When a pilot is flying along at 500 miles per hour and 70,000 feet above the Earth, you could think their complete focus is on flying. But regarding U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ross Franquemont, multitasking seems a requirement. The Air Force pilot flew through the northern lights and has shared these spectacular photographs from his cockpit.
A U-2 spy plane pilot by day and a photographer by night, Franquemont a short while ago had the opportunity of taking pictures of the Aurora Borealis from his cockpit. The 40 year old’s once-in-a-lifetime images include an awesome selfie, in which the green natural light is visible reflecting on the pilot’s helmet and whirling around beyond the cockpit window.
“I had no idea how fast the aurora moved and changed. It danced around, changing shape several times a second. That made it a challenge for the photographer in a spacesuit sitting in shaking metal can moving 500 mph,” Ross commented after capturing these images.
“To get somewhat crisp shots, I had to use a pretty fast shutter speed, no faster than about a second. My wide angle lens could open to f2.8 and to get anything usable, I had to bump the ISO up to about 8000. I knew that movement would be an issue but I wasn’t sure until I was shooting it what settings I would use. I found that to get even crisper shots, I had to speed up the shutter even more because of how fast the aurora itself was changing. This meant an even higher ISO. Most of the shots have a noticeable grain from the high ISO. Shooting the selfies was also a challenge. I actually took those on a whim and hadn’t planned on it.”
The Lockheed U-2 plane that Franquemont flies is nicknamed “Dragon Lady.” It seats one individual and can travel at 70,000 feet with a total range of about 6,400 miles. Soon after publishing his photos, the Air Force received quite a few enquiries from people keen on flying U-2s. Due to the high altitude, the pilots must put on a partially pressurised space suit and they have to breathe 100% oxygen for an hour before take-off.
Lt. Col. Ross Franquemont said he would love to take everyone up to witness an aurora but, “We’ll have to wait for Virgin Galactic.” Although not quite the same, you could travel to Iceland and enjoy the spectacle that is the Northern Lights from the Panorama Glass Lodge.