Monday, January 28, 2019

Is my pilot safe? - Part 3

The last two blog posts have passed along my perspective on how important the pre-flight briefing is for both the pilot and photographer.  Nothing less than a commitment to flying as a team will provide a baseline for safe execution when airborne.  But there are a lot of things that can still go wrong, even with the best of briefs!

As aviation photographers, we should be prepared to sit through, and if asked, participate in the post-flight debrief.

A simple, straightforward, no frills debrief
Throughout aviation, the concept of “no egos in the debrief” has developed so that we all can learn from our mistakes, because even the best among us will make them.  Good pilots and aviation photographers should want the constructive criticism of a debrief, as it helps refine the rough edges, and catch problems that we may be blind to in our self-evaluation.  I’ve taken my lumps in the debrief as a photographer and as an aircrew.  The best pilots I’ve flown with will have a few comments on what was otherwise a well-executed flight – and we should expect as much.  If your pilot brushes off the debrief, or worse yet, shows some “attitude” when other flight members attempt to debrief them, those should be red flags to you that this pilot may not be someone you want to rely on in the dynamic regime of air-to-air photo missions.

During the debrief, when the pilots all look at you and ask "did you get it" you had better have the right answer! Time, fuel and maintenance hours were all devoted to your attempt to capture these aircraft in flight, so I hope for your sake the answer is "Yes!" Photoflights are busy, so at least prior to the debrief you need to have taken a cursory look at the images via your camera LCD.  Some photographers will show all of their photos to the pilots during the debrief - but I recommend that you don't do that.  Unedited RAW photos are a bit like the ingredients in a gourmet meal - they may be uninspiring or even downright unappetizing by themselves, but when placed in the hands of a skilled chef, they make for an amazing dining experience.  This is another reason to become familiar with the in-camera editing features of your camera.  If you can take a RAW image and do an in-camera conversion, crop, rotate and color balance - then at least what you show the pilots won't be that far from the final result (all depending on your editing technique).

Be prepared to discuss what worked and what didn't work!
And finally, if your pilots ask for your input on how they could have flown the photoflight better, be direct, addressing either a specific formation or flight event that did not fit your photo plan well.  If you saw what you thought was a safety issue, bring that up as well, but understand that your knowledge of aviation and formation flying may not be as extensive as that of your formation pilots.  Regardless, a good group of pilots will realize that if the photographer is uncomfortable with how the flight is conducted, then the chances of accomplishing the photo mission are dramatically reduced. Don't belabor the points - the debrief really isn't about you, but you must absolutely be prepared to give your input (when asked) in a concise manner.

These are obviously not the only ways that you can “Get to know” your air-to-air pilots, but they are the most concrete ones that I use daily when working in aviation.  You absolutely must get to know your pilots, and likewise they have to get to know you as well.  Realize that the evaluation during the brief, flight and debrief will be two-way, and do your best to live up to your pilot’s expectations of professional conduct – and expect nothing less from them in return.

Did you miss Parts 1 and 2? 
 Part 1 can be read - HERE
 Part 2 can be read - HERE

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