2012 International Airshow Punta Gorda, Florida

A couple of weeks ago the air show came to town. Actually, as I understand it we are the first stop on the schedule so we get a preview of what the rest of the USA is going to see. The show is Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday is reserved for media and the kids with Make A Wish Foundation. After seeing these kids, no matter what problem you think you have, it makes it all go away. These are truly amazing kids battling all kinds of health problems with a smile on their face. We had the opportunity to go up and fly with one of the demonstration teams but, for these who have seen me, my biggest issue is my height….ya right! OK, I might have a little weight issue as well. I could see them trying to jam me into an flight suit and then having to grease up the cockpit with Crisco so I would slide in. I’m not afraid of heights as you can see here and here. These things are built for a specific size and if you don’t fit, well to bad. I actually went to sign up for the Air Force and the condition that I wanted on paper was that I wanted to be guaranteed a pilot seat. Well the recruiter said the weight wasn’t the problem it was the height. That ended that. My dream isn’t over though as if I win the lottery, I’m going to learn to fly and go on the air show circuit and do an acrobatic routine. At least I can have one custom built! What’s $250,000 between friends for an acrobatic plane?

Back to the air show coverage. The Tuesday before the show, I heard a large bumblebee in my house. I went outside and a team of RV’s were going over in formation. I never get board listening to that sound of raw horsepower and the props cutting into the air. It was official, the teams were arriving. I spent the next week cleaning the camera and lenses. Having done this a few times before at least I knew what to expect this time around. It was going to be a long day on the tarmac. Being a “working media” person, it’s amazing what people will show you. At the end of the day, if every join that you have and muscles that you didn’t know you had hurts….you did your job. Here are a few of my favorites. At the bottom is the crown jewel that I couldn’t believe I got. It’s a one in a million shot. Enjoy…

Chillin’ with the BOMBS! – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   OK, these are special. Part of our assignment for Harbor Style was to do what is called a “freeze frame”. Basically this is taking photos of folks at events and their name gets put under their photo. We had to stop by the media tent and get our media badges to prove that we weren’t just Joe The Plumber. I asked the owner of the B-24 if I could get his photo with his airplane and he saw my tag. He said sure and I snapped off a few. After that, he told me to follow him. He pulled back the chain with the “NO ENTRY” sign and before I knew it I was standing in the bomb bay of the B-24. Nothing like a little explosive first thing in the morning! These were special. Veterans that fought in WWII have signed these bombs. It was amazing to see the signatures and hear some of the stories. It would be an honor to photograph and write a book on these individuals. It was really dark in the bomb bay. I didn’t want to use direct flash so I found a white sticker that was behind me. I swiveled my flash head so that it would fire behind me, off the white sticker and the sticker would become my light source. Sneaky, huh?

I’m In A Hurry, Honey! – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   I found my next car. It has 12,000 horsepower and probably burns about 300 gallons to the mile! Shell Oil would love this car to be mass-produced. They raced this car against an airplane. The airplane was already moving and the car was at a dead stop. Once the driver got this thing wound up, he beat the airplane! This would be a great way to grill your hot dogs at your next picnic.

Smokin’ It Low – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   Here is a vintage aircraft making a high-speed photo pass. It is my opinion that it’s trickier to photograph propeller driven aircraft then jets. If I used too fast of a shutter speed, I would freeze the propellers, this looks a little weird. So I needed to find a shutter speed that would allow the prop to blur, but still be fast enough to freeze the aircraft. For this photo I use 1/250 of a second. This year I also went with full manual instead of shutter priority. I found that my photos came out better overall. Some were over and under exposed due to the sun location as they flew around the sky, but I was still happy with the results.

Bearcat – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   I believe that they said this was a Navy Bearcat. I used the same settings as above, but as you can see, when the propeller gets in line with you it looks as if it’s stopped.

Upside Down, Lookin’ At The Ground – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   This is a new breed of aircraft that is going after the other acrobatic aircraft such as the Extra 300, Edge and Cap just to name a few. How much does this little toy cost? Only $250,000. I think for that kind of money they can make one for my height! Having flown RC for many years, I can appreciate what these pilots are going through. This might seem like a glamorous job, but it’s physically exhausting. Before these guys pull a G, they have to prepare by making a kind of “heeeep” noise where they old pressure in their bodies as they go through the maneuver. Doing this time and time again, it gets tiring. Last time I checked, there was only one person who could pull 12 G’s. So if you weighed 150 pounds, that would mean that during a 12 G maneuver such as pulling straight up at full speed off the deck, you would have the equivalent force of 1.800 pounds pushing against you!

Migs Invade USA – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   These is a new team this year that are flying Russian Migs. I believe they have a team that is restoring a bunch of these and will add them to the show as they come online. Since there are no outside moving parts, I can crank up my shutter speed and most definitely freeze these. I set the camera’s shutter speed to 1/2000 of a second. I was also using an 80-400mm lens, at the 400mm end any vibration is very noticeable. This is why I like photographing jets as I have more stopping power. Even with an minimum f stop of f/5.6 I have enough shutter speed to make this work. All I have to do is adjust my ISO to get the correct exposure.

Blue Angels Diamond – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   I hate to say it, but this is one of those cliché photographs. It’s all over the internet and their marketing material. It’s nice to have one in the collection though. So, I focused on getting something different this year.

Pullin’ A Few G’s – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   This is more what I was looking for. As they were in formation and went over show center, they broke out of formation abruptly to get ready for their next maneuver. I had seen some tails forming so I stuck with this guy as he was making his turn. All of the other media photographers put down their cameras waiting for the next part of the show. I was firing about 10 frames a second and everyone was wondering what I was shooting at. Oh well, tough luck. What we are seeing here is the air being compressed as he is making his turn, creating some serious G forces. This would be a puke moment for any of us mortals. But it gets better….

The Sonic Goes BOOM! – Spencer Pullen © 2012

   This is my FAVORITE PHOTO! I had seen photos like this in magazines over my lifetime and wondered how they captured it. This is a F-18 Super Hornet doing a demo. As I was photographing him, he was pulling some serious G’s as there were many times that he was compressing the air like in the Blue Angel photo above. But this time it was different. He was quite a ways out and started pouring the coal to the power plants. I saw this in the viewfinder and less than a second later came the boom. That’s right, we are looking at this jet breaking the sound barrier. I wish I could say that I’m that good, but the photographers Gods were on my side that day and I was at the right place, at the right time with the right settings. I’m sure that I’ll never get one of these again.

Well, there it is, a few of the 3,700 photos that we shot the first day. It was a great show. Time to let the camera cool off and get some of these ready for the magazine.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. The sonic boom is awesome!! Great job

  2. awesome!

  3. Incredible photos, Spencer. I never realized one could actually see the air compressing before the sonic boom.

  4. Spencer

    Thanks everyone for the kind words. It was a great shoot and I’m sure that I’ll never get another sonic boom photo again. I’m glad that I was at the right place, at the right time…


  5. Of the ones you posted, I too think the sonic boom shot is great. I was at the Air Show on Sunday. Very enjoyable event. Thanks for sharing, have a great day.

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