Fighter Combat International / Aviation Performance Solutions

As another installment in my "People at Work" project, this shoot took about 6 months from concept to completion - Aviation Performance Solutions.

APS offers programs for pilots and non-pilots alike. For pilots, they have comprehensive training programs for spin and stall recovery, and other advanced recovery techniques. For pilots or non-pilots, they run the Fighter Combat International program where, after a briefing, experienced former fighter pilots will take you up and give you the chance to experience air-to-air combat for yourself.

For my project, I first made a scouting trip a few months ago to check out the facilities and aircraft and come up with a shot list. I had a few shots I wanted to grab candidly, such as mission briefings, the instructors and students departing and arriving in the Extra 300 aircraft, and then a staged portrait of a pilot with the Extra 300.

I arrived at about 7:30am last Thursday and was immediately escorted to the flightline. The first group of students would be departing for training flights and I was going to grab some candid frames of them strapping into the aircraft.

Once the aircraft left on their training flights, I went back into the building to photograph another instructor briefing the next group of students who would fly as soon as the first group returned. I only took a few images of the briefing before I began working on the staged pilot portrait that was to be the image most likely used in my project.

The subject for this shot was going to be Frank Wagener, a former German Air Force fighter pilot who also flew with USAF squadrons through pilot exchange programs. Frank was kind enough to pose for about 45 minutes in the APS hangar with one of the Extra 300s waiting for maintenance. I spent about 15 minutes prepping the hangar for the shoot by closing the main hangar door, and setting up a main light and two rim lights. I originally wanted to shoot this portrait on the flight line, the way the early morning light reflects off the Extra 300 fuselage is just incredible, and the sun would be in a perfect position for some artistic flare. Unfortunately, the APS schedule is so tight that as soon as the aircraft return from one flight, the next group of students is standing by, ready to strap in. There would be no time to set lights and prepare a portrait in the few minutes the aircraft would be on the ground.


After I felt confident I had 'the shot' in the bag I thanked Frank for his time and patience and broke down the equipment. I had just enough time to position myself on a second story balcony for the first group's landing and return to the APS ramp.

After a few shots from the balcony, the shoot was a wrap. I had a lot of fun shooting with APS, and it's an amazingly talented and experienced group of pilots.



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