The photos below will tell the story of my day and I hope you take the time to read the blog to maximize this awesome opportunity.
This blog post is incredible special to me because it documents one of the most exciting and extreme once in a lifetime opportunities of my life!! On July 28th, I along with other photographers got to fly on a KC-10 Extender to photograph aerial refueling of the US Air Force Thunderbirds! This flight’s purpose was to promote the Travis Air Force Base Air Expo that was on July 30-31, 2011, as well as to inform the American Public about Travis Air Force Base’s contribution to national defense. The photographers that got to participate on this flight were mainstream television and print media photographers, aviation specialty photographers, as well as non-media photographers. Six other non-media photographers and myself were selected by LtCol Robert Couse-Baker to participate in this special event.
Our day began by meeting at 7AM at Travis Air Force Base. Since I was traveling from San Francisco, I left my house at 5:45AM to the base.
Once we were all together, we made our way to the Travis Passenger Terminal.
Here is a photo of my special media pass for the air expo. This special pass gave access to the media platform that was center stage of the air expo!
While waiting for our 10AM flight on the KC-10, we hung out in the waiting room and took some photographs. Here’s a picture of me! :p
When it was time to head out to the airplane, we took a bus to our destination!
Everyone was in “awe” just seeing how big the planes were. Knowing all us photographers, we just have to shoot all the time! Even if it’s out the window
Below is the KC-10 Extender that we got to fly in. Before boarding, we got to take photographs of the exterior.
The photo below is the window of where the aerial fueling station is. This window gave all us photographers the opportunity to witness aerial refueling in front of our very own eyes! You’ll soon see in the upcoming photos .
Our refueling track was a 3 hour flight over Neveda and Utah.
This is inside the KC-10 passenger area. There’s definitely nothing glamorous about this plane but all the ruggedness just added to the experience.
When the plane took off, we were backing up. I typically get motion sickness from simulator rides and since this plane didn’t have any windows (where we sat), I felt like I was sitting in a HUGE simulator box just shaking me around. I was scared that I would be sick for the next 3 hours but thank goodness the flight was pleasant enough to where I didn’t get sick .
In the photo below, Dave (on the left side) is the boom operator (he controls the boom “a long extendable metal arm that connects two aircraft for fuel transfer”).
The flight was pretty loud so I wore ear plugs the entire flight.
When it was time to head down to the refueling station, we had to walk across the empty cargo area which looks like this:
During our flight, we go to refuel Thunderbirds and C-17‘s. By the time it was my turn to go take photographs of the C-17, the refueling was already done … But I did get a sneak peak of what it looks like to sit in the belly of the plane and look out the window! We had to climb down these steep stairs that felt like basement stairs.
And once you made down the stairs, you get to see Dave. Hi Dave! Dave seriously has the coolest job ever. Well, maybe second. Photography is definitely the best job!
Seeing this made me speechless… Actually, I wasn’t really speechless. It made me want to scream in joy that I was on a KC-10, in the belly of the plane, looking out the most incredible window, ever!!!! Ahh!!!
Once I got back to my seat, one of the Air Force soldier’s gave all of us a big box of food! Whoa, hello?! FREE lunch??? Holler!!!
We got a TON of food… Way more than I can expect. Water, soda, chips, fruit, sandwich, fruit bar, and a bag of M&M’s… I think I love the Air Force ;D.
Once lunch time was over, we all got to go into the cockpit!!!! Where on earth can you go into a cockpit during mid-flight?!?! The doors were ALWAYS open to the cockpit. So essentially you can go in whenever there wasn’t another photographer in there.. But wow… the cockpit……….
There were so many buttons in the cockpit that I probably wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I was a pilot .
Finally, it was time to refuel the Thunderbirds!! We refueled a total of 8 Thunderbirds and the refueling went pretty fast… So getting about 20 photographers down into the refueling station was a bit chaotic. We had to snap FAST and you only get about 2 minutes to shoot this. So during this time, I shot as much as I could and filmed a video (see at the bottom of blog).
Looking out the window in the cargo area, you got to see the Thunderbird’s fly right next to us!! WOW!!
As you can see, all of us photographers were trying to shoot at every window!
By the time we landed and got off the plane, the Thunderbirds were doing a few practice runs for the upcoming air expo.
Below is a C-17 about to make its landing.
After our flight, we had the opportunity to go up close and personal to the Thunderbirds. We even got to talk to a few pilots!
So, I just have to point out that Pilot #5 of the Thunderbirds, Maj. Aaron Jelinek, Lead Solo (photo on the left, below), is totally cute! Haha. He has a great smile and he even came up to talk to me… I felt like I met a celebrity!! LOL.
Notice that Maj. Aaron Jelinek’s number 5 is upside down. The reason for this is that he flies upside down in the Thunderbird majority of the time. So when he flies upside down, the numbers align perfectly with the other Thunderbird’s by his side.
This is the point on the front of the Thunderbird.
About to touch down is a Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane. This plane was designed to fly 15,000 feet higher than any other airplane. It is one of the most difficult planes to land in the entire U.S. Military.
It has one main landing gear, in the middle of the plane. It has to land exactly straight, like landing a bicycle. The chase cars help the pilot know how far off the runway the U-2 is. Notice the white chase car in the photo below helping the U2 plane to land. (Source: James Huggin’s).
The plane landed safely .
This experience is one to remember for the rest of my life. I hope you enjoyed my experience on this special media flight! Stay tuned for PART II of the Travis Air Expo photos!!
Here is a sneak peak:
See the video of the aerial refueling I shot, here!
If the video above does not work, head over to YouTube to see the video.
I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to LtCol Robert Couse-Baker for inviting me to this event. You gave me the opportunity of a lifetime and I am truly thankful for it! THANK YOU!!!