Thursday, August 3, 2023

Plane Air Photography

For a second year in a row, with nothing but air between subject and film, I went to photograph the biggest air show in the world, The Experimental Aircraft Association's Airventure, held at Wittman Field on Oshkosh's south side. To aviators all over the world it's known simply as "Oshkosh." In town it's always "EAA." Nobody ever says Airventure aloud. Last year I was very pleased with the three rolls of film I exposed. 

Three 6x6cm cameras again. The extremely-wide Diversity 30mm because it's the only Compact 30 I have left, the moderately-wide 60mm front on the Variable Cuboid with its continuously rising pinhole in case I have to seem sophisticated, and 80mm Goldberry, normal for this format. Her golden livery attracted lots of attention from people who are predisposed to look at shiny metallic objects.

My big fear was just repeating the story from last year's blog. I walked about for an hour and a half just looking around. A few people sitting in lawn chairs in front of a Beechcraft Bonanza with a tent under the wing all pretty much look alike. As you might expect from people able to afford sport or general aviation, they're not the most eccentric looking lot.

Eventually it became clear I had to just quit worrying and make the attempt not to be too repetitive. Ironically, one of the first things I worried about being the same old thing and what eventually became my first photograph was the front landing gear on a 747 Dreamlifter giganto cargo plane. It's kind of cool to be able to walk right up to something like this and take close-ups. My graphic artist's heart was warmed by the graph of its performance actually mounted on the main piston. I wonder what that X refers to on the part at the right.

The giant fuselage is made to ship parts of other Boeing planes between factories. It's actually a resto-mod of an old passenger plane. Bricked up windows are always interesting historical evidence so let me point out those covered windows in the first class cabin.

The rear landing gear of the 747 were behind velvet ropes. Uniquely EAA to see backpacks and a chair leaned up against the tires. I asked the likely owner of one of the backpacks who was wearing a Boeing T-shirt if the landing gear were specially modified for this airplane. She replied that "No, most of the plane was pretty stock except for the volume and cargo loading."

The Dreamlifter's early ancestor, NASA's modified KC-97 Super Guppy taking a look to the left while open for loading. It was made to transport parts of the Apollo Launch Vehicle. On a nearby stage, an interviewer asked one of the engineers if it wouldn't be an exageration to say this airplane took America to the moon.

A C-17 Globemaster - an everyday workhorse for moving big stuff around. The back ramp was just open to walk into. It seemed like the semi was probably there just to make the airplane look big.

The front bulkhead of the cargo area, leaning the tripod against what might be a winch. At the lower right, a youngish-looking airman, ushering the line which went to the cockpit, turned out to be one of the pilots. I asked if he ever did those scary looking assault landings. He said they practice them all the time. With just the stick - no computer. In the mountains. At night. 

Delta again was the only airline who had a presence. An Airbus A350-900. 

A reflective Rolls-Royce Trent XWB on the Airbus. I asked the gent standing next to it if he was an employee of Delta, Airbus or EAA. He said all of them. He flies an Airbus A330. We marveled at the complexity and integration of the machine. "Yeah," he said, "Suck, Squeeze, Bang and Blow. It sounds simple." I mentioned often hearing of the computerized control of Airbus planes. He responded "But I'm always in charge."

Looking for an interesting story about camping at Oshkosh, I encountered this couple with the young woman's hat and glasses on the ground and her companion reclining in a hammock suspended under the wing of this cool vintage plane. As they were telling me to wait for the owner, he appeared from the other side with plates of eggs, bacon and toast for them and disappeared back to the grill on the other side. About when the camera was ready, he came back with a container of salt which he had neglected to put on the eggs and held it out to them for about half the six second exposure.

A seven cylinder Continental with spiral manifolds and a happy grin.

If you want a more slender fuselage, you can always just stick your cylinders through it.

In 1981, Sarah and I returned from Paris in economy middle seats on a packed 747 into O'Hare. We walked with our suitcases over to the little commuter terminal which was more like a bus station and bought tickets on the next flight back home to Galesburg. It was a Britt Airways hop to Rockford, Sterling/Rock Falls and Galesburg on a 12 passenger Beechcraft 99. The 99 is a bit more modern than this 18, but between jet-lag and the last scene in Casablanca, this is what I remember it looked like.

The front of the Beechcraft 18, which was the big seller for almost thirty years before being replaced by the turboprop 99.

Last year I featured a homebuilt Pietenpol Air Camper. This is the other side of its Model A Ford engine.

The newish looking but still analogue instruments in the white cockpit of a 2016 Peitenpol Aircamper homebuilt except with an Edwin Stafford GN-1 engine.  The cable attached to that device behind the wind screen ends in a USB-C plug.

The Archon SF1, a prop driven kit plane designed to look like a stealth fighter.

Nothing says vintage like leather straps and spoked wheels.

Many of the forums which occur continuously throughout the day focus on building airplanes. One of the hands-on tables at the gas welding workshop during the general lecture.

Building wing ribs in the woodworking workshop. The leader was bouncing from table to table. You can see his foot in the lower right corner.

The set-up before the Composites 101 workshop.

A NASA scientist playing a molecular game with a little girl.

A cutaway working model of a turboprop engine. The only thing that was bright enough to get a reasonable exposure among the milling crowd in the comprehensive exhibit "hangars." Two people speaking an eastern European language patiently stood by me during the two minute exposure gazing at the mesmerizing shiny spinning fans.

The Young Eagles Program raffled off this new old stock 2022 Mustang GT. While setting up the camera, a volunteer came and asked if I wanted to buy a ticket. I said we already had two Mustangs and this one was more powerful than we could handle. She just turned around and sat back down. A college-aged young man next to me thought the large engine cover hid too much. We had a conversation about the concept of engine beauty and he recommended the Lycoming and Continental displays nearby.

The Junkers A50 Junior, one of two models the classic German aircraft company still makes based on it's 1920's designs but with modern materials and engineering. The corrugated aluminum fuselage and wings have nothing to do with aerodyamics, it's just a way to stiffen a light weight skin and looks retro cool.

It's not unusual to see a little gardening around the landing gear in the commercial displays.

I ran out of steam by this time but not film. In retrospect, wondering why I didn't take certain pictures, it was usually because I would have to ask someone to wait for me to adjust camera and tripod and then they would just pose stiffly. It also had to do with exhaustion on a very warm day. It is the biggest airshow in the world. There are trolleys to move people around. During my only attempt to stand and wait in line for one, three went by without a vacant seat.

Last year I suffered blistered sunburns on my forehead which formed scabs and took a month to heal. Intent on preventing that, I considered buying all sorts of hats but everything looked a little silly to me. Other than in my character for Sarah's blog, I never wear hats except for a headband in winter. Finally on the morning of my excursion, we extracted this Metallica hat from the closet. Seemed appropriate. There was heavy metal blasting in the displays of some of the biggest manufacturers. It stayed on my head the entire time.

The theme for this month for the Fox Valley Photography Group is Reflections. My cool EAA persona doubled by the mirror on the lanai seemed to work for that.

I still had film in three cameras. Changed to the 35mm front on the Variable Cuboid and went to see if there was evidence of EAA in the city.

At the south end of Menomonee Park was this 1956 Buick. Not necessarily related to aviation, but it is big and shiny with that winged hood ornament.

Again in the reflected light of the monthly group theme, an attempt at self-portraiture, foiled by the rear ornament. Too bad about the blank rear trunk. It is, after all, the size of a Buick, but reflecting nothin' but air. The owner watched me do most of this from the bench at the top left. He was flattered I was interested in his car. He's had it since 1996. I told him about our Mustangs. We agreed it was different if you've had the car since it was new.

Nothing at all downtown to indicate anything was going on including the tourism bureau's office with it's wavy sign and reflective door.

One place it's inescapable is the University. Thousands of people stay in dormitories and eat breakfast and dinner there.

The main bus stop to the convention is next to one of the biggest dorms, which includes 50 un-air conditioned rooms at half the price of the others, which sell out. Check out all the broad brimmed hats.

Finally, fifteen blocks south of the river, a sign of welcome on Main Street.

Ardy and Ed's is an iconic spot in Oshkosh with roller skating car-hops 500 meters from the end of the runway. During the convention, they're very popular. This is two hours before opening. A plane can come 30 meters overhead every twenty seconds. I counted seven take-offs while setting up and making the exposure including an F-22.

Let's see how close I can get. Maybe right at the airport fence next to the new Basler Aviation Terminal. The private jets tend to congregate down there near where you can get a car (nobody camps under a private jet). There was a gate slightly opened in front of this Bombardier Global Express XRS with black digital camouflage livery and "Tempus Fuget" on the jet engine. A guy with an ID on a lanyard was standing in the open gate. I told him I wouldn't go any farther to take my picture. He said OK and walked off. Everybody had walked off. I took a few steps in. I finally made the exposure about four meters inside the fence.

The Diversity 30 has two hand-drilled .23mm pinholes, on the axis and 11mm above it, 30mm from the film. The Variable Cuboid 60mm front has a continuosly adjustable rising front with 15mm of travel with a .30mm hand-drilled pinhole. The 35mm front has a .23mm hand-drilled pinhole with the rising front. Those cameras were loaded with Kentmere 100. Goldberry has a .33mm pinhole 80mm from Kentmere 400. All are 6x6mm format. The film was semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.


  1. Thank you for this mega-sized blog post, well done!

    1. Joe, not only is it encyclopedic about aviation and gadgetry in general, I must have seen 15 YouTubers with every level of equipment sophistication you can imagine including an eight camera 3D video rig (Who asked me to get out of the way).