Yesterday I took some photos of Endeavour's last flight while getting some left seat time in a Cessna 180.
Endeavour was on its way to being a museum piece in Southern California and flew over Tucson at an altitude of 1,500 feet at the request of Captain Mark Kelly to honor his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Captain Kelly flew the shuttle on its last mission in 2011. The specially modified 747 used to carry the shuttles is called, unsurprisingly, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. This particular aircraft is N905NA, a former American Airlines 747-100.
I'll show the photos as well as describe how I took them and some other thoughts - feel free to just look at the photos if that's your thing.
At about 8000 feet above the ground (to clear class C airspace with some room to maneuver) while talking to Tucson Approach, it was harder than I thought to spot a 747 with a space shuttle on its back. I had shot a few test frames of the city to make sure I had the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture at appropriate settings, and also to test focus - I was using a 200mm manual focus lens with my Pentax K-5. Although the camera still told me when I was "focused" with the manual lens, it was hard to hold the camera steady on a moving target.
I initially spotted the 747 as it passed near downtown Tucson. My first shots didn't capture the aircraft perfectly, so I went to a slightly higher ISO and a faster shutter speed. I also tweaked aperture slightly.
It was easier to get good shots from the flat side window than the curved plexiglas windshield, so we paralleled the 747 as it flew north along Interstate 10. Needless to say, a 747 is faster than a Cessna 180 (even in a fairly steep descent), so I didn't have a whole lot of time to mess with camera settings or check the way my photos looked. I did check one photo to make sure that I wasn't getting everything horribly wrong, then fired away in short bursts. Even shooting RAW+JPEG, I was able to take a ton of shots and never hit the buffer (I love my K-01 for video, but the K-5 is better for still images).
Although I was focused on taking pictures at the time, I later thought about how much I would miss having America dominate the world in terms of missions to space.
As soon as the SCA pilots started climbing out, we had little chance of keeping up with them. We watched the 747 and shuttle disappear into the distance and continued on with the rest of our flight.
Most things do not excite me, but seeing a Space Shuttle on the occasion of its very last flight through the air is something I am very glad I was able to see. At some point, I'll go visit Endeavor at its museum and take some close up photos.