I’ve had an opportunity to work with some incredible pilots in my time. Usually, they’re the behind the scenes guys who help me get aerial views of landscapes, but occasionally they’re the subject of the photos themselves. Here are two very similar views of two (well, actually four) very skillful pilots. The first, on this page, is Azhar Husain of Sport Aviation at Van Sant Airport in PA. I was shooting for my book about Bucks County and after seeing what planes and pilots were available we decided to try the formation flight.
We worked out all the logistics…the second pilot, the wind and light direction, a harness for me so I could turn around in the cockpit and shoot backwards. There was only one thing I hadn’t counted on, and it nearly cost me a broken nose, not to mention a smashed up camera. Hit the jump to find out how to avoid plastic surgery if you should attempt a similar shot…
We got up in the air, and the two pilots, using handsignals (radios are useless in open cockpits…too noisy) got into formation (that guy in the back is really really close…keep in mind this was shot with an ultrawideangle lens!), I swung around but I needed to get a higher viewpoint so I went up on my knees and straightened up above the line of my windshield…and right into the 100+ MPH slipstream!
I was momentarily plastered across the pilot’s windscreen, nearly smashing my face and my camera, before I could regain my composure and straighten up again, this time fully braced for the wind onslaught.
I had to wait to shoot until Mr. Husain stopped laughing…these guys are unflappable…and then we pulled the shot off. You need some good sidelight, a wide lens, a clear day and some incredible flyers. Armed with this experience, a couple of years later, on assignment for the Florida Keys tourist department, I did a similar shot with another ace aerobatic flyboy, Freddie Cabanas, as we soared over Key West. We didn’t have as nice light as the Bucks County shot, but it was a lot warmer in the slipstream!
These guys both do sightseeing flights and if you’ve never flown in an open cockpit, it’s a hoot. If you decide to try a shot like this, bring one more piece of gear: a good hockey mask!