The Most Amazing Jet Picture – new details emerge on how it was taken

In September, 2003, the picture below showed up on several websites. I remember the day it came out because it was absolutely amazing, but it seemed to be an impossible shot. The aviation boards were full of rumors about the picture being fake but few days later, more details surfaced on the accident and how this REAL picture was captured.

Click here to see the original high-res shot (with EXIF – AMAZING 3008×1960 image)

Here’s a summary of why the pilot is making a quick exit – Most airplanes have an altimeter that displays the current altitude above sea level. Here in the flat state of Florida where the tallest mountain is Space Mountain at Walt Disney World, we pilots get spoiled because we don’t do a lot of work converting altitude above sea-level to altitude above the ground – they are usually within 100 feet of each other. If our altimeter is reading 2,000 feet, we can fly all over the state with no worries about hitting anything (with a few exceptions, a couple of radio towers and a tethered blimp at 14,000 feet in the keys)! However, if you fly around at 2,000 feet above sea level in Colorado, you’ll bump into something fast! If you want to be 1,000 feet above the ground, you have to know what the elevation is of the ground below you and fly 1,000 feet higher than that elevation. This is the basis of how this accident happened. This particular pilot had practiced the maneuver many times at Nellis AFB in Nevada and was used to flying to around 2,500 feet higher than the elevation of the ground below him before starting the manuever…. but this particular show was in Idaho where the airport elevation was 1,000 feet higher than Nellis so he was much closer to the ground than he expected to be. Basically, he forgot to add the extra 1,000 feet resulting in a VERY exciting flight! I wonder what words he was yelling when he noticed the ground closing in and realized his little math error! He tried his best to recover, and came very close to pulling out of the dive in time, but physics won and he exited the aircraft at 140′ above the ground only 8/10ths of a second before crashing! The pilot did survive. The plane did not.

The photograph was taken with a Nikon D1X using a 300mm lens at f4 and a shutter speed of 1/1000th (EXIF data is included in the high-res shot). The photographer was Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III, Still Photographer, U.S. Air Force

Other pictures and multiple videos of the crash are available at

This week, a new video was put on YouTube by AvWeb (an aviation news organization) showing the accident with new details on how the shot was captured:

~ by Greg on January 12, 2008.

15 Responses to “The Most Amazing Jet Picture – new details emerge on how it was taken”

  1. Greg,

    I just found your blog as I was making my daily crawl through new posts at Nikonians (I’m a D200 user and a D3 dreamer – is where my photo gallery is located), and I was quite impressed with it. Great reading! I’ve added your blog to my blogroll at


    G Calvin

  2. Looks to me as if SSgt Davis was lucky to survive too. From the picture it looks as if he’s directly in the flight (or slide) path of the airplane.

    By the way, take it from an old F80 pilot who lives in Colorado: if you try to fly around ANY part of Colorado at 2000 feet above sea level you’ll be flying underground.


    Russ Lewis

  3. Another reason that the Blue Angels are better than the Thunderbirds :p

  4. Great post! As both an aviation and photography nut, I love this story. I’ve watched the videos of this crash on YouTube hundreds of times. Ejecting 8/10’s of a second before impact is what I call lucky!

  5. I was in the Royal Air Force for 36 years, and that’s the best picture of a ‘Martin-Baker Letdown’ that I’ve ever seen.

    Congratulations to SSgt Davies for standing his ground, and getting an excellent picture!

  6. glad he’s alright that’s just an amazing shot though. ive seen the video just not the picture. 🙂

  7. […] The Most Amazing Jet Picture – new details emerge on how it was taken In September, 2003, the picture below showed up on several websites. I remember the day it came out because it was […] […]

  8. Haha. Wow. It looks as though someone simply filmed in on a HD camera and then cut out the still shot. That’s quite impressive.

  9. Definitley one of the best detailed disaster pics ive seen

  10. Amazing picture. Even more amazing are the forces that affect your body while you’re doing these stunts.

  11. I just stummbled across your blog, what an amazing picture. As a commercial pilot myself I love anything to do with aviation.

  12. So what does the former fighter pilot do for a living nowadays? I’m assuming failing to calibrate the altimeter is a career-ending boo-boo

  13. Absolutely amazing. Whether he ejected or not, his career was doomed!

  14. It mays me proud to still be a Nikon D1X owner! It does not matter what new wiz bang cam you possess…what matters is that you have the right timing and be ready when your moment arises for you.

  15. Nice Blog. Thanks for throwing my photo up here. It’s still cool to read some of the comments after five years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: