Saturday, August 18, 2007

Air-to-air photography

One of our club members, J, just bought an ASW-20. Since it was a pretty good day for soaring, we decided to try to take some pictures of his first flight. I've taken some general scenery shots with my digital point-and-shoot camera, but it doesn't zoom close enough for really good images. And managing my digital SLR is not something I want to tackle when flying. Flying formation to take pictures really takes two. So L and I teamed up in the Grob 103. I flew from the front seat, and L was in the back with my camera.

We launched about 13:15 and I let off tow at 2300' AGL (3800' MSL) in some OK lift. It wasn't really strong - about 2kts, enough to sustain - but it was small and hard to work. L took over for a while and demonstrated that I need to tighten my bank to work smaller lift. I was only banking about 30 degrees, and not staying within the thermal. He worked us up a ways and then I took over and flew the rest. Later, in another thermal, we found some really good stuff, I think up to 6.7 kts. We got as high as 7000' MSL, went over to the "S" ridge and found nothing, came back and got set to take pictures.

We took a few of what we thought was J's glider - we didn't have good radio contact yet - from some distnace away. My radio stopped working (I think the rechargeable battery is bad), and I could not hear L's conversations. Later we met up with T in one of our Blaniks, and got a few decent pictures but not from really close up. I don't think T was on the radio, so we kept our distance since we were not really coordinating our directions.

It's challenging to try to maneuver my glider into a good position for the photographer to get a good angle, and keep a safe separation, and work the thermal so we can stay up, and keep a good lookout. In the case of the Blanik, our speeds were often quite different. I imagine that in a pair of power planes this would be a little easier because you could fly straight and level for longer periods. It worked out pretty well after a little practice and thought. Sometimes we would have to turn away in order to work lift, and come back later for another set of pictures.
Our Grob 103 has a new canopy which is tinted blue. That affected many of the pictures. Eventually L pointed the lens out the vent and took most of the pictures that way. (That's got to be hard - the vent is pretty low. I need to ask him about that.)

J finally launched, and I was wondering where he was... remember I did not have radio. Suddenly L said something from the rear seat about him being above us, and I was surprised to find that I had not seen him. Maybe he came in from behind at a higher speed? Anyway, there he was, and I kept a close eye on our separation from that point on.

We circled together for quite a while, and L took lots and lots of pictures. I had set up the camera with the basic 28-80mm lens and a 2x teleconverter, so he had some zoom to work with without getting too close and shaky. (Autofocus sometimes has trouble with my bigger lens, and I wanted to ensure we got some decent shots.) And here's one of the best:

We came back to join J again and found that there were two hang gliders in the same thermal. We flew with them for a while and took a few pics of them... nothing worth posting. Then we flew over the airport to watch J land. That was interesting... he and a 2-33 got into the downwind leg at the same time, just about parallel to each other. J extended his downwind to give the 2-33 room to land first, then came in and landed on the runway to avoid a conflict. No big deal, but not something that happens every day. We cruised around to lose altitude, and then ended up with a total flight time of 1 hour 52 minutes.

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