Shooting for Scale

October 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

With the coming of spring to south-central Arizona the hot weather moves in, the winter visitors move out, and the annual Mesa Police Department Safety Fly-In hovers and lands.

Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix, though it is easily the third most populous city in the state, surpassed only by Phoenix and Tucson. And, like those bigger brothers, has an aviation unit attached to its police force — one that takes safety seriously. And not just their safety.

The Phoenix metropolitan area has nearly three million people, is home to some of the busiest airports in the country, and is served by not just Phoenix and Mesa PDs from the air, but also Maricopa County Sheriff and Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopters. In addition, there are several helicopter training companies, news stations, and both Boeing (AH-64 Apache) and MDHI (MD 500E, etc.) helicopter manufacturers. On the west side of the metro area is Luke Air Force Base, which operates helos in the SAR role, and just north of Sky Harbor Airport is an Army National Guard unit that flies Black Hawks. Throw in the occasional DEA or US Customs and Border Protection bird, and that's a lot of rotors plying the skies and, thus, a lot of opportunities for increased risks in operations.

To reduce the risks for everyone's operations, in 2000 the Mesa PD aviation unit inaugurated a safety fly-in, inviting any and all helicopter operators to join together for a day of conversation, camaraderie and, most importantly, briefings and presentations on safety-related topics.

The unit has held the fly-in every year since and, in addition to meeting up with old friends, I took the opportunity to photograph aircraft coming and going during the 2016 event. Which means I also had a chance to capture images of one of my favorite subjects: people. There's just something entrancing about people, especially when they are working. Combine that with helos and…

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 415x The opportunity arises, thus, to give a sense of scale to aircraft. Most often we see them either isolated on the ground or in the air (and I mean see them in photographs), where humans are either absent or ensconced within them. Having people walking around them, interacting with them or each other, adds an extra dimension to the images. MD500E N505MP MesaPD 20160413 39

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 154x
aircraft and people at 2016 Mesa PD Safety Fly-In
UH-12E Hiller N922HA 20160413 33

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 353x
aircraft and people at 2016 Mesa PD Safety Fly-In
AS350B3 N973AE PHI 20160413 37

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 219x
aircraft and people at 2016 Mesa PD Safety Fly-In
Eagle Helicycle N143PG 20160413 09

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 412x
At this event, too, was an opportunity to contrast a couple of aircraft; another exercise in showing scale.

The image, above, is of Joe Goetz (center), builder and pilot of this Eagle Helicycle; a single-seat turbine. Below, the AH-1 Cobra of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, Arizona Chapter.

AH-1 Cobra Sky Soldier 20160413 09x

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 009
aircraft and people at 2016 Mesa PD Safety Fly-In
Each aircraft drew bevies of onlookers, once the aircraft and the flight line were secure. And since they were kind enough to park them next to each other, I shot the final image after the attendees had made their way to the auditorium for the safety seminar. What struck me was not just their differences, but their similarities.

Eagle Helicycle N143PG AH-1 Cobra 20160413 01x

Mesa PD Safety Fly-In 20160413 439
People. People and helicopters. Just helicopters. It pays to look — there's always something to see.

Thanks to Officer Mike Traficano and administrator John Cauthen of the Mesa Police Department Aviation Section for inviting me to the event. Fly safe, everyone.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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