Tales from the Bonfire | Behind the Shot
Tales from the Bonfire | Jul 10, 2023
Tales from the Bonfire | Behind the Shot

Andy Keech

Some pictures are swans … all grace on the surface, while paddling furiously underneath. This was one of those.

Images came to me while asleep much as dreams do. They would also evaporate when I woke, as dreams do also. So I kept a sketch pad beside the lightstand and would sketch that “freebie” image so I would remember it after I woke in the morning.

This image is from one such sketch, and was the longest to finally get onto film. It took four years to figure out how to take it, then find the subjects and aircraft. It finally came together over Raeford sometime in the late ‘70s. That day, there was a solid overcast, which called for an exposure two stops, or four times, more than full sunlight. However, we planned to take the picture above that overcast—so in full sunlight. The aperture was set accordingly.

On climbing above the cloud cover, I was surprised to find there was another overcast above, around 20,000 feet. I was unable to readjust the exposure, and we made jump run with a seriously underexposed setting. The pilot pulled the power back, and jumpers began climbing out and onto the airframe. As this completed, the nose of the Lockheed began dropping such that the pilot could no longer hold it level. Airspeed increased, and bodies began being pulled off the exterior. After most had deplaned, control was restored and we descended with the disappointment that the film was very underexposed.

On the ground during debrief, we came to the conclusion that the dropping of the nose was from the center of gravity moving with the jumpers being forward over the wing. I apologized for not anticipating that happening, and that the film was probably useless. But, to a man, they said, “Let’s do it again.” So we did.

This time we placed jumpers on both sides of the fuselage, more rearward than the first attempt. To our surprise, the nose dropped again in a much more vigorous way and jumpers departed whether they chose to or not.

The camera worked as well as we hoped, and we finished with two exposed canisters of film. At this point, we concluded that the nose dropped because once jumpers climbed out, they blanketed the elevator to the point that it would not hold the fuselage horizontal. By putting jumpers on both sides of the fuselage, we only made the blanketing more complete. On development of the film, the first roll was indeed underexposed, but could be adjusted on the ground. All was well, to much relief.

This image became the cover of “Skies Call 2.”

Andy Keech | USPA #352738
San Diego, California

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