The Jet as Art

Jeffrey Milstein’s photographs transform aviation technology into fine art

AA 777
Jeffrey Milstein

Jeffrey Milstein likes the big picture. He's photographed the people and architecture of India; the street life of Havana, Cuba; post-World War II trailers—made from surplus aircraft sheet metal—that populate Palm Springs, California; and declining industrial areas along New York's Hudson River.

Now, large prints (up to 50 by 50 inches) from his exhibition (and book) AirCraft: The Jet as Art are on display at the National Air and Space Museum until November 2012.

Milstein's favorite spot for photographing aircraft is runway 24R at Los Angeles International Airport. "You have to find the right spot underneath the flight path," he told the Museum's Carolyn Russo, who curates the exhibition. "Not too far away and not too close. The plane can't be coming in too high or too low, and if the wing dips a little bit to correct for wind, the symmetry will be unequal. It is just a matter of finding the 'sweet spot' so that the aircraft is lined up exactly in the camera's frame."

Check out the photo gallery below to see selections from the exhibition.

(Above) American Airlines Boeing 777-200
2-engine, wide-body airliner
Length: 209 feet, 1 inch
Wingspan: 199 feet, 11 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 545,000 lbs

Air Canada

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

Milstein has long been interested in art, notes Walter J. Boyne in the introduction to the companion book AirCraft: The Jet as Art. He came to aviation at the age of 17 "in the most classic American way—sweeping out hangars to earn flying lessons," and soloed in the classic straight-tail Cessna 150. His instructor was a former Navy pilot, "who took the approaches into Santa Monica airport as seriously as approaches to a carrier." After pursuing a career as an architect, Milstein turned to photography, and decided to combine his two interests. "Returning to the airport approaches," writes Boyne, "this time behind a camera instead of a control column, Milstein photographed aircraft at the precise moment when they passed over head, inbound to land. In doing so, he caught the business side of a modern airliner, the wonderful array of moving parts that the average person never sees, much less recognizes."

Air Canada Boeing 767-300
2-engine, wide-body airliner
Length: 180 feet, 3 inches
Wingspan: 156 feet, 1 inch
Maximum takeoff weight: 351,000 lbs

DHL Cargo

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

"For the historian," writes Boyne, "there is uncanny similarity in layout between the modern jet airliners and the first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262. The historian has to marvel how an instrument of war changed so rapidly into the truest instrument of peace, uniting the people of the world in a manner never before possible."

DHL Cargo Douglas DC-8
4-engine, freighter
Length: 187 feet, 5 inches
Wingspan: 148 feet, 5 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 350,000 lbs

Lockheed Martin

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

The ideal conditions for photographing aircraft, says Milstein, "are an overcast but bright day, preferably late afternoon, when light reflects off the ocean and onto the bottom of the aircraft." Curator Carolyn Russo adds that Milstein often listens to flight control to plan ahead for the type and size of his subject.

Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
2-engine, fighter
Length: 62 feet, 1 inch
Wingspan: 44 feet, 6 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 60,000 lbs

Maryland One

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

Southwest Airlines Maryland One features a full-fuselage depiction of the Maryland state flag. It was the 11th of Southwest's 737s painted in a unique design (others include Slam Dunk One and Shamu One), and the sixth to depict a state flag.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 Maryland One
2-engine, narrow-body airliner
Length: 110 feet, 4 inches
Wingspan: 112 feet, 7 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 154,500 lbs

Southwest Airlines

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

Seen from Milstein's perspective, the viewer gets just a hint of Southwest Airlines' canyon blue primary livery.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300
2-engine, narrow-body airliner
Length: 109 feet, 7 inches
Wingspan: 94 feet, 9 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 139,500 lbs

Beechcraft

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

Among the jets, a propeller-driven aircraft sneaks in. "For the engineer," writes Boyne, "Milstein's works of art are reminders of the long, tortuous history of airfoils, which evolved from bulky wire-rigged forms to the sword shapes of today. The engineer will note the swift development of jets from tiny oil burners, so fragile that they might last only twenty-five hours, to the huge, incredibly powerful engines of today, which run for so many thousands of hours that they are more vulnerable to rust than to wear."

Beechcraft Model 18 (SNB-2)
2-engine, light transport
Length: 35 feet, 2.5 inches
Wingspan: 49 feet, 8 inches
Maximum takeoff weight: 9,900 lbs

Jets on Jets

None
(Jeffrey Milstein)

"Both the art aficionado and the airplane lover can find a resonance in the images when Milstein's photographs are viewed in pairs and groups," writes Boyne. "Although all bear the uniform of high-speed flight—swept wings, streamlined fuselages, and arrow-feathered tail surfaces—each one has its own distinguished being, its own substantial content. There are subtle differences in how each one balances the size of the wings, the length and breadth of the fuselage, the position of the wings, and, always, the array of dangling features—flaps, slats, gear doors, and the fantastic undercarriage that sets you down (in the hands of a good pilot) with ease at three times freeway speed."