Ed Darack, the photographer and writer who documented a Colorado Air National Guard unit for our September 2011 issue, tells how he got the cover shot. “We launched gently into the sky—as opposed to a vertical takeoff which, while dramatic, uses up a lot of fuel that we needed to save for climbs over the mountains. As I readied to make the shot, Lt. Col. Turner rocked his aircraft toward me for the best view of his jet, just as we’d briefed. But at the critical moment I realized the camera had been firing the whole time—the G forces had depressed the shutter release. And by that time, so many shots had been fired that the camera's buffer was full.
"We regrouped and did it again, then again, and again. By the end of the fourth try I was disoriented and feeling nauseous. But I still wasn't satisfied with the shots I’d gotten. We had just enough fuel for one more try, so we pulled up in formation for a last attempt. We flew into a cloud opening, well lit by the sun and with views of the mountains below as we hit the perfect angle—for just a half second. I hit the shutter at the very last moment before all three aircraft rolled out.”
Video: Ed Darack (3:41)