Sean D. Tucker Finishes A Splendid Solo Aerobatic Career
In his last year of Performing Solo in his Oracle Challenger III biplane, Sean D Tucker took some time out to take a few photos over Boston and answer a few questions to promote the Rhode Island Air Show at Quonset State Airport in June. While getting the aircraft prepared for flight, (taking the doors off of the photo plane), I had a few minutes alone walking with Sean and I told him that I really wanted to thank him for his years of awe inspiring performances. I recalled a show many years ago, a few sponsors prior when his son Eric was the announcer for his performance. I believe it was during the morning warm-up flight which is now called the Tucker Teaser. Some oil was getting onto the canopy so Sean was going to do a Flame Out Landing. At that time I had never heard of such a thing but as I explained to Sean the way he brought the audience up into the cockpit of that plane and taught us things as well as flew the pants off that little plane made him a great performer to watch. Eric explained what the Flame Out Landing meant and how with engine at idle Sean would carefully circle around the airfield, controlling his glide to plan to be at the touch down spot on the runway when he has no altitude left. That didn’t have to be explained over the air show public address system but the team brought us into the cockpit and we learned something.
For myself, someone who was at the show for big loud fast jets, this guy and his team struck a nerve in me and I’ve been consistently impressed ever since.
I have been fortunate enough to photograph Sean several times from the air in conjunction with the Rhode Island Air show at Quonset State Airport. The most memorable was from the back of a Rhode Island National Guard C-23 Sherpa. Not many people can recall what a C-23 Sherpa looks like, so I would describe it as about the size of a small school bus with a wing holding a propeller wielding engine on each side. The Sherpa can haul cargo and passengers, so the back of the plane opens up to an opening about the size of a one-car garage door. I was strapped in to a harness tethered to the plane so I could stand at the edge of the garage door size opening at 10,000 feet looking down at Sean in his Oracle biplane as he prepared to circle around the parachute jumpers that would soon be jumping out. I still remember to this day that I was more nervous about messing up the photo opportunity than I was about standing on the edge an airplane at 10,000 feet!
Knowing that 2018 would be the last year to photograph Tucker in the Oracle Challenger III, I started thinking about submitting a request to photograph him one more time. About a month in advance I sent an email to team Oracle media coordinator, Suzanne Herrick of Fedoruk and Associates, and a follow-up a week or so before Team Oracle would be at the Rhode Island Air Show at Quonset State Airport. In a few days I got a response explaining what they had for opportunities. One of which was a photo flight for the Boston Globe offering me a seat (belt) as the seats are actually removed for the photo flight on the twin engine Seneca. At that time the Globe flight was tentative but I expressed my enthusiasm to Suzanne that the Globe photo shoot would be perfect for what I had in mind. Things came together quickly and the Globe flight was a go for the Wednesday before the Rhode Island show. On Wednesday I got to the scheduled airport for the flight for the 11 a.m. show time and there was no sign of Team Oracle. I went to the company we were supposed to meet at and asked about the Oracle crew. The manager told me they called 10 minutes prior and cancelled.
Luckily he also told me they had rescheduled for the next day. Being used to weather and mechanical issues affecting fights like this I knew this was a possibility. I also knew that they may have bigger and better plans for other flights or maintenance lined up for the rest of the week. I called the contact person Suzanne had referred me to, John, and he was extremely apologetic and said the clouds were bad and the Globe photographer had cancelled. I assured him I understood how these things go as I kept my fingers crossed… Hoping he would invite me the following day… He did!! I met the crew and passengers the next day.
In the pre-flight briefing Sean, the pilot of the photo plane, Johnny D, John Degennaro discussed the plan with me and the Globe photographer, David Ryan. David wanted to circle over the Charles River in Boston focusing on capturing Sean and the biplane over the famous Salt and Pepper Bridge. I had a different plan; I wanted to capture Sean above the buildings of the city. Because we would circle four or five times this flight plan suited me just fine, the background I wanted would be at the other side of the circle. David and I, along with a reporter from the Globe sat on the floor of the twin engine Seneca. David was behind the pilot (left side) facing the rear of plane which offered the best view of Sean off to the left of our aircraft.( we were the lead aircraft so although Sean is next to us he is also slightly behind us) I was also on the left side facing David. I had to rotate myself around in order to see Sean but that also allowed me to brace myself up against the frame of the doorway because it was a little bumpy up there. As soon as I could see Sean in that little biplane next to us I started taking photos. I was nervous about the clouds although not as bad as the day prior I was still nervous about the reduction of sunlight and how that would affect my available choices of shutter speed so I could avoid freezing the prop yet still get a good crisp focus. I was very satisfied with the results and honored to be able to talk with such a legend one on one.