By Airman 1st Class David Phaff, 47th Flying Training Wing public affairs
/ Published June 07, 2021
Airman 1st Class David Phaff poses for a photo on the flight line on Mar. 24, 2021, at Laughlin Air Force base, Texas. This airman is a aerial photographer who specializes capturing content while flying in aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)
A standard training T-38 flight on Apr. 07, 2021 at Laughlin Air Force Base Texas. The T-38 is the standard aircraft for training pilots who are tracking in the fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
Airman 1st Class David Phaff sits waiting for take off to begin and capture photos and video of aircraft as they fly in several formations on Apr. 20, 2021, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. An aerial photography mission is to capture content while flying with pilots to help document the Air Force mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
The 434th Flying Training Squadron flagship flies cross-country from Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Mar. 20. 2021. The 434th FTS flagship is a symbol of the squadron spirit, and this flagship was painted to commemorate the P-51 Mustang from World War II, flown by Robin Olds.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
Airman 1st Class David Phaff sits waiting for take off to begin and capture photos and video of aircraft as they fly in several formations on May 2, 2021 at Corpus Christi, Texas. An aerial photography mission is to capture content while flying with pilots to help document the Air Force mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
A six-ship dissimilar formation consisting of two T-1A Jayhawks, two T-38 Talons, and two T-6A Texan II aircrafts from Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, practice advanced maneuvering May, 2, 2021. Instructor pilots from the 434th, 87th and 85th Flying Training Squadrons demonstrated the flying proficiency all Air Force student pilots receive during their 52-week Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, before being assigned to their operational career airframe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
An Adrenaline infusing rush, like jumping head-first into icy cold water, that creates an overwhelming sense of nervousness in the pit of my stomach. This is what it felt like the first time I flew in a T-6 Texan II. I soon realized I might have one of the best jobs and office views in the Air Force.
When I first joined, I didn't think I would ever be in a fighter, heavy or a small propeller plane. I assumed I’d be the one taking photos or video outside the aircraft as they zoom overhead.
I might have started out with my feet firmly planted on the ground watching the excitement, but that wouldn't be the case for long.
After being a Laughlin for only a couple short months, I was asked if I wanted to become an aerial photographer and get certified to fly in all trainer aircraft.
I responded with the most pressing question that came to mind, “Do I get my own flight suit?”
Not long after, I went to get fitted for a G-suit and helmet. The process felt like an eternity, due to my level of excitement. Looking back, I was grinning the whole time l, knowing I might be up 30,000 feet the next day. My first time suiting up in my flight gear, was one of the most exhilarating and terrifying times of my military career.
(To put that into perspective, I was a chow runner in basic military training.)
However, the walk on the flight line to the aircraft was different. I walked the same flight line a hundred times, saw all these planes before, and watched them take- off into the horizon. This time was different and from another point of view. One of these aircraft were made before I was born, but were timeless beauties a new-found wonder was established
I gained a new sense of responsibility as I climbed into f the T-6 Texan II cockpit. As I sat in the back seat of the aircraft, tail 617, I imagined how the Red Devils earned their reputation over the years of training pilots.
Camera in hand, I quickly strapped- in, tested my mask and G-suit while remembering all the physiological and aircrew flight equipment training I received. I tried to calm my jitters and excitement, while trying to be as cool as the pilot.
I was ready to fly.
There's no way to describe the feeling that came over me while taking-off. Nothing like a commercial flight. In a glass dome, I watched as the base disappeared, while a sea of white clouds engulfed us. Once we broke through, the sky above reflected the bluest and brightest hue I've ever seen. I saw the world in a new way.
Don’t tell my supervisors, but for the first half of the flight I didn’t capture anything on camera--I was so amazed about everything. Looking at the clouds beneath us, planes surrounding us in formation, as instruments in front of me shifted and screens flashed. I didn’t have a clue what they indicated, but they still captured my attention.
I watched as the world did a flip and the ground became the sky as we started to perform aerial acrobatics
As the planes began to perform aerial maneuvers, I snapped into work mode and raised my camera to start capturing the loops and rolls that were happening in front of me.
My mind started racing with stunning photo and video ideas. After we finished the maneuvers, I looked at my camera and realized i had taken over 700 photos and dozens of video clips.
As we circled around Laughlin and prepared to land, I wished the flight wasn’t over--my mind was racing with so many ideas.
Walking back from the flight line with my helmet bag over my shoulder and the other pilots alongside me, I couldn't believe that this was my job. I get to fly with pilots and see what they see and capture amazing imagery e of these mystical machines.
During my short time as an aerial photographer I’ve flown a couple dozen hours and in the T-6A Texan II, T-1A Jayhawk, and the T-38 Talon, all of which are amazing aircraft, and I’d never trade my experience for anything.
Instead of ending this on some emotional life changing words of advice or excitement or how this experience is one of the best in my life. I'll leave you with a quote from the great Leonardo Da Vinci:
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”