Capturing Photos of the World's Most Advanced Jets
You may not know Liz Kaszynski, but you’ve probably seen her work.
Liz is one of 10 aerial photographers here at Lockheed Martin who are trained and certified to take pictures while flying in the backseat of fighter jets. Liz is also our sole female aerial photographer for the F-35. Her job is to capture images of our aircraft in action at every angle, in various locations, at every altitude. But there is so much more to her job than just taking pictures.
Lockheed Martin hired Liz right after she graduated from the University of North Texas and she has been here ever since. Twelve years to be exact. In that time, she has flown in an F-16 chase plane and captured high-octane images of some of the most advanced fighter jets of our time, including the F-35, F-22 and F-16 aircraft. Her pictures make it look easy, but her job is physically and creatively demanding. Not just anyone can fly in a fighter jet.
What does physical condition have to do with flying in a jet?
“Physical condition is key,” Liz explains. “You need to be in shape and be able to handle that kind of maneuvering. Experience helps. The more you fly the more acclimated you are.”
As an aerial photographer Liz had to develop skills that the average photographer doesn’t have.
“I’m required to do all egress training and water survival training. They teach you about g-strain, which is how you strain to keep the blood up to your head while you’re pulling G’s.”
Learning how to g-strain is extremely important for both the pilot and for the photographer riding in the back seat.
“If you don’t strain and keep the blood up, you’re going to pass out,” Liz explained.
Meanwhile, she is also taking pictures of the aircraft flying directly below or beside her. “That little five pound camera is now twenty-five pounds while you’re trying to hold it up, take the picture, g-strain, and keep your horizons straight.”
To date, she has never passed out. “I’ve struggled through air sickness. It’s something that comes along with the job and you get past it and keep going. The pilots are great if you need them to level out and catch your breath for a second.”
All of this aside, Liz is responsible for coordinating the choreography and synchronization of multi-ship aircraft formations that bring the perfect picture into frame.
“Good shots just don’t happen, and communication is absolutely key. I spend the entire flight from the time we’re taking off until we land talking to my pilot.”
It is her job to direct the pilots to maneuver the aircraft by asking for aileron rolls, popped flares, and lit engine burners in order to deliver pictures that will be featured on covers of magazines around the world.
“You’re looking to get the dynamic action shots,” she said. “You want them maneuvering. You want them going vertical, popping their flares, showing the excitement of what fighter jets do.”
To recap: Liz’s basic job description is to soar in the air at various high speeds – anywhere from 250 knots to Mach 1– practicing g-strain to combat the intense g-force she experiences while flying, and taking high quality action shots.
She arguably has one of the coolest jobs in the industry. In fact, she recently caught the attention of the Washington Post and was featured on the publication’s website.
Here are a few more of our favorite photos taken by Liz:
October 6, 2014