• March 3, 2014

Tyrone Turner Takes Thermal Imaging Up, Up and Away

“It was like a red string of power—the sleek body and the color rendition of the hot air coming out of the engines reminded me of cartoon versions of fast cars, and I was fascinated by that.”—Tyrone Turner

Picture of: A thermal image of an airplane

For those not familiar with DC’s Reagan National Airport, there’s a small strip of land near the runway called Gravelly Point Park, where you can lay on your back and watch the planes land perilously close to your head. (Or, takeoff, depending on wind direction.) The planes come in loud—and fast—and the first time you experience it, you feel a slight adrenaline rush as the planes whoosh overhead.

This made it the perfect spot for photographer Tyrone Turner.

Courtesy of a National Geographic magazine assignment, Turner got his hands on a high-end thermal imaging camera this past December and headed to Gravelly Point to capture images of airplanes. Two days later he had hundreds of images that show the varying degrees of heat in the fuselage and engines as the planes takeoff and land.

“I was shooting from different vantage points, trying to get the heat, trying to get the engine and parts of the plane body,” he said. “Then I was trying to get the trees, and I really liked how that looked. I had a fascination with this camera that registers information in a way that we don’t normally see it.”

Picture of: A thermal image of an airplane

The camera he was using—the FLIR T640—uses infrared imaging to “see” thermal energy emitted from an object. The higher the object’s temperature, the greater the infrared radiation emitted. Warm objects stand out against cooler backgrounds, allowing the viewer to see the variations in temperature. Thermography is mostly used in commercial and industrial applications, such as by firefighters, electricians, and the military.

One of Turner’s challenges when shooting the planes was that the thermal imaging camera has a slow shutter speed and a significant lag time between pressing the button and actually making the image. He had to experiment with panning and leading the camera prior to the plane coming into view. This meant he was only able to take one shot per landing, so he spent hours in the park as the planes landed every two-to-three minutes.

“After some of the first ones I was like ‘wow’ and started to get hooked,” said Turner. “I got excited—you could see the flames, which is really just hot air, and I thought ‘this is cool’ and just kept going. It was one of those times that I was unexpectedly surprised by the results.”

Picture of: A thermal image of an airplane
Picture of: A thermal image of an airplane
Picture of: A thermal image of an airplane

Turner first shot thermal images for National Geographic for a 2009 article on energy conservation. His new thermal images of body heat will be published in the May issue of the magazine.

View more of his work on his website and follow him on Tumblr and Instagram.

There are 8 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. James
    May 21, 2014

    awesome – so creative!If you can get access to the airport – it would be interesting to see how the hot brakes appeared. It would also be interesting to see how the different outside temps (snowy day) would look like.. Fun to be you and get to play with the latest cool stuff!!! James

  2. Ian Johnstone
    April 20, 2014

    Should have used a camera with a cooled sensor then you would have got images without any blurring.

  3. Prince Raja
    March 10, 2014

    I like photograph

    March 5, 2014

    I confirm the difficulty of the exercice, I perform the same exercise in Belgium, shutter speed and unstable delay is a nightmare.
    Of course, with my camera, pictures are less impressive …

  5. Celtic
    March 4, 2014

    @chi elvis karl – Remember that all planes have pitot tubes, sensory equipment and hot air bleed vents all over the place They are small and does not look like anything but they become quite hot when the plane flies. The skin of the plane does not heat up that much as it stays subsonic and the friction is low. Also when the plane takes off the weels become very hot due to friction and once they are retracted they heat up the area around them as seen in some pictures. In the tail there is a smaller jet engine that also generates heat and this is the APU that supplies power to the plane when on the ground. Hope this helps and if anybody else wants to supply more info? 🙂

  6. Fernando
    March 3, 2014

    Chi Elvis Karl,

    These are the air conditioning packs cooling air outlets.

    Cool air goes in the inlets, heat is transfered from the hot air bled from engine compressors to it by the packs, and then it is exausted through the outlets you saw on the pictures.

    That is absolutly normal.

  7. chi elvis karl
    March 3, 2014

    mine is rather a question than a comment that needs some really expertise answer. I will like to know what is it that is causing some portions of the planes fusillage to be as hot as the hot gas oosing out of the plane’s reactors as when we observe the images, we notice some specific areas of the fusillage as red as the red colour of the gas from the reactors and paradoxically, these areas are concentrated directly underneath the fusillage just around the area i believe the central recevoir of the planes carboreactor is found. Moreso, does this not pose a possible overheating of this specific region which can be a possible threat to air transport safety? I know the effects of air resistance and friction normally overheats the planes fussilage, but does it do it to the extend that the fusilage temperature rises as high as that of the ejected gas fron the reactors? moreso, i don’t observe the areas having this surprising red colour to be those experiencing the greatest effects of air resistance and friction neither during take off or landing of an air craft. I will really love to be given some expertise clarification to this rather suprising phenomenon on a personal point of view? Thanks.

  8. susan welchman
    March 3, 2014

    TT makes me look at the everyday in new ways. He once shot light bulbs like art-he’s always searching.

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