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By Joseph Dempsey vultee

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Do not panic.

Nobody's hurt. There was not an attack. The smoke and fire is not the result of a strafing run. Do not scramble National Guard F16s. The sinister plume comes from a burning rice field on the outskirts of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The farmer is using the most effective natural method to clear post-harvest stubble from his field, a common local practice.

Not everyone, however, is afforded this vista of the event.

I was in the back seat of a well-restored World War II trainer, the venerable Vultee BT13 (the Navy Version was called SNV-1), on the return leg of an aerial photo shoot. The Vultee first took to the air in 1939. Thousands were manufactured until 1948 when production ceased. With its unfettered view to the sides, the Vultee is an ideal platform for aerial photography.

The aircraft's military markings might lead one to believe that the pilot was surveying the havoc he had just wreaked. I have to admit, as I shot the image, the thought crossed my mind. I imagined myself, the back seat occupant, as the first recipient of bullet-borne retribution by an angered aerial warrior on the other side, hell bent on revenge. I quickly changed channels and got back to the fun part.

The ride was a schoolboy's dream. Since I hired the plane and pilot, he went where I asked him to go. The nine-cylinder Pratt and Whitney engine with its throaty roar created background music right up there with the Ride of the Valkyries. I only wish I had taken a scarf to flap in the breeze. It is one of the best "ud-n, ud-n" experiences a good ol' boy could have. And I was being paid for it. Even better.

The cockpit is spartan at best. There is no floor. The only structures below you are the pedals and some airframe components on which you can rest your feet. Otherwise, you are looking at the inside bottom of the fuselage. It's tantamount to riding on top of a round-bottomed bucket. If you drop something, you are out of luck. There are only two methods to retrieve what you drop, neither of which is highly desirable.

The first is to disassemble the fuselage. The second: Ask the pilot to fly the bird upside down. Then hope you can catch whatever you've dropped as it streaks past your face after gravity takes charge. Fat chance. And yes, there is a front Nikon lens cap at the bottom of the plane even as we speak.

We landed. I paid the pilot and went on my way, feeling cool. Nikon still makes lens caps.

N O T E S:  
Nikon D100 / Nikon 18-35 Zoom / Photoshop CS3 post-processing

Find out more about the Vultee BT 13 here:

Get a view as a passenger inside the plane here:

See the results of the aerial shoot here:

Click the jump wings
to see the previous Photo of the Week. . . .

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