The “Top Gun” / Air Force One Remix Opportunity

by Joey deVilla on April 28, 2009

Air Force One

By now, you’re probably aware of the blunder in which a VC-25 (that’s a souped-up Boeing 747) that sometimes serves as Air Force One, the president’s plane, did a number of  low fly-bys over New York City while followed by a fighter plane, causing a fair bit of panic in the city. And for what? A photo op?

(For a change of pace, let me point you to how the story is being covered in Hot Air, one of the premier sites in the right-wing blogosphere to show you how it’s playing out there.)

While the pro-Obama camp see this as a facepalm moment – it’s not just a PR problem for evoking 9/11, but also for the expense as well as the waste of fuel since planes, especially big ones, use lots of juice at low altitudes — and the anti-Obama camp call this a harbinger of the time when he hands over America to its enemies, I choose to view this as a remix opportunity. If you’ve got the time and the video editing software, this is the perfect opportunity to remix the “buzz the tower” scene from Top Gun:

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy April 28, 2009 at 9:48 am

I feel like I’ve heard variations of all their arguments at some point over the past eight or so years… I’m fairly sure that’s irony, but being a techie I don’t consider myself an expert on the matter.

What I do know is that people with no sense of humour are incredibly depressing.

Randy April 28, 2009 at 9:49 am

Aaaargh – accidentally deleted a part of the beginning there. The “all their arguments” refers to the commenters at Hot Air.

Chris Taylor April 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm

The White House, FAA and Air Force need to be a little more forthcoming.

First of all the FAA didn’t issue a NOTAM for ZNY ARTCC, which would have told any interested civil pilots., whose route might take them nearby, that a 747 variant would be zooming around the Statue of Liberty at 1500 feet. Sometimes presidential flights have their NOTAMs released at the last minute (or in secret cases, not at all). A picture shoot should not rate the same level of secrecy as an actual president-is-aboard flight.

Second, F-16s as a still camera platform? It’s doable, but not when you are trying to maintain formation with a manoeuvring flight lead. The F-16 is a single-seater, after all. They would have to have specifically sent up a two-seat trainer, which would put the combat cameraman in the back.

Which leads to the third problem. Most of the footage we have seen involves the F-16 flying echelon right (or in trail), with the VC-25 as lead. That means most of your pics are going to be from three-quarters behind, which don’t make for the best airplane glamour shots. Especially when your camera guy is in the back and most of his forward perspective is obscured by the guy flying the fighter. Typically you would want a side profile or oblique view from the front (compare existing VC-25 shots here). The F-16 should have been out in front (leading the VC-25) most of the time, or his shots are going to suck.

When civilians do this stuff, say for airline commercials (where you see the 747 roll into a hard turn, and peel off to the left like a fighter jet) they hire a larger, more stable—but still very nimble—camera platform, like a Gulfstream business jet, have it fly in formation with the airliner—typically ahead of it—run through it a half-dozen times, taking the shots they need, and then go home. A NOTAM would be published, that part of the airspace would get closed for a specified period of time, ATC would keep other air traffic well away from it.

Now, since the Statue of Liberty is already part of an existing TFR area, the airspace is already closed. But publishing an additional NOTAM, plus allowing the local authorities (who did know, but were instructed not to publicise it) to get the word out, could have avoided this whole mess.

As for the other points… there’s no doubt good and entirely ordinary explanations for them, but keeping it all under wraps makes the whole thing look much worse than it actually was.

Maj X April 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm


You can take or leave my comments, but I feel the need to respond to your post (I found this via Instapundit). I am a current ANG fighter pilot with almost 1700 fighter hours. I have flown several sorties in the past in a D-Model F-16 (2-seater) with a qualified combat photographer in the tub. The shots you get are quite remarkable, and you can get pretty much any angle you desire. It’s as stable as can be, and a Gulfstream would not be a better jet.

You can figure out pretty easily why an F-16 was the camera platform. The Presidential Airlift Group is at located at Andrews. Who else is at Andrews?

This whole furor is driving me a little crazy. FWIW, I actually spoke to the F-16 pilot yesterday…we go way back. As far as I know, he was the only F-16 flying chase with the photog in back. He was on a conference call THAT MORNING with about 30 different agencies, including the DHS, FBI, NYPD and others. This photo op has been in the works for THREE months. THREE! The idea that Obama or Bloomberg didn’t know is ludicrous.

Anyway, I wanted to email Glenn and make some comments on other blogs, but I’m biting my tongue. I’d be more forthcoming with my identity (I don’t care who knows me, but my F-16 bro might) but I’m not sure where the Wing in question wants this to go. If you have other questions, you can email me at the email above and we can keep it offline.

Chris Taylor April 28, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Major X,

I am grateful for your comments regarding the F-16 as camera platform, and I’m sure blog owner Joey is too. I have listened to the ATC feed and know the chase bird was Capital 92 (obviously 113FW) out of Andrews. That goes a long way toward making sense of it all.

Chris Taylor April 29, 2009 at 12:38 am

Joey, you don’t mind if I excerpt some of the Major’s comment at my own blog, do you?

Joey deVilla April 29, 2009 at 12:44 am

Chris Taylor: Go for it!

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