Photographer Takes a Ride in an F-16 with the Thunderbirds as a Little ‘Thank You’

Very few people ever have the honor of flying along with the Thunderbirds. However, Blair Bunting, a fairly new Nikon Ambassador, managed to do just that at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona after shooting one of the Thunderbirds’ newly-painted F-16 beauties.

As you can see in the video above, the fly-along ‘thank you’ he got is every synonym of awesome that I can think of. Just as much as it was fun though, it took a bit of training and focus to stay conscious while reaching up to 9 G’s at one point. If you’ve ever wondered what 9 G’s feels like, Bunting shares the following in his blog post about the experience:

Firstly, in no way is it comfortable, not even close. I began to feel my face melting away as the skin in my cheeks pulled down to my mouth. The color from my vision was the next thing to fade away, first the reds, then the greens. Squeezing like hell, I did everything I could to get air into my lungs as the G-suit wrenched it out. With all the color of a 1950′s television set, the next thing I noticed was that waves were starting to develop in my vision and a vignette appeared. All the while I am listening to the pilot’s breathing and trying my hardest to match it.

At any point I could relax and immediately be unconscious, only to wake up and wonder where I am, but I had trained too hard to let this happen. Then, just as G’s set had set in, they began to leave and normalcy appeared. However, if I were to relax at that point, the blood would leave my brain too fast and knock me out as well, so I continually squeeze as the G’s lift and my body slowly returns to what sanity it had left.

He even tossed in a few selfies for good measure, sending his wife one while in-flight. But the coup de grâce is the photo he was hired to capture:

Thunderbirds F16 jet photographed by Blair Bunting

As you can see, he earned his ‘thank you.’ Give the quick video a watch at the top to see how a photographer handles 9 G’s, and then drop us or Mr. Bunting a line in the comments if you have any questions or… you know… comments.

(via Blair Bunting)

Image credits: Photograph by Blair Bunting and used with permission

  • lensGod

    I had an incentive flight while stationed at RAFL; it’s great, but it is a challenge. Especially when the pilot’s a bit of a sociopath. I couldn’t imagine trying to take a picture while focusing on remaining conscious. Great photo of the F-16… always loved that jet.

  • Mark Trevino


  • Simon

    We say “coup de grâce”.
    “Coup de gras” literally means Grease kick

  • DLCade

    Thanks for pointing that out, went ahead and fixed that embarrassing little mixup :)

  • Duane Pandorf

    Thanks for sharing this video. Flying fighters is definitely a young man’s “sport”. From experience, over 4-5 Gs becomes painful and requires a unique conditioning program to ensure you can stay conscious, especially in a 4th generation fighter like the F-16 that can do 9 Gs.

    I do miss those days. The camaraderie, leadership, responsibility and of course the ego. Nothing like it.

    BTW, Blair made a very nice photograph too!

  • Jim Karsh

    Hey Duane, were you a student in VT-25 at Chase Field in Beeville back in the mid-80s?

  • Duane Pandorf

    Depends on who’s asking. If its some ol’ sergrad instructor who I haven’t heard from or seen in 33 years then, maybe.

  • Jim Karsh

    I believe I was your instructor, or one of them, but I wasn’t a sergrad.

  • Duane Pandorf

    I stand corrected! It was a long time ago in a place far far away. That was me and I do have your name in my logbook from that era.

  • Blair Bunting

    Hey guys, I’m really grateful for the enthusiasm about the flight and photo of the jet. At the end of the day, the job I do as a photographer pales in comparison to those in our military. But damn is it incredible when the worlds collide and we get to sample what they do for a living. I am hopeful that in some way, shape or form y’all can experience it as well.

  • Jim Karsh

    The jet photo is awesome. Glad you enjoyed the ride.

  • Jaron Schneider

    Thank you for all the video likes! It makes putting a project like this worth it. Thanks everyone, and thanks to @blairbunting:disqus for allowing me the honor of making this video.

  • Danster

    I will pay you 5K to second for you the next time you shoot them.
    Maybe I can plead a ride. Beautiful result for your hard work.

  • sidneysaad

    I am still flying :D

  • Duane Pandorf

    Great video Jaron!

  • Jaron Schneider

    Much appreciated Duane!

  • Mr Hogwallop

    While you are at it, maybe change the word “capture” to “created”. To me capture means being at the right place at the right time, he created that image from the ground up. Just a pet peeve from someone who hates the word capture.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    ^ that is pretty cool.

  • Andrew

    awesome job and congrats on the experience!