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Photographers Capture Landmarks, Skylines for Blue Angels

In this June 14, 2015 photo provided by the U.S.
Navy, the Blue Angels performs in Ocean City, MD. 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. The
photographers often ride with pilots and must be in top physical
condition to make the team and have the skills to capture aerial
maneuvers at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour. (Andrea Perez/U.S. Navy
via AP)
U.S. Navy fighter jet pilot Lt. Ryan Chamberlain has flown in war zones,
logged more than 300 landings on aircraft carriers and thrilled
millions since 2013 with breathtaking maneuvers as part of the Navy’s
elite Blue Angels demonstration squadron.
But 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, and Siren captured an iconic image of the
blue and yellow jets streaking past 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, an accomplished Navy combat photographer, will finish his tour of
duty with the team in November. The New Orleans native is one of five
photographers, all petty officers, assigned to the Blue Angels for
three-year stints 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 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, and the
pilots and photographers can experience 7.5 times normal gravity during
spins, turns and other maneuvers. The g-forces make a 10-pound camera
feel like 75 pounds.
Blue Angels do not wear g-suits, which are designed to keep someone from
passing out by pushing the blood toward the head using inflatable
bladders in the legs. The team’s tight formations, sometimes just inches
apart, require careful control of the flight stick and the suit
bladders could interfere with that. The photographers also fly without
g-suits and must learn breathing techniques and stay physically fit 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, another
team photographer.
The Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s aerial demonstration team, have a
similar program for Air Force photographers to fly with the team. 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 of Inner Grove Heights, Minnesota, 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 when she reviews her photographs of 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.”