A couple of years ago I was down in Réunion, a small island outside the coast of Africa, on an assignment working with Air Austral.
It was a lovely sunny, warm and nice island and a great company to work with. Easy going pilots and management, just like it should be.
After a couple of days it was planned to do an Air2Air shoot of their Boeing 777.

The only problem we had was finding a pilot to fly the chase plane, but someone knew someone in the local flight club so we headed over there. We found one guy who said he could fly the plane as we wanted.
Réunion is a French island and everybody speaks French. Luckily this guy also spoke some English so we could communicate really well. My French is enough to survive, but I trust my English for important planning issues like this.

We spent some time in the clubhouse discussing how I wanted to perform the photo shoot, and loads of drawings were done on the big whiteboard on the wall.
The pilot wanted a girl to fly with us and it was determined that I should give all commands to her in English, and she would tell the pilot what I wanted.

Despite my efforts to change it so I could talk directly to the pilot that’s how it was agreed.

We, Myself, the pilot of the chase plane and company management, had a meeting with the Control Tower of Réunion Airport.
As we stood up in the tower we discussed the distance from the Boeing 777 we were about to shoot, and I pointed out to some 747’s on the apron below us and we made comparisons.

We all agreed about a safe distance from the Boeing 777 that would ensure great photos and still be safe from vortex’es.

We met up with the captain of the B777 and went through it all again.  The 777 was departing for a short flight to Mauritius and as it came back we would meet it on it’s approach and follow it until touchdown.

So, the directions to the B777 Captain was basically, fly as you normally would do, and we will come up on your starboard side for a couple of shots during your approach. Captain agreed and we started to prepare.

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Pushing back for the flight to Mauritius

I positioned myself just by the runway for the takeoff and shot some nice ones as it rotated just in front of me.

F-OPAR Rotates

I watched it climb out and head for MRE.
We drove off to the flight club again to prepare our aircraft, it was a Cessna with the wings on top and a window I could open up. Perfect. I have always shot from aircraft with wings under us, so this would be a first try.

With plenty of time left we took off and headed out for our rendez-vous point next to the approach path.  It gave me a nice view of the airport.

Réunion Airport Overview

We heard the 777 call up on the frequenzy and we knew he was closing in. I made sure all my camera gear was ready and waited. At last the mighty 777 showed up on the approach next to us.

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Gear out and established.

Ok, it was showtime!
The pilot of our chase plane started to throttle up and approach the 777. We were still ahead of him, closing in from the side. We were struggling big time with the turbulence caused by the island itself as the winds swept over it from the south.

I pushed the pilot to continue closer as we still were much too far away from the aircraft, not even close to what we had agreed on during planning.
He seemed excited and not really focused on the job.

At last we were alongside with the 777 and I started shooting some from the distance, urging him to go closer so I would get the shots.

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Passing the highway on approach.

We were now keeping up nicely with the Boeing 777, but too far away. I made this clear to the pilot and the girl assisting us but he never got any closer.

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Beautiful view as the city passed behind the approaching 777.

Frustrated over the ignorant pilot,  I took all the shots I could, still urging him to move closer.

He never did…

This being his first time he did some really rookie mistakes that cost me a lot of good shots.

With the wing on top, he dipped it right in front of me when having the 777 on some of the best spots.
Giving me a beautiful view of the wings and the ocean, not the Boeing 777 I wanted.
Level wings mate, level wings!

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Reversing on the runway after a smooth landing

Frustrated as **** I kept shooting as we circled the airport following the 777 taxying to stand.

F-OPAR | B777 | Air Austral - Leaving the runway and taxying to the apron.

We landed our chase plane and parked it at the club again. I packed my gear quickly as I couldn”t hide my anger. I never got a good explanation of why he didn”t follow the plan, and stayed too far away.

Luckily he had to respond to the company as of why the shots were so distant. I did what I could, but blaming someone else has never looked good so we were all in the same boat.

Having done many Air2Air shoots in the past with an excellent pilot, my brother, always delivering the object in the right spot. I might be spoiled… But that’s how it should be.

I will show some of those shoots later on, as a contrast to this failure.

I will forever remember the view as the 777 flew alongside of us as the positive thing.

Lessen learned:
never trust a pilot who says he can do it without blinking.  Unless he has something to show for it.

This was the second time I missed an opportunity because of a bad pilot….
Don’t ask about the other time…