A selfie is a photo a person takes of himself, usually a photo taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Selfies are often casual (or seemingly casual) in nature.
Although the term “selfie” didn’t catch on until the early 2000s, people have been taking selfies since the dawn of photography. Pilots (and other crew members) took selfies that day, and Wikipedia even shows a selfie taken by astronaut Buzz Aldrin during his 1966 spacewalk.
Soon after I joined my first F-14 squadron (VF-24, 1981), I started carrying cameras and felt comfortable enough on the plane. Soon I started taking selfies. As an RIO, I have a lot of room to work: the entire area above the radar display is open, and on that spacious canopy I’m only limited by arm length and the ability to press the shutter while holding the camera limit. I shoot with a typical 35mm camera – it’s not too heavy, and with a little practice you can control the shutter. Here is one of my early attempts:
That’s the wingman in our background. I might have gotten better results if I had taken multiple photos or had worked harder to evaluate the results and adjust my technique. But this was during deployment in 1981-82, and of course I shot on film, so there was about three weeks between when I took the photo and when it was mailed to the US for processing and when I got it back. Selfies are not my priority.
Another photo from that tour might be interesting, not as a selfie, but because it gives a sense of what the F-14A’s TF30 looks like in Zone 5…at night…from the cockpit. If you can’t quite tell what it is, it’s my blurry face in the helmet and oxygen mask on the left of the image, and a tail above the burner. Since it was night, my tinted visor was up. When I see this now, I think of the pictures I would have taken if someone had invented the digital camera 20 years earlier.
After the VF-24, I reported to Topgun as an instructor, where I managed to take a few decent selfies on the F-5F, full of front and rear of our demanding flight. The F-5F has a spacious cockpit for such a small aircraft. This photo shows two other F-5Fs from Topgun next to my jet.
In 1987, I reported to my second F-14 squadron, VF-2, and was able to pursue the photo ideas that had permeated—including more selfies. By the way, we usually call them “face shots,” which is also slang for the front quarter Sidewinder missile shots. On the VF-2, I tried some more dramatic shots, like this one after the cat shoots:
I’ve probably been influenced by other RIO work, especially “Tumor” Twomey, who created some of the best “face shots.” His work can be found in the commemorative book Grumman F-14 Tomcat: Bye-Bye Baby…! ” see in. Some pilots also take great selfies, like “Nick” Nickel, who posted some of his selfies and a great article on The Drive website.
After taking a closer look at my images, I realized that I needed a wide angle lens and a way to mount the camera at a distance greater than my arm’s length. The wide angle is easy, I remember it costing about $40. The camera mount was a bit of thought, but in the end I took a foldable tripod and used cable ties (cable ties) to securely attach the Vise Grip tool to one of the legs. After takeoff, in order to use the tripod, I undid the straps from the ejection seat and clamped the vise handle to the metal tab on the back of the pilot’s ejection seat! Trust me, I coordinated with my pilot before doing this, and I chose a non-removable tag. I also used a 6ft cable release for taking pictures.
I was always looking for opportunities to get more coverage on the VF-2, and one of the best publications at the time was the Tailhook Society magazine, The Hook. So I came up with the idea of taking a photo of myself in the cockpit reading an issue of The Hook. The new wide-angle lens and tripod are perfect for this photo. Our Combat Air Patrol (CAP) flights over the Indian Ocean provide filming opportunities as they are usually separate airspace patrols that do not involve “combat” or sometimes even any training. I discussed this photo with my pilot Pager and he loved it. I set up my device, pulled out a copy of The Hook, and shot about 10 frames while Pager did the gentle scrolling we discussed.
Three weeks later, when I got the photo, I saw a goalkeeper:
The other shots were bad, mainly because when we turned upside down, the cockpit was in shadow and no detail was visible. I sent the photo and it was great to see it published on The Hook. Once we returned from deployment, I gave the negative to Miramar Photo Lab, which sent it to the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Information. Nothing else happened until the Navy digitized their photo collection a few years later and made it available online. Since then, the photo has appeared in multiple publications, websites, and humorous military photo collections – something I didn’t think of when I took this photo in 1987.
Looking at it now, there are two things I wish I had done differently. First, I should have turned the other way so that the magazine cover would stand out more, not the back cover. Second, I wish I could see my own name somewhere; name brand, oxygen mask, whatever. But I can assure you, that’s me.
In addition to the Hook magazine photo, I used the device to take several other photos, such as this photo of me flying with Lumpy on a wet day over the Indian Ocean in 1989. The e-cigarettes on top of the wing and wingtip vortices are mesmerizing, and I was happy to capture them.
If you’ve ever seen that photo of a pilot reading a magazine, you now know the full story. One more thing: The Hook is still a great magazine!
An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that The Hook magazine Bio was reading in the cockpit selfie was the spring 1989 issue, and he was right! This means that this photo was taken while flying with Lumpy in 1989, not 1987 while flying with Pager.
Bio is an occasional contributor to the Aviation Geek Club and the author of two books, Topgun Days and Before Topgun Days. He is writing his third book on the F-14 Tomcat experience.