- Awesome - Wanna see a sonic boom?
- Through the viewfinder of his camera, Ensign John Gay
could see the fighter plane drop from the sky heading toward the port side
of the aircraft carrier Constellation. At 1,000 feet, the pilot drops the
F/A-18C Hornet to increase his speed to 750 mph, vapor flickering off the
curved surfaces of the plane. In the precise moment a cloud in the shape
of a farm-fresh egg forms around the Hornet 200 yards from the carrier,
its engines rippling the Pacific Ocean just 75 feet below, Gay hears an
explosion and snaps his camera shutter once.
- "I clicked the same time I heard the boom, and I
knew I had it", Gay said. What he had was a technically meticulous
depiction of the sound barrier being broken July 7, 1999, somewhere on
the Pacific between Hawaii and Japan. Sports Illustrated, Brills Content,
and Life ran the photo.
- The photo recently took first prize in the science and
technology division in the World Press Photo 2000 contest, which drew more
than 42,000 entries worldwide.
- "All of a sudden, in the last few days, I've been
getting calls from everywhere about it again. It's kind of neat,"
he said, in a telephone interview from his station in Virginia Beach, VA.
- A naval veteran of 12 years, Gay, 38, manages a crew
of eight assigned to take intelligence photographs from the high-tech belly
of an F-14 Tomcat, the fastest fighter in the U.S. Navy. In July, Gay had
been part of a Joint Task Force Exercise as the Constellation made its
way to Japan.
- Gay selected his Nikon 90 S, one of the five 35 mm cameras
he owns. He set his 80-300 mm zoom lens on 300 mm, set his shutter speed
at 1/1000 of a second with an aperture setting of F5.6. "I put it
on full manual, focus and exposure," Gay said. "I tell young
photographers who are into automatic everything, you aren't going to get
that shot on auto.
- The plane is too fast. The camera can't keep up."
- At sea level a plane must exceed 741 mph to break the
sound barrier, or the speed at which sound travels. The change in pressure
as the plane outruns all of the pressure and sound waves in front of it
is heard on the ground as an explosion or sonic boom. The pressure change
condenses the water in the air as the jet passes these waves. Altitude,
wind speed, humidity, the shape and trajectory of the plane - all of these
affect the breaking of this barrier. The slightest drag or atmospheric
pull on the plane shatters the vapor oval like fireworks as the plane passes
through, he said everything on July 7 was perfect. "You see this vapor
flicker around the plane that gets bigger and bigger. You get this loud
boom, and it's instantaneous. The vapor cloud is there, and then it's not
there. It's the coolest thing you have ever seen."
- Now take a look...