Stableford shot this formation in a relatively placid moment during a wild ride, with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 15mm f/2.8 Canon EF Fisheye, 1/800 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200.
On assignment for 5280, a regional magazine in Denver, Tyler Stableford got to fly backseat in an F-16D with Capt. TenEyck LaTourrette of the Air National Guard’s 120th Fighter Squadron. While Stableford had done considerable photography of the military before, this was his first time riding shotgun in such a fast ride. “I carried three bodies and lenses with me on the 90-minute flight,” he explains.
“Because my cockpit was active—with all the controls and ejection handles live—I couldn’t use any straps for my cameras. I put two cameras just alongside my left hip in an open ThinkTank Photo Speed Racer bag, and handheld one at all times. So long as I didn’t black out while holding a camera, it seemed like a good plan. Under the heavy G-forces that F-16 pilots fly, the weight of cameras—and everything else—can be multiplied and could cause a lot of damage to the plane if let loose.”
So far, so good. Then: “The pilot surprised me with really heavy G-forces immediately after takeoff,” Stableford continues. “I was shooting video with the 5D Mark II and 15mm fisheye at the time, holding the camera out in front of me, and he just pointed the plane toward the moon. We went from 5,000 feet to 16,000 feet in a matter of seconds, hitting over 7.5G— more than any G-forces sustained during the history of U.S. space flight—and it was all I could do to keep from blacking out and letting go of the camera. I lost vision and had to close my eyes to try to stay centered.”
The coda to his story: “When I asked him about it later, he said, ‘Aren’t surprises great?’ You can see me struggling to keep it together during takeoff on the video on my website.”