Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

A wing and a prayer

Flying from Tunda to Kananga over the Congo with Jacques Umembudi Akasa, a United Methodist missionary pilot for Wings of Caring Aviation, a program of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The photograph was made by attaching a camera to the wing and activating the shutter by remote control.

Sorry, but I've been away on an assignment and didn't keep up with the calendar. But here is this week's pick. It was taken by me after some very cooperative Congolese duct-taped me to the wing of this plane, then I held on tight to the camera and off we go. It worked well until I had to go to the bathroom, and I was waving at the pilot like crazy but he thought I was kidding. . . . Nah, I didn't do that. Instead, I connected a camera to the wing of the plane. I had thought about this one for a while ahead of time. Knowing I was going to the Congo to shoot, among other things, a mission aviation program, I remembered seeing in the Eugene Register-Guard a photo by a staff photographer of a plane taken from a similar vantage point. I called him and he explained how he'd attached it to the wing strut with a clamp. That got me thinking. I took with me to the Congo some extra gear, including a heavy clamp which I could attach a camera to. Fortunately, Stephen Quigg was along with me. He's a missionary pilot who's now working on safety issues for mission aviation programs around the world. Were it not for Steve, the pilot, Jacques Umembudi Akasa, wouldn't have let me touch his plane. (And rightly so!) But Steve and Jacques and I took off a small access hatch underneath the wing, just in from the wing tip. We could then place the clamp on a structural part of the wing, thus not stressing the metal skin, which is not very sturdy. We mounted the camera upside down, and wired in a safety cable. I had brought along an old D2X for the job, just in case it fell off mid flight. And rather than risk my own lenses, I had borrowed an old 10.5 mm wide angle Nikkor lense from my friend John Goodwin (I confess I didn't tell him what it was for). But that lense also gave me a smaller profile to present to the airflow than a bigger zoom would have. I was so concerned that the whole contraption was gonna fall off over the jungle that I put in a smaller CF card, maybe 2 gb, so as not to risk a larger capacity card. I focused it on the fuselage, used an f/stop of 22 to give me some depth of field, set the shutter at 1/200 of a second to insure some blur from the prop (a much faster shutter speed would have frozen the prop, making the plane look like it would fall from the sky) and connected a PocketWizard remote shutter release which I could then activate from inside the cabin. All set, we took off and flew from Tunda to Kananga, about an hour flight. I was clicking away like crazy inside, hoping it would all turn out well. As we approached Kananga, I had Jacques do a steep bank to the right over the village, so I could shoot the plane with the village's huts in the background. After we landed, I couldn't wait to see what I'd captured. It worked well. But because I'd put a relatively small CF card in, I had run out of storage space about half-way through the flight. So there was no room left to store the last dramatic shots. Oh well. Live and learn. We disconnected the camera, put the wing back together, and went on our way. You can see online a short slideshow I did of the whole program.

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