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.

Royal Air Maroc at Washington Dulles International Airport

This past Thursday, September 8th, 2016, Royal Air Maroc, the flag carrier for the Kingdom of Morocco, began non-stop service between Washington, DC, USA and Casablanca, Morocco. Royal Air Maroc's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner will make the 7hr journey between Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) three days each week.

Events at Dulles began with a reception for passengers at the gate waiting to depart, and the main festivities began when the inaugural flight landed at 9.55PM on R/W 19L.  The aircraft was greeted at the gate with a ceremonial water arch.

Moroccan Ambassador to the United States Rachad Bouhlal was made inaugural statements marking the occasion before a ribbon cutting ceremony prior to boarding of the first departing flight.

The new 787-8 Dreamliner flown on this route features 18 Business Class seats and 256 Economy Class seats, with an updated layout that allows for more legroom and space for passengers throughout the cabin.

Departing passengers were presented with gift bags containing a commemorative challenge pin, certificate of inaugural flight, Royal Air Maroc USB drive, and a pair of Moroccan tea candles.  The 787-8 Dreamliner lifted off for Casablanca twenty minutes before midnight.


My photos from this event have been featured on the front page of and have been distributed via PRNewsWire, a New York based newswire agency.

Behind the Scenes

I was fortunate enough to speak a bit with the departing Captain, who showed me around the Dreamliner's cockpit for a few moments during his pre-flight.  What a cool guy!

For the photo and avgeeks out there reading this, airfields are extremely dark at night; this is especially true for Dulles since the runways are so far away from the ramp's sodium lights.  All landing photos on the runway were at ISO 25,600, f/2.8, 1/125th in order to have just enough shutter speed to stop motion, but still have enough light to make the capture, and I still had to boost exposure by +⅔EV in post.  The 1D X handles these kinds of conditions very well; extraordinarily well for press usage as is the purpose here.

Photos on the ramp were at ISO 12,800, f/2.8, 1/250th, mainly because I am photographing while walking during water arches; the ramps are lit by orange sodium lights which can be counteracted with manual White Balance set to 2,100K; this setting shifts their amber light white, but will shift the 4,300K incandescent bulbs illuminating the Main Terminal a deep cyan.  You can see this same effect in my inaugural photos for Brussels Airlines, and a few of my weddings and portrait sessions where I purposely use this mixed-color-temperature situation for dramatic effect.

Departure photos were at a more sensible ISO 6,400, f/2.8, 1/60th.  In general I won't drop my shutter speeds below 1/125th unless dark lighting conditions or creative need arises, and I usually prefer to stay at 1/250th and above if I can help it without going crazy with the ISOs.  That said, I'm not afraid of pushing into high-ISO because I know the 1D X handles them very well (although this post isn't the best example of it).

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

Dulles Welcome Billboard

Think BIG! Have you been to Dulles lately? If you visit the B Concourse's Passenger Walkback Tunnel, my panoramic is currently on display above the escalators, welcoming passengers as they approach the Main Terminal. This canvas banner is almost 50 feet wide, preserving the details of my 88 megapixel photograph. It is clear enough to read text on signs and vehicles parked alongside the Main Terminal as you descend down the stairs.

This welcome banner with my photo will be in place during times when no other sponsor has leased this JCDecaux advertising space. Thanks to JCDecaux for making sure my photo looks great on large format canvas print!



Here is the original photograph, and below it the final proof of the print now on display!