Friday, 25 May 2012

UK Government loses £100m in X-plane switch

In May this year the British government changed it's mind about which vertical jump jet to buy for the Royal Navy. The move away from Lockheed Martin's F35-C to the F35-B is to cost the taxpayer £100m.

This expensive switch took me back to the Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, California in December 2000. I was on a photo shoot for Popular Science magazine with staff photographer John Carnett.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin were competing for the US government's lucrative contract for the new generation vertical take-off plane.

It was the first time that the prototype Lockeed Martin X-35 and Boeing X-32 had been seen together and Popular Science had got the scoop to run the story.

The 'X' in 'X-plane' stands for experimental, with the programme going right back to Chuck Yeager's X-1, the planes costs billions to develop so a great deal hinged on the outcome of this photo shoot.

I was a foreign national so when we arrived at the base a guard was assigned to keep an eye on me and follow me around all day  - even to the loo!

John had plans to shoot the two planes together on the landing strip as the Californian sun set behind. The evening closed in surprisingly quickly so we had to act fast.

The two X-planes were wheeled out onto the runway, my job was to direct the ground crew and get the planes into position.

They looked strikingly different, the Lockheed Martin was an elegant looking jet with sleek lines, whereas the Boeing X-32 had a chubby grinning face.

Understandably Boeing were a little nervous about first impressions and had taken alot of persuading to agree to the photoshoot.

While getting the planes ready I could hear a buzz behind me as a crowd of about 100 people gathered to see this significant occasion. Nearby a plane went through the sound barrier, the bang made me jump out of my skin which made John roar with laughter!

Within 20 minutes darkness had fallen, John had got what he wanted and we moved the jump-jets back into the hangar.

We spent the rest if the freezing night perched in a cherry picker high up over the aircraft, taking photos for the cover, working with a hollywood lighting crew and eating pizza.

As we strained for a better angle, leaning over the side of the crane, the rear wheels tipped up and and we had an 'Italian Job' moment as we balanced precariously over the billion pound planes below.

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