Man captures unbelievable photo of Blue Angel fighter jet buzzing the Golden Gate Bridge at 350 mph
By ANDREW TAVANI
A California man shot some absolutely jaw-dropping photos of the U.S. Navy's famed Blue Angels the week before last during the lead-up to San Francisco's Fleet Week festivities.
Click through the slideshow of his series of photos above. All of the images are spectacular, but the money shot is a surreal photo of the No. 5 fighter jet flying at a very low altitude as it passes above the bridge while cars and pedestrians cross over the iconic span in each direction during rush hour. (Scroll down to see it at full size). The photo has gone viral on Facebook and the online message board Reddit.
The photos were captured by Rich Shelton, 55, of Tiburon, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Shelton, a self-described 'semi-serious amateur photographer' told AOL.com in an email that he had staked out in an old World War II bunker just west of the bridge's toll plaza on Thursday, October 9, as the Blue Angels were conducting a practice run before the air show that was held a few days later.
'It's a great spot because the bridge's towers align perfectly,' he said.
Shelton said he used a full-frame Sony a7 with 70-400mm lens, which he typically uses to photograph landscapes and is a tricky camera to use for high-speed action.
'During Thursday's practices they made numerous passes over the bridge in different positions,' he explained. 'Due to the ... approach speeds, there's a fair bit of luck involved trying to catch a perfectly centered shot.'
The F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets are capable of reaching speeds of just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound -- or about 1,400 mph. However, the top speed pilots are allowed to fly the jets during a performance is about 700 mph, or just under Mach 1.
The U.S. Navy won't confirm the authenticity of any photo not shot by an official Navy photographer, but Lieutenant Amber Lynn Daniel, confirmed to AOL.com that the Blue Angels were practicing around the time the photo was shot.
Daniel, the Blue Angels' public affairs officer, said she consulted with expert colleagues who estimated that the jet seen in the photo would have been flying at an approximate altitude of 600 feet at the moment the photo was taken and traveling at a speed of about 300 knots, or 350 mph. Both of those figures illustrate how difficult a feat it is to capture a perfect photo of a passing jet using a static camera position.
But Shelton managed to pull it off, nailing the amazing shot of the F/A-18 Hornet, piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Dave Tickle, in perfect crisp focus seemingly frozen between the orange support towers of the legendary suspension bridge. Although, surprisingly, after he achieved the one-of-a-kind image, he didn't think all that much of it. 'I thought it was just another interesting Blue Angels shot,' he recalled.
That all changed when he posted it on his Facebook page where it immediately began racking up hundreds of likes. Then, someone re-posted the image on Reddit and it rocketed to more than a million views on that site, Shelton said. His original Facebook post topped out at nearly 4,000 likes. 'I only expected 30 or 40,' he confessed. 'There were also many kind comments from Facebook folks, along with a number of skeptics.'
'It was a calculated but lucky photo, and I'm very happy with it,' he added.
Shelton is married with a grown son and is retired now. He volunteers as a search manager for the Marin County Sheriff Search and Rescue unit, which keeps him 'very busy.'
He's been enamored with photography since he was a kid, he said, and even managed to pay for college with money he earned doing event photography. Lately, he's rediscovered the art.
'The advent of digital cameras and printers have really reignited my love of photography,' Shelton told AOL.com. 'I'm always looking at the world around me in the context of how I might capture an interesting photo.'
To see more of Shelton's fine work, visit his Flickr page.
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