The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

2016 Dulles Day Plane Pull and 5K / 10K on the Runway

Dulles Day 5K / 10K On the Runway

In 1993 Dulles International Airport held the World's very first Plane Pull, a charity event in partnership with Special Olympics, that began a phenomenon of other plane pull charity events worldwide.  In 2013, Dulles added a 5K (and in 2014 a 10K) to Dulles Day.  While technically the 5K / 10K is a separate event from the Plane Pull, it is always held on the morning of as the newest annual part of Dulles Day.  Each year 2,500 participants are able to run on R/W 1R and return to the Start / Finish via T/W K.  It is one of Potomac River Running's most popular runs, both because it offers the unique opportunity to be a pedestrian on an airfield (and run under the wing of a United 777), and there is no other run of that distance which offers a perfectly flat venue other than a track.

In previous years I've been on the ground for photos (thank you to Airport Operations for always providing me with speedy transport anywhere I need to go), but this year I was in the helicopter circling the event to capture new angles and promo photos I haven't gotten for this event before. In contrast to the other photographers at the event who are tasked with capturing each runner's photo, my assignment for the Plane Pull each year is to document the entire day and capture marketing photographs in a photojournalistic manner.

Thanks to an unexpected, last-minute delay of the race start, I was able to capture some great photos and video footage of the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center before the run got underway.

Also visible is Washington Dulles International Airport's Concourses and Terminal, ATCT, VMF, and R/W 12/30.

Huge thanks to Bussman Aviation and all the fine folks in Dulles Airport Operations who make aerial photography and the entire day possible!

If you're looking for the video footage, scroll to the bottom of this blog post.

Dulles Day Plane Pull

The Dulles Day Plane Pull is a Summer festival suitable for all ages, and is great for families and aviation enthusiasts alike.  There are food vendors, games, giveaways, booths and displays, demonstrations, a classic car show, ARFF and Mobile Lounge rides / tours, live music, and ~50 private, vintage, and military aircraft on display, but the main attraction is the Plane Pull itself; ~100 teams compete in pulling a FedEx 757 or a United A320.

The first pull to kick off the day every year is always the Special Olympics team.  This year they had a little help from Superman!

Another notable team is the Fairfax County Police Department.  Dulles's property crosses over between Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, and many of the teams that compete are police and sheriffs offices in the surrounding communities.  The police community is already a tightly knit brotherhood, and that family is brought together every year with this friendly competition amongst neighboring jurisdictions.

Something of my own tradition I've begun since I began documenting the Plane Pull in 2013, every year I capture an aerial portrait of Eero Saarinen's famous Dulles Main Terminal Building.  This year’s Plane Pull was overcast - excellent for pictures of people and scenes, but not the most flattering light for glamour shots of buildings.  The iconic Main Terminal Building is seen here with ongoing construction for the Dulles Metrorail Project entering the bottom of the frame, including excavation and two cranes.

For 10 straight years now eyes have been on the Chesapeake Sheriff's Office; the team with an outright dominant reign as the Dulles Plane Pull's fastest.  They successfully defended their title for the 10th year in a row, with a time of 4.872s; 2016's fastest pull, however just short of setting a new Plane Pull record - a record of 4.753 they set in 2015.

The Dulles Day Plane Pull is also a planespotter's / AVGeek's dream; ATC does their best to route as much international, heavy, and otherwise interesting traffic to the nearby center runway.  Guests are encouraged to bring their cameras, and it's common for folks to come just to grab a lobster roll and planespot alongside the taxilane the entire afternoon in anticipation of spotting a jumbo like Lufthansa's 747-8i or Air France's A380.  This is completely in addition to the static private, vintage, and military aircraft on display.

Once again, I have to thank Bussman Aviation and all the fine folks in Dulles Airport Operations who make aerial photography and the entire day possible!  I rely on these fantastic folks to get me from A to B in speedy fashion, and what I do wouldn't be possible without them!

Video Footage

Here is a collection of the video footage I captured at this year's annual 2016 Dulles Plane Pull benefitting Special Olympics Virginia. Still photographs are my main focus, so this is content I captured between the still photos I captured to document the day.

2014 Dulles Day Plane Pull and 5K / 10K on the Runway

Summer is just about over, and that means it's time for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's 22nd Annual Dulles Day Plane Pull benefitting Special Olympics.  But first, the 2nd Annual 5K on the Runway, with the addition of a 10K for the first time this year.

2nd Annual 5K / 10K on the Runway

This year's 5K and brand new 10K took place in a different location than last year; runners gathered at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in preparation to run on R/W 1R / 19L - last year participants experienced R/W 1C / 19C, meaning that repeat competitors (and there were a LOT of returnees) have run upon half of Dulles' runway offerings.  Running on the runway, taxiways, and airfield offers runners an oppertunity usually only found on purpose built tracks: the ability to participate on a 100% flat, straight course.

Of course a fun event like this brings fun folks... and as it's an Airport and Air and Space Museum, there were aviation fans, like this team of runners dressed as flight attendants.

Runners were treated to a morning run in thick fog under a warm sunrise.  The Southern end of the airport often has fog in the morning due to the climate created between the open fields of the airfield and nearby wooded areas.

United Airlines lent a 777-222 ER for the occasion for runners to pass under as they crossed the threshold and entered the runway.  United's jet was towed through the fog and parked on the end of R/W 1R, as if cleared for departure.

The sun rose just before the 5K's start (and 10K soon after), burning off some of the fog.  Runners began at the Start / Finish line located behind the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and traversed up the access ramp leading to R/W 1R (this is how aircraft are brought to the museum directly from R/W 19L).  Competitors then ran North on R/W 1R; 10K runners ran the full length of the runway before returning down T/W K, and 5K runners turned around at the K7 high-speed.

While out on the "track" I spotted Cedric Givens, a veteran Mobile Lounge driver at Dulles who is famous for running backwards; a talent that has landed him in CBS Evening News and The Washington Post.  I had the pleasure of getting to know Cedric in 2005, the very first year I began my relationship with Dulles.  Here he is today, running, as always, backwards.

10K runners got to experience the vast size of a runway capable of handling international aircraft.  People simply look like ants when placed on a 11,500' long x 150' wide runway.  Most people don't even realize the size of basic runway markings such as the centerline striping, which must be massive to be seen easily from the air.  Another treat participants experienced was seeing the overwhelming amount of rubber left behind in touchdown zones.

Many people also took the opportunity to snag a unique selfie with Eero Saarinen's historic Main Terminal in the background.

Dulles' Airport Manager Chris Browne congratulated Cedric during the 5K / 10K awards ceremony.  After the race, many runners and spectators joined Cedric in dancing to celebrate another great 5K / 10K on the Runway.

Before heading from the race site to the Plane Pull, I caught up with Chris, with whom I continue to work closely through my photography, and Erik, who was my supervisor during my time in the Engineering Department, and continual mentor.  I am very grateful to both these men, who have had incredible influence over the success of my career.  Thank you both, for so much.

22nd Annual Dulles Day Plane Pull

With the conclusion of the 5K / 10K, it was almost time part two of the day to kick off - the 22nd Annual Dulles Day Plane Pull, located on the opposite side of the airfield, where aircraft were already landing and being marshaled to the show space.

Dulles' Plane Pull is a family fun festival with rich history and tradition.  The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department and Fire Battalion presented The Colors and performed The National Anthem during the opening ceremony.  Police Chaplain Charlie Grant then delivered the invocation prayer, as he does every year, to keep all participants and spectators safe.

After some introductions, it was time to award the check to Special Olympics.  This year a record $275,000 was raised by Plane Pull teams and donated by sponsors.

And with that, it was time for the 2014 Plane Pull's first pull of the day: Special Olympic athletes always get first crack at pulling FedEx's 757-231 SF.


To start things out, I decided to check out the car show, where I met some friendly faces.  Jeff Meadows and his crew of folks from ANA were helping organize the show, and I also ran into Brandon with his award winning M3, which I have photographed several times at the many weekends I've spent at Katie's Cars and Coffee in Great Falls, Virginia.  This time I got a unique view, from the sky, since I also photographed Brandon's M3, and the entire car show, as I flew by in the helicopter (look for that later on in this post).

Nearby was UDoVooDoo performing for visitors while they grabbed a bite.

After quickly slurping up a blue-raspberry snow cone (giving myself a brain freeze and smurf-tongue), I toured some of the vendor tents.  First was the Silver Line and Dulles Toll Road.

Nearby was Marketplace Development, which had the largest draw throughout the whole day, with balloon animals and face painting for the kids, and a prize wheel for everyone.

You've seen fire trucks before, but most have never seen an ARFF truck, or Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting crash truck.  At the Plane Pull, visitors don't just get to see these purpose built trucks, but they also got to ride in them.  Firefighters gave kids tours of the trucks, explaining the unique needs in an airport work environment, and then took them for rides along T/W Z.  Along the ride, the firefighters pretended to put respond to a real call, taking off at full speed along the taxiway, with lights and siren, stopping to spray the robotic water jets.

Nearby were airfield tours on Dulles' signature Mobile Lounges and Plane Mates.  Lounges also took T/W Z to reach the rest of Dulles' airfield.

At this point it was time for the first of two helicopter flights I was scheduled for.  Pilot Steve Bussman specializes in flying aerial photography missions, and always flies at special airport events including the Plane Pull each year.  I've flown with him several times previously; he is always exactly on point in getting the footage and images needed.  This time I was not only tasked with covering the Plane Pull, but also surveying progress and future sites of Metro's Silver Line.  I am combining the two flights below, without the Silver Line survey photos I needed.

PS: Steve and his crew know how to have fun (while being safe).

While in the air, I also shot some video; this was mostly for fun.  I don't claim to be a videographer, and I shot this handheld with an unstabilized camera / lens.  Bussman Aviation does have a huge outfit of aerial video equipment such as gyros and camera pods, but this is unnecessary for still photography.

Once back on terra firma, I spotted some plane spotters - there's no telling if someone is new or seasoned, because everyone is a plane spotter on Dulles Day.  Visitors are allowed right up to Zulu's taxiway threshold, containing active vehicular traffic; not far away is T/W Y and R/W 1C / 19C, which are both active to ground and air traffic.  This safely brings people within unprecedented proximity to the active airfield, and allows everyone to get very close photographs of aircraft landings and departures.  Air Traffic Control and air carriers all coordinate to try and direct as much traffic onto the center runway adjacent the Plane Pull (without creating disruption to regular air service) for patrons to spectate to their hearts content.

Spotters were treated to an up-close view of Air France's A380 landing, as well as aircraft from Air China, Aeroflot, British Airways, Lufthansa, ANA, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and of course domestic carriers including United, American Airlines, and Southwest.

Of course, the runway isn't the only place to spot aircraft.  Almost 50 modern and vintage aircraft were on display, with many open to the public to hop in and check out for themselves.


Of course there is also Dunk-A-Cop; wildly popular with the kids.  This officer was having a great time.

Kids can pull too!  Get training while young - kids can try their hand at pulling a 123 Junk truck.

Back to the Plane Pull!  I unfortunately *just* missed the 8x defending champions, the Chesapeake Sheriff's Office pulling.  I *saw* them pull, but didn't get there in time to photograph, walking back from my second helo flight - due to other teams being delayed, Chesapeake was moved up 30 minutes from their 4PM scheduled pull time I expected.

If you see just one team pull, this is the team to see.  Spoiler: They successfully defended their title for Fastest Pull (and Heaviest Team) for the 8th straight year.

At the end of the day, after all teams had pulled, it was time for the award ceremony, with trophies for awards such as "Most Money Raised," and superlatives like, "Best Dressed Team."

After the public had left, aircraft began spooling up and departing.  Another wonderful and successful Dulles Day Plane Pull comes to a close.  Here's to another great one in 2015!

Behind the Scenes

Dulles Day is a massive event that takes months of planning and non-stop coordinated logistics.  I have to thank everyone at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority who continually ensures I have the access I need to cover all aspects of detailed airport events.  I especially have to thank my friends in Airport Operations, who are immensely helpful in working hot, and zipping me from one side of the airfield to the other (for those of you wondering, runways do NOT have speed limits).

Furthermore, the hardworking MWAA Police also deserve thanks for keeping everyone safe, and helping organize such a wonderful event.

And of course a big thanks to Pilot Steve Bussman for being so helpful in flying and helping me capture the aerial views of Dulles.  Here he is flying over the 5K / 10K.

Of course flying near an active event gets you attention, so I have to thank photographer Dave Hallock for capturing some great shots of me flying over the event as he was visiting the Plane Pull.  Check out his work here.

Even cooler than my in-flight selfie.

I also ran into John, a fellow photographer and aviation enthusiast with the FAA who has enjoyed many events at Dulles, including several Discover Dulles events such as The Solar Impulse.  Here he is photographing his brother during the 5K.

And finally there's Dennis.  Everyone at Dulles knows Dennis; he's always smiling, and is a customer service whiz.  Here he is trading punches with Marty with Airport Operations.  He and I traded photos as the Plane Pull drew to a close; the trophy is from his son's team, and will be on display in the school's display case.

The 2014 Dulles Day Plane Pull and 5K / 10K was amazing.  Surely nobody can wait until 2015's; I know I can't.