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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Houston, Texas: July, 2016

Lately I've been catching up on some personal work leftover from last Summer.  Today I'm bringing you pictures from my short trip to Houston to be a part of Imran and Hina's wedding.  Since I was there for several days, of course, the wedding was only a portion of everything I did while on my first trip to Texas.

Arrival

This was only my second time flying out of DCA even though I am there often enough for photoshoots.  It was a pretty day, although it had a low, hazy ceiling, so I captured some pretty pictures of the airport while taxiing, but began battling haze with a little altitude.  I did still manage to catch some great shots of the new MGM Casino (it was still under construction at this point) , and National Harbor... and the DC Water and Sewer Authority; water treatment plants look pretty cool from the air too.

Arriving in Houston, the terrain is noticeably very flat, with long stretches of interstates and service roads, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and snaking rivers.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) reminded me a lot of Dulles, however their facilities seem to be more spread out and reliant on shuttle busses.

Reaching downtown Houston was a shocker; not only was downtown very small at only a few blocks of city space, but on a Saturday, at noon, there were *literally* no people to be found.  There was no traffic downtown; never once did I have to stop and wait for traffic when crossing streets.  There were no people walking around.  Half of the businesses weren't even open.  I was the only customer in a coffee shop which, inexplicably, had three employees working.  There was an international grocery store with an amazing wine selection upstairs that had a few customers inside, but that was about it - Houston, at lunchtime on a Saturday... completely dead and devoid of life.

Arriving at the hotel at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), I found that directly next door was an... establishment... called "The Landing Strip."  I just found it ironic that Imran's wedding was being held at an airport Marriott with a titty bar a stones throw away.  It actually became a running joke of the trip, culminating in me sitting down in Imran's lap before his wedding, straight out of the shower, wrapping my legs around him and sensually saying, "Hey baby, is this your first time at The Landing Strip?" just to get a reaction out of him; it was pretty funny!  You can't make this stuff up!  That actually happened the next day, while everyone was getting ready for the wedding, but I shot these pictures as the sun set on my first night in Houston.

Johnson Space Center • Imran and Hina's Wedding

Imran's wedding was at night, so that left all day to go explore.  I'd already seen downtown, which was disappointing, to put it politely.  I decided to see something guaranteed to make me smile; I head over to Johnson Space Center, just 20min from the hotel.

Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition

Little did I know until walking inside, the Mythbusters (who had just a few months prior aired their last episode) had a full exhibit visiting the Space Center.  Not only did I get to meet the real Buster, but I got to see artifacts from all my favorite myths; Jamie's steel sphere from "Painting with Explosives," Adam's Flatus Ignition Seat from "Franklin's Kite," Adam's Tornado Shield from "Storm Chasing Myths," and a destroyed hot water heater from "Exploding Water Heater."

By the way, if you haven't seen it already, go check out White Rabbit Project on Netflix; that's where Kari, Grant, and Tori ended up after being cut from Mythbusters.  It's a very Mythbusters influenced show, but with a modernized program format that fixes a lot of the staleness Mytbusters struggled with toward the end, and the extremely high production quality we've become familiar with from Netflix.  I cannot recommend the show enough.

Johnson Space Center

The rest of Johnson Space Center (or Space Center Houston, as the museum portion is called) contains all the space geekery you expect; I love it.  Most of the exhibits here focus on historic space missions, such as the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Outside the Space Center is of course one of Johnson's most noticeable, newest additions, and the most relevant to me; NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft I photographed and followed for a week in April, 2012, which led to some amazing opportunities for me, and which I consider to be the launchpad for much of my career today.

It was a surreal experience boarding the retired 747 for the second time in my life, knowing that everyone else seeing the aircraft with me that day are enjoying a museum piece, but I was on board while the aircraft was still in service and even met the flight and ground crews, and they autographed copies of my photos on a table that's now blocked off as part of an exhibit.  Knowing that I've been on the upper deck and sat in the pilot's seat of this aircraft, whereas now it's not even open to the public to view... it was a surreal feeling, and it's still truly an honor to have been invited to be part of such a journey in 2012.

For fun below, I'm including some side-by-side comparisons of what the SCA looked like in 2012, and what it looks like now after its decommission and subsequent transformation into an exhibit.  You'll notice that in addition to some hardware being moved and a lot of plexiglass being added, they've also had to add fireproofing and sprinklers for fire code, and they've added carpeting, HVAC, standard glass entry doors, and of course lighting.  Crew-members and mission critical employees have also signed all over the fuselage, as is tradition.

Since it's closed to the public, here is what the upper deck looked like in 2012.

And finally, a few more photos of the SCA in it's final resting place as it is today.  This table is where the crew autographed my photos.

Astronaut Training Facility

Later in the day, after some inclement weather had passed through the area, campus tours finally resumed, however unfortunately there was only time for one tour before having to leave, and I didn't get to go on the tour of Mission Control like I'd wanted.  Seeing the Astronaut Training Facility was still interesting, and I was able to snag some awesome swag at the gift shop before heading out.  I still don't have my SCA 747 & Space Shuttle Discovery scale model though :-(

Imran and Hina's Wedding

Finally was the main event; Imran and Hina's wedding.  I was just a guest, which is an odd feeling for me since usually I'm behind the camera.  I didn't even bring my camera to the wedding; these are a few photos off my iPhone.

Departure

The next morning immediate family (which I'm considered in Imran's family) was invited for brunch.  After that, there were still a few hours to kill before catching the flight home.  Checking out the Texas' Gulf beach and getting some photos of the EcoBoost Mustang rental seemed like the best thing to do.

Mustang on the Beach

I was extremely disappointed with the beach in Texas; it seemed *very* dirty.  The Mustang, however, was very satisfying.  The EcoBoost Mustang, even with two fewer cylinders, makes only 20HP less than my G37, though since it uses a turbo to achieve this, the power came on with a delay.  Still a very peppy, very capable car.  Would I buy one?  No; this rental had less than 3,000 miles on the clock and already had multiple rattles, probably since day one from the factory.  But it was still a fun, very hoonable ride; I may have gotten a few donuts in this thing... which is convenient, because Houston seemed to be a never-ending sprawl of donut shops, fast-food joints, rug stores, and titty bars; between all that and the beach, it was time to skip town.

Departure

Flying home, I got a little work done, but eventually got distracted by the band of thunderstorms we were passing over about halfway home; this was my first time seeing lightning from the sky, and it is a beautiful sight.

With a steady hand, and a bit of luck, I was able to capture this photo of the storm over Charlotte, North Carolina.  I even managed to get some video footage too!

Finally, we landed at DCA (also only my second time flying into Reagan), and the lights of Alexandria was a welcome sight just before touchdown.

SOARING - A Short Film by J. David Buerk

Recently I accompanied my friend Ellen up to Connecticut to help her buy a new car - a metallic green Nissan Xterra.  In this case, one of only two green Xterras for sale on the East Coast.  After buying the car, we convoyed back down to Blairstown, New Jersey, a small township roughly 60 miles West of New York City.  Blairstown is home to Blair Academy, a prep school, and Blairstown Airport, a single runway public use airfield that is a base for Jersey Ridge Soaring, a glider business owned by Ellen's parents.

It's long been a dream of mine to get a pilots license and learn to fly an aircraft recreationally.  I flew twice that day; my first flight was scenic, and the second was an actual flight lesson where I was on the stick most of the flight - my first time actually flying an aircraft!

Without further ado, I present to you a short film I assembled from the bits of footage I gathered that day.

For months Ellen has been begging me to come and try flying in a glider, and for months I've told her, "aircraft are supposed to have engines." I've been in small aircraft plenty of times; mostly helicopters, but even a hot air balloon, which of course isn't powered.  If anything, I finally realized gliders are safer in that you can actually steer them.

My first flight was scenic, encompassing the photos and video footage you see here.  My second flight, after gaining just 500AGL, I was told, "Ok, follow the tow plane!"  Basically as soon as we were off the ground I was given control of the aircraft.  There were only two instances where it was a bit too much and I gave back the controls (beyond departure and landing); once while getting kicked around during towing, and once when a thermal became a bit too strong for my (lack of) skill level.

I'd managed to find and get centered in a 400ft/min thermal, gaining over 1,000 feet in altitude, before the updraft mixed with the crosswind was getting too dicey for my own inexperienced comfort at the controls.  That's a pretty solid thermal to latch onto, and a far cry from the first flight, which hardly had any thermal activity, lending itself to a short, ~40min flight.  The second flight was a little under an hour long.  What threw me off the most during my stick time was the lack of feedback through the stick, as well as how much movement it had available; at some points it felt as if my legs were in the way of the stick.  Also, there was the slight delay for inputs which also befuddled.  I found it interesting that the gliders' airspeed is in MPH instead of knots.  Both flights we were towed up to 2,500ft before releasing, and reached a max altitude of ~3,500ft on the second flight.

Glider aircraft are also called sailplanes because of their similarity to sailing a sailboat; wind currents are your friend, but you must know how to use them.  Flying in the sailplane feels like flying in a sky kayak.

I skipped over it, but immediately after buying Ellen's truck, we all got dinner at a Texas Roadhouse in Connecticut - Alyssa had driven over from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to catch dinner with me and my friends (you should have come flying with us!).  After dinner, we departed for Blairstown for a weekend flying, which you just read about.

Gliders are definitely something I will be doing again, though I find it ironic that I still have not been up in a single-engine airplane.  I can't wait to get more flight time in!

Etihad Airways 787 Dreamliner Inaugural Flight to IAD

This evening marked Etihad Airways' inaugural flight of their new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner beginning service from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles International Airport.  Etihad Airways Officials were joined by Dulles Airport Manager Chris Browne to celebrate the arrival of the new, energy efficient aircraft, embarking upon the Dreamliner's longest non-stop flight path.

Airport Photography
Airport Photography
Airport Photography
Airport Photography

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.

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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.

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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.

Brussels Airlines at Dulles

Brussels Airlines is proud to announce new daily service to Washington Dulles International Airport. On June 18th, 2013, Brussels Airlines' Inaugural Flight landed at Dulles, and was welcomed with a water arch at the gate.  As the aircraft taxied, the pilots displayed the Belgium and American flags to mark the newly formed air route.

All photos may be viewed here.

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As we were waiting for Brussels' aircraft to arrive, I captured this interesting photo of British Airways departing.

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After the speeches and ribbon cutting, there was a small reception with champagne and cake in the Lufthansa First Class Lounge.

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With just a 6 hour turnaround time, Brussels' first flight out of Washington departed.  Every passenger was presented with a box of Belgian chocolates as they boarded the flight.

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