The Blue Angels perform over Boston, MA. An elite group of Navy and Marine photographers are selected each year to travel the world with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. (Terrence Siren/U.S. Navy via AP)
Special photographers capture images of special flights
November 19, 2015
Fighter jet pilot Ryan Chamberlain has flown in war zones. He has logged more than 300 landings on aircraft carriers. And he has thrilled millions since 2013 with breathtaking maneuvers. He is part of the Navy's elite Blue Angels demonstration squadron.
But Lt. Chamberlain says his career's most memorable moment came after he took detailed instructions from the petty officer riding in the backseat of his F-18 Hornet.
Chamberlain and Navy photographer Terrence Siren flew over New York City with the Blue Angels in 2013. Siren captured an iconic image. It was of the blue and yellow jets streaking past the One World Trade Center tower.
"I will always look back at that image. It captures what we do, what we are about," Chamberlain said.
Siren is an accomplished combat photographer. He will finish his tour of duty with the team in November. The New Orleans native is one of five photographers assigned to the Blue Angels. They are assigned for three-year stints. All are petty officers. Their job is to capture images of the six-fighter jet team.
Siren said it took time for him to feel confident enough to make suggestions to the world's best pilots. That is despite having been a photographer for the Navy Seals. And making various tours as a combat photographer.
"At first, I was thinking 'There is another plane 6 inches from my head. I'm not going to talk to this guy,'" he said. "But during photo shoots, there is a constant communication going on. Because I cannot move the plane and he cannot move the camera."
During demonstrations, the team reaches speeds of 700 mph. The pilots and photographers can experience 7.5 times normal gravity. It can be experienced during spins. It can also be felt during turns and other maneuvers. The g-forces make a 10-pound camera feel like 75 pounds.
Blue Angels do not wear G-suits. Those are designed to keep someone from passing out. The suits push the blood toward the head using inflatable bladders in the legs. The team's tight formations are sometimes just inches apart. They require careful control of the flight stick. The suit bladders could interfere with that. The photographers also fly without G-suits. They must learn breathing techniques. And they must stay physically fit. That helps to avoid passing out.
"It is like trying to take photographs while riding a roller coaster. A roller coaster on steroids," said Katy Holm of Naples, Florida. She is another team photographer.
The Thunderbirds are the Air Force's aerial demonstration team. They have a similar program for Air Force photographers to fly with the team. The Thunderbirds are based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The team flies six F-16Cs and two F-16Ds. The location of the flight stick does allow Thunderbird pilots and photographers to wear G-suits.
Navy photographer Andrea Perez is from Inner Grove Heights, Minnesota. She has passed out and thrown up while riding in the back of the Blue Angels' jets.
"It helps to be focused on the lens and not worried about what is going on outside. Whether the ground is above your head or whether you are spinning in circles," she said.
After a ride in the jet, Perez said she feels drained. But the exertion is worth it. That is when she reviews her photographs. They show the team flying wingtip to wingtip in tight formations.
"You have a viewpoint that no other photographer is going to have," she said. "It's pretty amazing."
Assigned 31 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is photography important to the Blue Angels?
Write your answers in the comments section below