. Before we took off to refuel the 8 F-16s from Luke AFB, I took a moment to try and capture the amazing view from the cargo door of our KC-135R.
On the ramp at March ARB, you can see 8 KC-135’s that are used to provide aerial refueling anytime, anyplace…in combat and for training. I’ve been playing around with panoramic photography for only a short period of time, but stitched together this image composed of 24 individual images.
Click on the image below to see a larger picture.
What do you guys think for a first effort? Does it do the scene justice?
After a day of volunteering at the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum last Saturday, my camera and I wandered down to the flight line. I arrived just in time to catch an F/A-18A from VFA-204 “River Rattlers” in a modified “Aggressor” paint scheme getting ready to take off. Here are the images from that afternoon.
The Stanford Blood Center partnered once again with the San Jose Sharks to have its’ biggest mobile donation of the year. My friend Tim and I joined 400 other donors on a cold and wet Saturday morning at the HP Pavilion to donate a pint of blood for those in need. And in return, all those that showed up were not only treated to a bevy of cookies and juice, but invited to watch the SJ Sharks morning practice before they played the visiting Colorado Avalanche and a chance to mingle with the players after the practice. Here are a few shots from the morning adventure.
I am very happy to share with all of you my latest accomplishment, a 9 page photo essay in this months Air Force Magazine. It highlights a week long photo shoot at Beale AFB capturing images of the magnificent U-2 Dragon Lady and the men and women who keep her flying. Please click on the image below to view the photo essay:
I wanted to give a very special thanks to Zaur Eylanbekov, Brig. Gen. Paul McGillicuddy, Brig. Gen. Robert Otto, LtCol Jon “Huggy” Huggins, Maj John “Cabi” Cabigas, Capt Natasha Waggoner, Lt Richard Ricciardi, Lt Nicole White, SMSgt Ellen Hatfield, LtCol Tim Decker and Walter Colby for all of their help during this two year process. Without you guys, this project would have never succeeded.
On the horizon I saw the deepest shades of blue that I had ever seen in my entire life. As my eyes tracked upwards, the blue’s blended into the darkness of space. As my pilot, Lt. Col. Jon “Huggy” Huggins just said, at this very moment, out of 6 billion human beings, I was the highest person in the entire world. The only other humans higher then me were the 6 astronauts in the International Space Station. And naively, my eyes looked into the darkness of space to see if I could see them.
The only noise I could hear in my space suit was my own deep breaths, much a kin to the sound of Darth Vader. A faint and distant roar reminded me that behind me was a single engine, whose thrust was the only thing keeping my pilot and I aloft at the edge of space. With Huggy’s seat 18 inches below me, I was the highest person in the whole world cruising along above 70,000 feet at just below the speed of sound. And in doing so, I had just become the first Indian to fly in U-2 Dragon Lady and became the fourth highest flying person of Indo-American decent (following Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla (who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia) and Sunita Williams).
In the next few weeks, I will be blogging on my incredible adventure with the men and women of Beale A.F.B. and their incredible mission flying the U-2 Dragon Lady. While this is an amazingly unique airplane, one that has been reinvented over the past 55 years, it is merely a finely crafted hunk of steel. One that soars to the sky thanks to a crew of hundreds of anonymous Airmen, ranging from the pilots, to maintainers, life support, physiological support, intelligence analysts, egress trainers, fire fighters, air traffic controllers, public affairs, to countless other members of Team Beale.
In addition to images, thanks to Walter Colby Productions, we will be sharing a rare peek into what it takes to send someone to the edge of space. From a checkup with the flight doc, to egress and parachute training, to an explosive decompression in a hyperbaric chamber, we will show what it takes to strap on the suit and become the highest person in the world. But until then, here is a teaser of this incredible flight aboard an amazing airplane.
Some would say that pure happiness can only be found in a child’s smile. If you asked anyone at this year’s Cops Care Cancer Foundation’s Christmas Fantasy Flight 2010, they would probably agree with you. I know I definitely would. The sound of a child’s laugh, children playing games, and the excitement of unwrapping Christmas presents would be enough to put aside any worries of hospital visits, chemotherapy, and financial worries.
Flying the U-2 “Dragon Lady” is a challenge at best. You treat her good, and she’ll act like a “Lady.” But let your attention slip just a little and that lady turns into a “Dragon.” And after a mission flying at the edge of space, one of the hardest parts still lies ahead; landing the Dragon Lady. With only two wheels, limited visibility due to wearing a space suit, and a plane that flies just above stall speed, landing is just as hard as flying it. But while you fly alone at 70,000 feet, when you come down, your life is in the hands of one of your fellow pilots in a Pontiac as he drives 100+ mph next to you and calls out how high you are above the ground. 10 feet…7…5…3…2…1. Contact. And like that you’re back on the ground.
To fly at the edge of space, not only do you have to be in top physical shape, but you have to realize the bigger the adventure, the greater the risk. Even though the technology of aircraft has improved over the years, the human body is still a fragile organism. Realizing this, the Docs at the 9th Medical Group, Beale AFB check and verify that the pilots are fit for the rigors of flying the U-2. The video below speaks about some of the hazards that pilots face at 13 miles above the earth.
Fifty Five years ago on a dry desert lake in the remote parts of Nevada, this beauty took to the skies for the first time. Since that day, this marvel of an aircraft is constantly being reborn to adapt and excel in its’ ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) role. Here’s to the men and women behind this beautiful aircraft and to all of their hard work to keep this aircraft flying.
Hey guys, just a quick post, but wanted to let you guys know to keep an eye out for the May 2010 issue of Combat Aircraft because my image of the B-2 Spirit is featured on the cover.
It can be found on magazine stands all over the world! Be sure to check your local Barnes and Noble and Boarders bookstores for a copy. For more images and to read about my adventure at Whiteman AFB, click here
When looking at your favorite sectional map, the most intimidating part seems to be the concentric blue lines of the Class Bravo airspace that surrounds 39 of the nations busiest airports. In Northern California, our Class Bravo airport surrounds San Francisco International (SFO), with nearly 400,000 operations in 2009. And a mere 10 nm north of SFO lies one of the most beautiful skylines in the world, one that hundreds of millions of people visit every year. But to get to that paradise, you have to transition through the dreaded Class Bravo airspace.
In a major announcement by the DoD last Friday, the Deputy Secretary of Defense recently signed a new policy regarding the use of internet based capabilities. Recently members from around the blogosphere had a chance to speak with Mr. Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, in another installment of the DoD’s Bloggers Roundtable and hear first hand how these changes will affect the Armed Services and its’ members.
Day two was setting up to be a busy one. Our goal was to squeeze in two flights and get an intro to Spins and Aerobatics. With the same format as the previous day’s flight, we did a through briefing, hopped into the plane, Tim demonstrates a maneuver, Sagar demonstrates, repeat, head back to the airport and then debrief. It was hard to keep all of the information straight as each maneuver and flight built on the previous ones. But Tim was quite patient and reminded me that this was just an introduction.
You look outside and all you see is the ground flying past you; greens and browns all blurring into one shade. A second ago you were performing an immelman in your new Pitts Special S-2B, and now you and your plane are in a spin hurdling towards the ground. Your instincts kick in, you pull the power back to idle, let go of the stick, look over the nose and figure out which direction you are spinning, full opposite rudder, stop the spin, and recover.