The Master of Air-to-Air Photography

Katsuhiko Tokunaga’s unparalleled images of airplanes in flight.

The United Arab Emirates’ team, Al Fursan (The Knights), flies Alenia Aermacchi MB 339s over Abu Dhabi during a 2014 airshow.
Two Saab Drakens flying nose to tail over Austria in 2005.
Fighting Falcons flying over the South China Sea in 2015
A Boeing F-15J from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force sports impressive art depicting Mount Fuji, Mount Tsukuba, and cherry blossoms, as it flies over Hyakuri, Japan in 2005. The aircraft was painted in Nihonga, or traditional Japanese style, for the 50th anniversary of the JASDF.
These Alenia Aermacchi MB 339s, belonging to the Italian Air Force and United Arab Emirates Air Force, fly together over Dubai in an impressive 18-ship formation in 2015.
A colorful Dassault Mirage 2000 climbs into the clouds over Jagel, Germany.
A Saab Gripen makes a hard right bank over the Palm Jumeirah in the United Arab Emirates in 2008.
A Sukhoi Su-30MKI from the Indian Air Force flies over Burj Al Arab in 2008, during the Desert Falcon Exercise between the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Indian Air Force.
A pair of Kawasaki T-4s reach altitude with smoke on in Matsushima, Japan in 2015. These aircraft are part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force demonstration team, Blue Impulse, established in 1960.

Name a jet—any jet—and chances are high that Katsuhiko Tokunaga has photographed it. For nearly 40 years he’s been considered the master of air-to-air photography, and one of only a handful qualified to choreograph inflight photo shoots of multimillion-dollar jet fighters blasting ahead at hundreds of miles an hour. Tokunaga, who is based in Japan, spends most of the year traveling the world, often doing shoots for European manufacturers and air forces, who trust him with these exceedingly difficult and expensive projects.

Tokunaga recently released the third book in his series of powerful aircraft photography: Super Blue 3. The hefty, 320-page volume (in Japanese) features some of his classic images, like five stacked F-16C Fighting Falcons flying over the South China Sea in 2015 and two Saab Drakens flying nose to tail over Austria in 2005. Tokunaga also follows demonstrator teams to create unique scenes. In Super Blue 3, you’ll find photos of aircraft carrier training, military aircrew engaged in wargames, and tight cockpit shots that make you feel like you’re there for the ride.

See more of Tokunaga’s photos in the gallery above.

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This story is a selection from the August issue of Air & Space magazine

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