Photographer David Palermo has created stunning images of aircraft at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. These include the cockpits of the B-29 Superfortress "ENOLA GAY," the Concorde, the Gemini VII and Mercury "Freedom 7 II" capsules, the Lockheed Martin X-35, and others.
What makes these photographs particularly unique is the 360° technology Palermo used to give us a full view of the cockpit. He has also created 360° "virtual tour" CD's that heighten the experience.
Recently, Thirty Thousand Feet conducted an interview with Palermo via email:
Max Flight: David, these are some fascinating images. What motivated you to photograph the aircraft in the Smithsonian collection?
David Palermo: The Smithsonian wanted to have interactive experience for all who visit the new Udvar-Hazy Museum at the Dulles Airport in Virginia. I worked at Apple Computer on the QuickTime VR team - I was the Product Manager for technology called QuickTime VR (QTVR) which is the technology that started "virtual tours" back in 1992. The Smithsonian decided this would be a great way to show the inside of these famous aircraft.
MF: Why the focus on cockpits?
DP: No one is allowed inside these aircraft and many are hanging from the ceiling in the museum so it's sometimes difficult to get a good view of the cockpit. Throughout the museum there are large plasma screens and kiosks allowing visitors to interact and view the cockpits from all angles. It's as if you were actually sitting in the cockpit! Many enthusiasts, historians, students, as well as the general public are curious about the cockpits and this is a great way to show them!
MF: Certainly not everyone can get such access to the aircraft. Was that a particular challenge for you? How did you pull it off?
DP: Well, that's what the job entailed. Photography inside the aircraft as well as outside.
MF: As you photographed the cockpits, what was going through your mind? What vision did you have that you were trying to capture for the final print?
DP: The purpose was to show in 360° what the cockpit looked like as if you were inside looking around. I have to admit that when I was inside the "Enola Gay" I had a strange feeling. As you know, this was the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb. I had to climb into the plane through the bomb bay doors. It was dark in there and I had to setup all sorts of lights throughout to have enough light for a 360° photograph. This particular shot was done with an experimental robotic device that rotated and took a photo every few degrees. It fell down a few times but didn't damage anything luckily!
MF: Some readers may be curious about the technical aspects of your work. Can you tell us a little about your equipment, the lighting, and your printing and processing technique?
DP: The images were captured with either a Nikon D1x or Canon 1DS. Lighting was supplied by Ellinchrom and Home Depot. Smaller lights were used inside the cockpits to light up key areas. In the Gemini VII and the Mercury space capsules, Ellinchrom strobes where used because lights just wouldn't fit since the capsules were so small. The Gemini VII was lit with 2 large softboxes - one on either side. Printing was done by master printer Art Fisher of Santa Barbara. He's a printing genius and is meticulous about quality which is great! He probably should get out more! [Find Art Fisher at In Color.]
MF: I see that 20 x 40 inch fine art prints can be purchased through your website, http://www.davidpalermo.com/smithsonian/smithsonian.html, and that you include an interesting CD. Can you tell us about that?
DP: When you look at a 360° image printed flat as these prints are, it looks interesting hanging on a wall. The virtual tour on the CD is that same image but wrapped around a sphere and "displayed" on your computer. When viewed this way you can look all around... up, down, or left, and right. Most virtual tours are only left or right. In a cockpit there is a lot of detail above and below so it was important to show that. Most virtual tours are postage stamp which is not a great way to view these. So I decided to create what I call "HDVR" or High Definition Virtual Tours where there is a lot of detail to look at and they are almost full screen. You can see some of these types of virtual tours at my other Web site (http://www.worldvr.com).
MF: Your photographic work includes subjects other than aviation, correct?
DP: Yes, I actually make my living photographing hotels such as Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and Sheraton, large luxury yachts, interiors of homes and people - musicians lately, and architecture.
You can view Palermo's cockpit images and purchase prints (and the CD's) at:
http://www.davidpalermo.com/smithsonian/smithsonian.html. These would certainly look great on the wall of your den or in an office environment.