Stephen Wilkes Gets Up Close and Personal With Joint Strike Fighter
Vanity Fair sent Stephen Wilkes to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to capture the F-35 Lightning II, a.k.a. the Joint Strike Fighter.
"[The] J.S.F., is the most expensive weapons system in American history," writes Adam Ciralsky. "The idea behind it is to replace four distinct models of aging 'fourth generation' military jets with a standardized fleet of state-of-the-art 'fifth generation' aircraft" – however much of the hubbub surrounding the Lockheed Martin-produced J.S.F. is about its present inability to fully function. The Marines expect it to take flight in 2015.
Yet, the F-35 is in good enough shape that it makes for a great picture. Wilkes shot the overhead image from a cherry picker raised 80 feet in the air. "The moment when you're above a $200 million aircraft, you really don't want to drop anything," Wilkes remarked. "I was shooting at noon, very specifically, because I wanted a high light to create a particular shadow."
For the sunset photo, Wilkes used the cherry picker to illuminate the grounds. "It took an enormous amount of logistical planning to get a lift truck onto an area like that – and there are tremendous security issues," he noted. "There were aspects of the aircraft that we couldn't photograph because of the technology involved."
During his time spent at Elgin, Wilkes was reminded that the most deadly objects are sometimes incredibly beautiful: "[Scientists] say that under a microscope, the Ebola virus has one of the most extraordinary patterns; if you look at the head of a black mamba, it has an exquisite surface ... so when I saw this aircraft, and thought about all of the things it's supposed to do ... to say it was intimidating is an understatement."