There was once a time when men flew a jet that tore the air apart, nearly revealing the physics that had served only to hold it together. It was an aircraft that screamed as quietly as the night, flying for almost ten years before it was even known to exist. To many, it is considered the greatest aircraft innovation ever gave us; it is the SR-71 Blackbird. I was not among those fortunate to see it fly, my viewership of this spectical is, and will always be, limited to History Channel documentaries with the sound cranked to 11. However, I could not help but feel the sense of awe when stepping out of the van at Beale Air Force Base and the PA officer saying, “here is your SR-71, Mr. Bunting.”
It is not like the time I photographed the F-22 or F-16‘s; it is different. Viewing the SR-71 resembles a person observing a piece of art. While it would be easy to go on and on, waxing poetic about what it could do, it is far more incredible to take in what it is. The Blackbird is not of man’s education, it is born of man’s dreams. To create the SR-71, one must first release everything that he knew about aircraft and embrace what ideas came when he dreamt as a child about space ships. The image that we captured of the rear of the aircraft shows us that the design fits better in a Star Wars movie, rather than an airplane hangar. It is as if the designers visualized a small pod to carry a man, and then bolted two huge rockets onto it.
Photographing the SR-71 is a task in its own right. No matter how many images I poured over in the weeks preceding the shoot, nothing prepared me for the size of the Blackbird. As I stepped out and got my first glimpse of it, many of the ideas I had were changed and many more visualizations replaced them. To make matters a bit more complicated, the weather decided not to play nice and periods of rain delayed the shoot. However, when it all settled, the resulting images were so strong that I kept backups of the raw files on my phone to make sure they got home safely.
While the Blackbird was one of three special aircraft that I photographed on this shoot, it is the one that my mind drifts back to over and over again in disbelief. It is almost as if my brain had just been presented with a very complex puzzle for which a solution may never exist.
Now I know that there will be many people that see the images of the Blackbird and think that I put my initials on the tail of the aircraft. Rest assured that I am not the kind of guy that Photoshops his name on planes. Fortunately, my friend Jaron was one of the people with me on the day of the shoot and grabbed an image that might quell the conspiracy theorists out there…
I want to say a genuine and heartfelt thank you to the United States Air Force for helping put this shoot together. There were many great men and women that helped along the way, and these images would not have existed had it not been for your time and effort.