Flying to Denver alongside a “Collectible”

I was on Interstate 70 last weekend heading west toward Denver and the American Presidential Experience, an enormous nonpartisan tribute to the presidency and democracy. At the event, in addition to checking out all manner of memorabilia, collectors will bring in their political collectibles for evaluation and sale. And there I was riding with one of the biggest political collectibles of all—a replica of Air Force One.

Cruising altitude on the Interstate

But wait. I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit.

I love aviation. I am a son of an Air Force fighter pilot and the father of an Air Force Academy cadet. We like airplanes. As a matter of fact, on August 8, I was standing in the middle of a hayfield about 10 miles west of Beaumont, Kan., next to my ultralight airplane when I got the call to shoot a video. What video, you ask? I’ll get to that in a moment. Anyway, since the beginning of this year, I have been lensing my fifth and latest documentary on ultralight aviation.

That morning I was heading to a shoot in the middle of a forest of windmills (wind generators) near Beaumont. About ten miles from the destination, I could see a fog bank developing in my path. I decided to drop down into a mown hayfield and wait out the fog.

I made a few calls on my cell phone then busied myself taking pix of my fog-enshrouded bird. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was my buddy, Steve Cannaby. Steve is in the aviation- instrument business. He is also an entrepreneur regarding things aviation and a longtime hang glider and ultralight flyer. He told me he was putting the finishing touches on an Air Force One replica that was bound for Denver that Monday. He said the sponsor ——needed someone to travel with the motorcade to document the event and get folks’ reactions as we stopped in towns along the way.

“Flying the highway”

In the early days of aviation, there were no radios, no radar, no GPS—just some rudimentary road maps. So when a pilot needed to go somewhere, he would “fly the railways.” Blasting down the highway next to one of the world’s premier historical icons—Air Force One—was surreal at times. I couldn’t help to think we were “flying the highway.”

For a cameraman, it was a “target rich environment.” It is impossible to get a bad shot of this beauty. Due to constraints on length, I had to constantly restrain myself. (Even with my not shooting everything, our video editor, Alison Harder, did a marvelous job on deadline wading through the hundreds of cuts I generated). But, every time we rounded a bend in the road, I saw yet one more fabulous moving portrait contrasting the beauty of God’s favorite landscape—the Kansas plains—and the ultimate in American technical prowess—the airplane.

Soaring through the plains

I had to force myself to keep the camera on my lap at times and not shoot the entire trip door to door.

You see, to me, “Airplane Is Art.” I feel that the shape of a well-designed aircraft is like a Michelangelo sculpture. I am in the crowd who believe “if it looks good—it flies good,” and the Boeing 707 that Cannaby’s Air Force One replicates was a good flier.

Apparently, I’m not the Lone Ranger when it comes to admiring Air Force One because at every stop we made in every small town, we drew a crowd. Some were half-wondering if President Bush was going to step out at any moment. They all were impressed with the plane’s size, beautiful colors and sheer majesty. A continuing theme I heard was how proud Air Force One makes people feel about their country. And that pride crosses party lines and is above politics. And they wanted to take pictures in front of it.

For a photo collection, taking a picture of Air Force One

At times during the two-day trek, I would turn the wheel over to my sound man, Steve Ewing. Then I’d grab the camera and stick my upper body out through the sunroof to get some moving shots of Air Force One whipping down the highway. On reaching Denver, we were halted at a stop light. Nearby, there was a smiling young man in a van with his wife and family, all looking incredulously at our motorcade. He said, “I’ve never seen an aircraft driving down Federal Boulevard before.”

Surprised by a plane on the boulevard

And I have to admit, neither have I.

Please visit our American Presidential Experience special feature for more information and stories about this exciting event.

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