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Inaugural Flight of the B787

NOTE: This article was originally written for the maiden flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in December 2009. I’ve republished it here since the Dreamliner has been become one of the mainstream aircraft for long haul passenger flights.

Original date: December 2009

A few short years ago, the Airbus A380 was the object of an extraordinary amount of excitement. During its years of development the A380 was the talk of the industry. I recall my first sighting of the whale-like A380. It appeared to float in the sky as it made its first landing at Chicago O’Hare. A few short months afterwards, I watched as the A380 landed in Sydney, Australia after completing the first commercial flight from Singapore. Here’s a short story about the first A380 commercial flight. In both cases, I was a lucky camper to be able to capture these moments on digital film.

Fast forward a few years and the object of excitement is changed. On Monday December 14th (2009) I arrive at the office in Grand Rapids about 7AM and open an email message telling me that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is about to make its first flight the next day from Paine Field near Seattle, Washington. During preceding months I had been planning to witness this event, but its date was postponed several times. To put it mildly, I am totally unprepared for Tuesday’s event and start to panic.

Using the computer, I check for flights from Grand Rapids to Seattle for later in the day. I spot a $520 fare on United Airlines. However, without additional verbal confirmation of the first 787 flight I decide to wait to book the United flight. Owing to the three hour time zone difference between GRR and SEA, I have to wait until noon to confirm that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is indeed scheduled to fly on Tuesday at 10AM, weather permitting.

Back to airline reservations. Wouldn’t you know that the earlier $520 fare is long gone leaving me with a much more expensive $950 flight. Oh well, that’s the cost of procrastination. Next I make hotel and car reservations and a call to my wife to let her know of my sudden excursion to Seattle. By 1PM I head home to pack my bags and photo equipment to arrive at the airport by 3PM.

Travel from Grand Rapids to Seattle by way of Denver is uneventful and I arrive about 8PM. The one hour drive from Seatac Airport in Seattle to the hotel near Paine Field is in heavy rain. Owing to my late arrival, I have to settle for some elegant fast food for dinner. Back at the hotel as I set my alarm for 7AM, I am wondering if the rain will interfere with tomorrow’s flight.

Bzzzzzzzz! Time to awaken. I draw back the window shades and see that it’s dark, cloudy and drizzly ourdoors. I quickly dress, prepare my cameras and drive to the nearby Future of Flight Museum that sits at the north end of Paine Field. There Mary Brueggeman hurriedly prepares me a parking pass and entry ticket to rooftop viewing area that overlooks the airport. Inside of the museum things are setup for this special “787 First Flight Event“, complete with champagne, continental breakfast and informative Boeing 787 Dreamliner displays.

I take a quick trip up to the rooftop to determine the best spot from which to photograph the takeoff. Once outdoors, I can feel the cold drizzle and strong breeze. I’m still wondering if the flight will take place. Although it’s still quite dark, the 787 is sitting next to a lighted building across the field about a half mile away. At 7:45 there are only a handful of others outdoors, mostly from local television stations doing their broadcasts of the event. Satisfied that I’ll have a good shooting location on the roof, I head back inside to grab some hot coffee and breakfast pastry.

By 8:30, the museum is a beehive of activity with about two hundred guests. You can hear the excitement in their voices. I bundle my coat and head outside again, this time to stake out my shooting position. By now three dozen others have already done the same. Across the field, we can see hundreds of Boeing employees streaming along the tarmac parallel the the taxiway. They too are here to see their new “baby” make its first flight.

After standing outside where it’s a damp 40-degrees for almost an hour, my feet and hands are cold. As the clock draws closer to 10AM, the rooftop viewing area is now jammed with about 400 onlookers with cameras staring at the motionless Dreamliner across the field. The strobe lights atop the aircraft have been flashing, but the aircraft shows no movement at all. Although it’s a half-mile away, I can hear its engines spool up. The 787 is finally moving and the crowd lets out a collective cheer. The sleek blue and silver aircraft follows a pilot card to runway 14R and then slowly parades 6000 feet along the taxiway as if it strutting its stuff for the Boeing employees and executives. Next it taxis to the far end of the airport just off of runway 34L. It sits there for a few minutes and then taxis into position on the runway. Everyone is now anxiously anticipating the takeoff.

Approaching from the south I see two small, low flying jet aircraft heading directly for runway 34L. These are the chase planes. Everyone knows that it’s now show time. Like a perfectly co-ordinated dance, the 787 engines spool up and the aircraft is finally rushing down the runway with the chase planes appearing to hang just overhead. The timing of the chase planes is exacting. The guests are now cheering loudly as the 787 races forward. At about the 5000 foot marker, the nose wheel comes off the ground. A few seconds go by and finally it’s airborne. The cheers are even louder now with lots of applause.

As it flies passes us, the Dreamliner is only a two hundred feet off the ground. The myriad of camera shutters are still snapping away and heads are turning to follow its path. As it slowly departs to the north, you can clearly see the distinctive bow of its wings as if they’re flexing. What a great looking aircraft.

Congratulations to all of the Boeing employees and subcontractors who have made it happen.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge

Boeing workers lined up on the tarmac

following the pilot car

a head on shot of the 787

crossing over runway 16R

first the nose wheel is off the runway

now all three wheels are off ground – it’s flying

the 787 is now airborne

ready for the climb

The Dreamliner passes by at 200ft

You can see wings bow on the Dreamliner



Written by Arnie Lee


Flying Museums

11th December 2014

Warbirds up Close

For more than a 15 years in one of my previous careers, our company was immersed in the world of flight simulation.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the job was attend the many aviation air shows and events. Yearly we would trek to Florida, California, New York and Wisconsin to name a few places where we could see and touch a multitude of flying machines. My favorite time was strolling along side the many historic aircraft from World War II.

Here’s an up close look at of some of the warbird aircraft that we eagerly visited but from a slightly different viewpoint than you would ordinarily see.

Dakota Kid – North American P-51D Mustang

Marine’s Dream – Vought F4U Corsair

Hot Stuff – Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon

Miss Magic – North American T28B Trojan

Annie Mo – Vought F4U Corsair

VMF – unknown Marine Fighter Squadron aircraft

Panchito – North American B-25J Mitchell

Martha Jean – North American B-25J Mitchell

I think you’ll agree that there is certainly a lot of artistic pride and patriotic flavor to these fine examples of nose art.
Written by: Arnie Lee

Photographing Air Force One

26th January 2011

Having been involved with Flight Simulation software over the years, I’ve been taking pictures of aircraft for some time now. My collection includes thousands of aircraft photos and one of my favorite group are the pictures of Air Force One that I’ve captured.

Air Force One is the huge Boeing 747 that flies the President of the United States to various places around the world. It’s easily recognizable by its distinctive blue and while colors.

Shooting Planes

30th November 2010

Aviation Photography
learn from my many years of practice

Over the years, I’ve shot many planes – with a camera. In fact, I’ve been interested in aviation for a long time. I began taking pictures of all things aviation at a young age and recall the excitement of visiting the airport to pick up relatives. I would race to the rooftop viewing area to catch a glimpse of the planes like these:

Here’s America’s first jet airliner, the Boeing 707 Astrojet.

Taken in 1963 at Idewild Airport in New York. The airport is now known as John F Kennedy.

Let’s skip forward 30 years to the mid-1990s when our company has already become involved with flight simulation. I find myself immersed in the emerging new world of digital photography and am now ready to marry two of my long time interests: photography and aviation. With digital, the equipment and processing techniques are radically different from conventional film photography. But the basics of photography haven’t changed much. Therefore I’m in a position to benefit from my prior photographic know-how.

The remainder of this article are a collection of tips that I hope you can use.

TIP: you don’t have to buy an expensive digital camera to take quality aviation photos. Below, I’ve listed the camera used for each photo. But you’ll see from the wide range of equipment I’ve used, that the camera’s maximum resolution isn’t all that important unless you are going to make large, printed enlargements. You’ll see that for web pages, resolutions that starting at 1.4 MP and increasing to 10+ MP are all quite satisfactory.

The vast array of digital cameras make taking aviation photos very forgiving …. and very inexpensive – verging on free. And with instant development that’s faster than a Polaroid, the built-in color LCD gives you immediate feedback so you can try again when you need to reshoot. You can hardly miss using a digital camera with silicon film and a computer as your darkroom.

The first digital camera that I used was a single lens reflex (SLR) called the Olympus C-1400L. With a resolution of 1.4 MP and 3x zoom lens, it produced very acceptable images. To take the photo of the Beech B200 below, I was standing behind a chain link fence. You can clearly see the vignetting of the image (shadow) at the upper left corner due to the fence. TIP: avoid fences Click the thumbnail below of the Beech B200 to see an enlargement. You’ll see that the photo is quite sharp and has a lot of detail. So you can see that 1.4 MP is quite adequate for photos that are destined for web pages.

Olympus C-1400L

Beech B200 at Lake Tahoe (KTVL) taken with C-1400L in 1998.
1280 X 1024 pixels (1.4MP)
A few years later, I graduated to the Olympus C-2000 with 2.1 MP resolution, also with a 3X zoom lens. The picture of Lake Mead was taken on approach into Las Vegas. TIP: sit by the window From my window seat, I was able to capture the rugged shoreline of the Colorado River / Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. The resolution here is fine enough to capture the boats skimming across the water. Minimize the glare by keeping the lens close to the window surface. If the sunshine is falling on your window, you may not be able to take quality shots since the glare may be excessive. When you’re ready to take a picture out of the windows, sometimes the direction of sunshine is a matter of luck.

Olympus C-2000
Lake Mead shortly before landing
in Las Vegas (KLAS) taken with C-2000 in 2000.

1600 x 1200 (2MP)

Aircraft normally make left-hand traffic – left hand turns on the approach to landing. So before the flight from Paris to Nice, I requested a window on the left side of the plane. This would allow me to see the approach to the airport over the blue Mediteranean. Had I been sitting on the right-hand side, I would be looking at a lot of sky as the pilot made left-hand turns! TIP: choose a window seat on the left side of the aircraft

Olympus C-2000
Flying downwind leg for landing in
Nice Cote D’Azur (LFMN) taken with C-2000 in 2000.

1600 x 1200 (2MP)

Many photos of aircraft are taken through the window of an airport terminal. While this is often the most practical way to get your snapshots, shooting through the glass introduces an extra layer which can degrade the final image. TIP: when possible, get out from behind the glass Many airports have rooftop viewing areas which not only are glass free but get you closer to the the action. On the roof, you may have views of the tarmac that are totally inaccessible from the terminal below.

Pentax Optio SV

Shot from the rooftop viewing area at

Amsterdam Schiphol (EHAM) taken with
Pentax Optio SV in 2003. 2592 x 1944 (5MP)

Many of the most impressive aviation photos are of planes that are either taking off or landing. TIP: take shots of takeoffs and landings For takeoffs, wait until the nose wheel is lifting off the runway. For landings, wait until the main wheels are just making contact with the runway. With a little practice you’ll hit it just right.

Canon Digital Rebel

Shot from the Sunset Blvd viewing area at
McCarran International (KLAS) taken with

Canon Digital Rebel in 2005. 3072 x 2048 (6MP)

One common complaint is that photos taken with digital cameras often lack contrast. TIP: boost contrast with software This problem is often solved after-the-fact after you’ve transferred your images to the computer. Many photo editing programs offer the “auto levels” feature which enhances the contrast, adjusts the white balance and make the overall photo snappier and more pleasing.

Olympus 720SW

Kalamazoo (KAZO) taken with Olympus 720SW in 2006. 2304 x 3072 (7MP)
Same shot enhanced with Photoshop Elements (auto levels) to make it more “snappy”

When shooting with lower cost digital cameras, there is often a delay between the time you take the first shot and the camera is ready for the next. If the delay is lengthy, you may miss an important photo. More capable cameras are able to capture multiple shots rapidly. TIP: be patient and don’t hurry the shot Very often, you’ll get the best shot by waiting patiently until the plane passes at the closest point to the camera. Below, you can see that by waiting for only a short time I was able to capture the right hand shot with much more detail.

Canon 20D

Shot a few seconds apart at Grand Rapids (KGRR) taken with Canon 20D in 2005. 3504 x 2366 (8MP)
For action shots, you’ll need to use a high shutter speed. TIP: use a shutter speed high enough to stop the action A shutter speed of 1/300 or shorter is usually able to stop the action. Most digital SLR cameras have a sports mode which can be used to photograph flying aircraft. With other digital cameras you can set the shutter speed manually. The fast-moving A-10 below was shot using the sports mode.

Canon 20D

A-10 landing at Nellis AFB (KLSV) taken with Canon 20D in 2006. 3504 x 2366 (8MP)
Get the lighting right. For maximum detail, you’ll want to make sure that the sunlight is shining over your shoulder as you shoot. TIP: keep the sun shining over your shoulder Backlighting (light coming from behind the subject) makes for great silhouettes and shots of the sun, but it usually hides or obscures the detail. For best results, keep the light behind the camera.

Canon 5D

DC-9 departing Grand Rapids (KGRR) taken with Canon 5D. 4368 x 2912 (12MP)
Now is a good time to take the camera out of its case and head on down to the airport. I’ve found the best way to gain proficiency is to take shot after shot after shot. Afterwards, review the captured images to see your results and adjust your techniques accordingly. After all, digital film is free.

For other examples, visit our Photo Gallery that has hundreds of other aviation related photos.

To view another fantastic site with very impressive photos taken by talented photographer Ralph Duenas and other members, visit Jet Wash Images

Quick Definitions

MP – megapixel (million of pixels) – measurement of camera resolution (e.g. 3504 pixels x 2366 pixels = 8,290,464 pixels = 8 megapixels)

SLR – single lens reflex – a type of camera that allows you to view the subject directly through the lens

LCD – liquid crystal display – a small viewing screen that displays the subject, the captured image (or both)

Author: Arnie Lee Unless otherwise noted, photos are from the author’s personal collection.