The numbers are a code the two use to approximate distance. “Five means a little bit,” Koepnick says later, “and ten is twice that. Two is a smidgen.” A World War I replica builder who flew a photo shoot with the pair later gave them small models on stands inscribed “Five right, ten back. That’s perfect.”
Meanwhile, the next airplane checks in: “Photo One, this is the Monocoupe at 3200 feet.” And after the Champions wander off, he is beside us, a creamy yellow Monocoupe floating on the air like a gently bobbing seagull in the wake of a fishing boat. When they are done with the Monocoupe, Koepnick leans forward and looks over my shoulder at my notes. “Hey, she is stealing our secrets!” he says and I laugh.
According to Moore’s logbook, he and Koepnick have shot 885 airplanes over the years. (Koepnick shoots air-to-air with other pilots as well, and has photographed 535 EAA covers and more than 1,000 airplanes.) This afternoon, they will fly with the Historical Flight Foundation’s beautifully restored Eastern Airlines DC-7, but their last airplane this morning is a Stinson L-13 observation airplane. It has a skinny, stick-like fuselage and a radial engine. A little boy in a cap and sunglasses is on board watching us. The pilot and boy are on their way home. I see a folded lawn chair through their back window and imagine the boy and his dad camping among new friends and old airplanes.
As we head back toward the airport, the pair tell me a story about losing oil pressure on a flight. Since lack of oil pressure leads to engine failure, Moore chopped the power to save the engine. Miraculously, they glided back to the runway and coasted nearly all the way to their hangar. They climbed in a backup (a Cessna 180 that an EAA volunteer flies on aerial shoots) and even more miraculously, got back in the air in time to rendezvous with their photo subject, a rare Boeing C-40E. One of Koepnick’s photographs from that flight won an award from Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.
Up ahead I see busy Wittman airport, and when our wheels roll back onto the runway, my flying is done for the day. But late this afternoon when the sun is low and the light soft, Moore and Koepnick will be back in the air, looking for the next great shot.
Debbie Gary writes about airshows and flying from her home in Houston, Texas.