Air Force Imagery Specialists at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona

How do you take a photo when your camera is too hot to touch?

Sergeant (SGT) Shane Gidall and SGT Chris Dickson, imagery specialists from No. 28 Squadron (28SQN), were faced with this problem on their recent deployment to Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base.

In August, the pair travelled to the United States for the once-in-a-generation opportunity to cover No. 3 Squadron’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighter pilot and maintainer training. Working with Public Affairs Officer Wing Commander (WGCDR) September Clare, SGT Gidall and SGT Dickson had three weeks to capture as much content as possible.

Arizona’s desert conditions threw up a number of tests that SGT Gidall and SGT Dickson met head on. At times, temperatures on the flight line hovered around 50°C.

“It was a huge challenge for us, working in that sort of heat,” said SGT Gidall.

“We both had phones that shut down because of the heat. But our cameras took the punishment. At times we could only touch the rubberised parts because they were too hot to handle, and yet they cracked on. They stayed within specs and kept going.”

One evening, a dust storm rolled in and put an abrupt stop to a night shoot.

“There is a series of photos of an area that looks clean and clear. Within 15 minutes it was completely covered in dust, and we are running across what seemed like the beach. Sand was just flying through the air,” said SGT Gidall.

“There was so much sand, you couldn’t see where you were going, and we had to still follow a truck to get off the flight line.”

As experienced Air Force Imagery Specialists (AFIS), SGT Gidall and SGT Dickson are accustomed to managing variable conditions and last minute changes. In Arizona, they were thankful for the support they received from the Australian F-35 team and the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs staff.

“Every day was different to what we’d planned the day before,” said SGT Gidall. “But that goes with any typical public affairs task, especially with personnel changes, flight line changes.

“The RAAF and USAF personnel working in Luke were amazing people who couldn’t do enough for us. Anything we asked, the response was ‘give me a time and I’m there’. They were really helpful.”

WGCDR September Clare said 28SQN’s AFIS play a critical role in informing the public about the F-35A and what it means for Air Force.

“SGT Gidall and SGT Dickson produced some stunning and iconic work in the face of some pretty tough obstacles,” she said. “Their results of their creativity will allow the Australian community to better understand why F-35A is a game changer.

“Compelling imagery and videos produced by our AFIS don’t just illustrate Air Force’s story, they  are crucial in the modern communication environment as a means to connect with our audiences.”

As for the most memorable shoot? SGT Gidall nominates capturing the jets during take-off.

“It took us two weeks to get a chance to get out to the runway to get a photo of the jet taking off. We organised and pushed and pushed, and finally got there,” he said.

Expecting to be held back from the runway by 15-20 metres, the photographers were surprised when they were escorted to a location just a couple of metres from the tarmac.

“The aircraft took off right in front of us. The imagery is as large as life and completely fills the frame. It was amazing.

“It was a lot of preparation to get to that point, and in the end it was a great series of shots. We got three aircraft taking off and we were all done.”

The first F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to be based in Australia will fly from the United States later this year, arriving at RAAF Base Williamtown in early December.