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Seattle Times photographers offer a glimpse into what inspires their best visual reporting.

August 2, 2012 at 6:49 PM

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Behind the scenes: Flying alongside the Blue Angels and the Oracle aerobatics stunt plane


GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

2012: Flying inverted in the foreground, aerobatic Pilot Sean D. Tucker flies his Oracle Challenger III with Blue Angel pilots Lt. Dave Tickle in #6 and Lt. C. J. Simonsen in #5, center, over the Seattle skyline. Tucker, the Blue Angel team and other aerobatic aircraft will perform over Lake Washington Saturday and Sunday. Tucker will do a practice show tomorrow. Photographer Greg Gilbert has flown several times in a chase plane alongside Tucker and the Blue Angels in order to photograph them before their Seafair performances. Gilbert talks about his experiences photographing from the Oracle chase plane below.

In 2005, a representative from Team Oracle aerobatic team called the Seattle Times, wanting to know if there was a photographer who would be interested in flying over downtown Seattle skyline to photograph their plane and two two Blue Angel jets flying over the city skyline. Another Times photographer was first asked, but he said he had kids at home and didn't want to fly in a chase plane. He suggested me and I grabbed it at the chance!

I flew in the Oracle chase plane, piloted by Brian Norris, as Oracle aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker flew with Blue Angel planes #5 and #6. It took a lot of coordination, but the photo turned out as the two Blue Angels and Tucker flew by the Space Needle.



GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

2005: Two of the Blue Angels, piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Craig Olson and Lt. Cmdr Ted Steelman, and the Oracle Challenger, Sean D. Tucker, fly over downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay.

After 2005, the Oracle team was no longer flying due to a structural failure of Tucker's plane, which crashed (Tucker had to parachute safety).

In 2010, the Oracle team contacted me again with a similar offer: I went up in their chase plane and shot another great photo as Tucker and four Blue Angel planes flew over Seattle.



GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

2010: Team "Boss" Navy CDR Greg McWherter, foreground, leads Blue Angel Navy LT Rob Kurrle and others in a pass over Seattle and Lake Washington.

In 2011, I had another opportunity to fly alongside Tucker and the Blue Angels. Unfortunately, a last minute problem with one of the Blue Angel jet engines caused the shoot to get cancelled.

This year we got lucky.

About a month ago I was in contact with Tucker, who then contacted the proper authorities at Blue Angel headquarters. Again, I flew with chase plane pilot Brian Norris, who was in radio contact with Tucker and the two Blue Angel pilots during the shoot. We had about 10 minutes total so we shot fast with motor drives blazing. I used three cameras: two Canon 7D's, one with a 10-22mm lens and the other with a 16-35mm, and a Canon 1D MKII with a 70-200mm lens. The photo with the city skyline was shot with the 70-200. We were about 75-100 ft from the planes.



GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

2012: Aerobatic Pilot Sean D. Tucker flies his Oracle Challenger III with Blue Angel pilots Lt. Dave Tickle, in number 6, and Lt. C. J. Simonsen, in number 5, over the Seattle skyline and Lake Washington. Tucker and the Blue Angel team and other aerobatic aircraft will perform shows over Lake Washington Saturday and Sunday. Tucker will do a practice show tomorrow

This opportunity doesn't come along every day or even every year. There are only four cities a year where the Oracle group and the Blue Angels come together to attempt one of these photos.

There are very few media photographers that have had the opportunity to ride in a chase plane and photograph the Blue Angels. I feel quite honored to be one of them.

It's always a thrill when all the pieces come together and it's a successful shoot.



2012: Associated Press photographer Ted Warren, left, and Seattle Times photographer Greg Gilbert sit in a twin engine chase plane with the side removed. Both photographers are tethered in by a harness.

For more photos of the Blue Angels and the Oracle plane practicing over Seattle Thursday, visit the gallery.

Most Popular Comments
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Spectacular photos! Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at the man to takes these... MORE
Cool! Great pictures and what a thrill that must be. MORE
What great photos!!! MORE

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