Its not that I don't have an interest in airplanes, I do. In fact, along with my library of railroad books I have a collection of books on my bookshelf about aircraft and the history of military air campaigns.. Also, as a boy, I built many model airplanes which I hung from the ceiling in my room. Then, in my thirties, I got into building model planes again, but stopped when my photography got to take up too much of my time. So it is not a lack of knowledge about the subject that has kept my camera away from things that fly.
The thing about aircraft is that, as a hobby, for most people at least, it becomes an armchair interest. The natural element for cars is the street and the highway, the driveway and the parking lot. Most us, once old enough, own cars and use them all the time. They are all around us. Trains aren't quite as ubiquitous, but their natural element is still quite accessible. You can get to trackside almost everywhere and seeing trains in action is easy enough. But the natural element of the airplane is the air and you really just can't casually go there. And there really aren't that many places where you can get close to airplanes on the ground either. So, except for an occasional air show, my interest in aircraft has been limited to books and models.
Like railroads, there is an active community of people involved in vintage aircraft preservation. I have visited some air museums, at Castle Air Force Base, Hill A.F.B. and Pima A.F.B. They all had good collections of equipment to see, but I was not inspired to get out my camera except to shoot a few slides. Somehow an airplane sitting outside gathering dust, its paint faded, and aluminum finish looking flat just doesn't do it. Pieces of plywood stuck in the air inlets and exhaust don't help either. The really cherry equipment is usually displayed in an old hanger and that just doesn't do it either.
Then, in 1998, while on a photography trip, I was driving through northen Arizona and I saw a sign for "Planes of Fame," a private non-profit museum. Well, it was worth checking out. In addition to dusty planes outside and the cherry stuff in the hanger there was a flyable Ford Tri-motor, a Lockheed Constellation and some other vintage aircraft outside. It was time to try to do something.
The next year, while in Southern California, I visited Planes of Fame's other museum in Chino, but except for a P51 that was brought outside so that the plane behind it could be brought out and flown, there was the problem of dusty planes outside and nice ones inside.
But there was another possibility for getting access to vintage aircraft, the Reno Air Races. Photographing the planes during the races themselves didn't seem practical, but it turned out that the day after the races most of the planes were still around and the pits were open to visitors. I went up and found that I could just drive right in and take all the pictures I wanted.
Even when I could get access to them, photographing airplanes posed its own problems. Aircraft are very singular objects, they are also fairly clean and simple so finding meaningful compositions isn't easy. There isn't a lot of detail that can be focused on and at the same time they are not very compact so that they are difficult to group together. Still, they have dramatic and dynamic lines and there are very few things where form is as much a reflection of function.