Photographer Dane Penland might have the coolest job in the world.
He’s the sole photographer on site at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. As such, he has the entire museum, and sometimes the original Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, D.C., as his office space.
Working in such cavernous surroundings (Hazy is almost four times the size of the original museum) with such huge subjects, Penland has become a master of lighting, using an array of strobes that he often has to position throughout the airplanes, as well as behind, beneath, and above.
He made this image of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Mach 3 reconnaissance jet that still seems ahead of its time for design and performance. This aircraft accumulated 2,800 hours of flight time over 24 years of active duty with the U.S. Air Force before setting a speed record on its final flight. On that day, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida flew it from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. in 64 minutes and 20 seconds, averaging 2,124 miles an hour. At the conclusion of the flight, they landed at Dulles International Airport and turned the Blackbird over to the Smithsonian for good.
Check out the gallery below for more of Penland’s beautiful shots.
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was a late entry into World War II, designed to intercept German bombers at night and in bad weather. This P-61 was used for various research purposes by the U.S. Army Air Forces, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. It was retired on August 10, 1954 after only 530 flight hours, and was kept for decades at the museum’s Paul E. Garber storage facility in Suitland, Maryland. The airplane is shown here being moved into the Udvar-Hazy Center in May 2006, after which its wings were reattached for display.
Chance-Vought created the F-8 Crusader for the U.S. Navy beginning in 1955. The jet was the first carrier-based fighter able to exceed 1,000 miles an hour. Its low-speed handling characteristics and pilot visibility were improved by a main wing that could elevate up to seven degrees along its entire front edge while rotating about its rear spar. The museum’s model is an RF-8G, one of 73 reconnaissance versions made. Its 7,475.2 flight hours total more than any other U.S. Navy Crusader.
Built by Aerospatiale of France and the British Aviation Corporation, the sleek, supersonic, 100-passenger Concorde is a household name. Trans-Atlantic service began in 1976, when the airplane began ferrying customers across the ocean in less than four hours, about half the time of an ordinary jetliner. The museum’s airplane, which had flown 17,824 hours, was donated by Air France on June 12, 2003, in accordance with a 1989 letter of agreement with the Smithsonian.
The first bomber to house a crew in pressurized compartments, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was designed for the European theater of World War II but was used more in the Pacific. This Superfortress, the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb in history on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. A second B-29, Bockscar, dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki three days later, bringing an unconditional surrender from Japan and the official end to the war. Penland was able to light the airplane inside and out for a unique shot.
A French-built airplane that was rejected in 1917 by the French (who favored the Spad XIII), the Nieuport 28C.1 was adopted by the U.S. Army until they, too, could take delivery of the Spad. The Nieuport became the first fighter plane to serve with an American unit under American command and in support of U.S. soldiers, and scored the first U.S. aerial victory ever. The museum’s artifact is a factory-constructed Nieuport made shortly after the war.
A larger propeller, shorter wings, and putty-filled gaps mark this heavily modified Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat named Conquest, which broke a 30-year-old speed record for piston-powered airplanes in 1969 when National Air Races serial champion Darryl Greenamyer flew it 483 miles an hour. Though that record has since fallen to another Bearcat, Rare Bear, Greenamyer won the Reno air races six times with Conquest, which he donated to the Smithsonian in 1977.
A light glints off the rearview mirror mounted on the canopy of a British Hawker Hurricane, which ranks with the most important aircraft of all time. Designed in the late 1930s, when monoplanes were thought to be unstable, this became the first British monoplane fighter, as well as the first fighter to top 300 miles an hour in level flight. The airplane is often touted as more important than the Supermarine Spitfire in having warded off the German Air Force during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. This Mark IIC was built at the Langley factory, near today’s Heathrow Airport, in early 1944, and was a training aircraft during the war. It was donated by the Royal Air Force Museum.