Hard to port! Eject Goose, eject!

By Phil Plait | June 7, 2010 1:58 pm

Now here’s a view you don’t always get:


Wow! Click that to most cromulently embiggen!

An Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle patroled the launch area as the Space Shuttle Atlantis roared into space on its final flight in May. Check out the shadow of the plume on the ground!

The full caption reads:

Lt. Col. Gabriel Green and Capt. Zachary Bartoe patrol the airspace in an F-15E Strike Eagle as the Space Shuttle Atlantis launches May 14, 2010, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Colonel Green is the 333rd Fighter Squadron commander and Captain Bartoe is a 333rd FS weapons system officer. Both aircrew members are assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. John Peltier)

Thanks, gentlemen, for seeing off Atlantis in style.

Tip o’ the left wing to Reddit. Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Capt. John Peltier.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (94)

Links to this Post

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  1. Keith (the first one)

    That is the most awesome picture I’ve seen on the entire internet!

  2. humble reader

    “Check out the shadow of the plume on the ground!”

    Wow, for a moment there i thought that was water.

  3. ND

    that is an insanely awesome picture. It’s not just the perspective and the items in picture but the contrast of the colors. Bright blue, yellowish smoke and the dark grey F15.

  4. NAW

    Kind of sad to make a quote of that movie to such a cool picture. And thinking of the person that quote came from. But it does fit though. And yea the shadow of the plume is just too cool.

  5. Jove

    who took the picture

  6. DrFlimmer

    This is made of awesome! I also like the intersection of the exhaust of the SRBs with the clouds, looks like a step or a bend 😉 . Absolutely stunning!

  7. Chief

    Be awesome to have the eagle chase the orbiter and watch how fast the orbiter pulls away even with the eagle at full afterburner.

  8. Okay, I know that distance is distorted ’cause of angles and scale and whatnot… There certainly is a safe distance for aircraft during a launch–what it is I don’t know–but I wonder how far this patrol jet was away at T-zero?

  9. costas

    So where was that picture taken from? Was there another plane in the area?

  10. Magnetar Melon

    Jingoistic undertones aside, that is bloody awesome. Funny to think that the those two technical marvels debuted over 20 years ago and yet they’re still doing the heavy lifting.

    At least the F-15E doesn’t wilt in a drizzle.

  11. That totally wins the Internets.

  12. Ad Hominid

    @5 Jove
    @9 costas

    My guess would be a guy in another F-15. These very rarely fly alone, especially on actual patrols.

  13. Matt Taridtti

    @5 and 9:
    At the exact moment that Atlantis launched, Kennedy Space Center commanded the launch of the Dual Unmanned Mission-Bound Asymmetric Space Shuttle. Among other things, this drone is tasked with documenting the concurrent flights of orbital craft and any F-15’s in the area.

  14. Guysmiley777

    Interesting they’re using F-15Es for patrolling (Beagles), but I suppose given their air-to-ground mission they can use their targeting pod sensors to more easily identify any problem aircraft or ships in the exclusion area.

  15. NAW

    Yea, giveing the thought the alternet title/quote of this could have been “You can be my wingman anytime.” I think it would have worked better, and at least it would have been Kilmer’s quote.

  16. LSandman24

    #9 (Costas), this was probably taken from another F-15 or some other chase vehicle, possibly a T-38, which NASA has plenty of, not to mention us in the the Air Force. We like to toot our own horns, especially pilots, so this sort of aerial photography is pretty common in my line of work (building things that go BOOM! and get dropped/thrown/fired from multimillion dollar aircraft), though nothing quite as cool as this. I’d much prefer to be out of the business and just see rockets used for this kind of thing, but until then… IYAAYAS!

  17. Steve Paluch

    C’mon Phil, you should know Goose was a Navy pilot, not one of those sissy Air Force girls.


  18. @Steve Paluch – Them’s fighting words! I’ll see you at the club, and the first one to pass out is the loser! 😀

    The photo was taken by Capt. John Peltier in another aircraft. Most LIKELY another F-15E in formation. If anything, they are flying rather loose on that. Nothing like fingertip formation where you are barely 3 feet from the other aircraft.

    I remember my fomration checkride in T-38s. My Evaluator pilot said that, “If I wasn’t used to flying F-16 in zero/zero to the runway in Germany, I would almost say you were flying too close a fingertip formation. Good thing you sounded so relaxed, I figured you knew what you were doing.” (I knew who my EP was going to be for that check, so I worked hard on being as cool as I could be, even though it was nerve wracking being that close to another airplane as a young AF pilot.

    I wonder if “Sonic” (Lt Col Eads) was flying the other jet (I see it’s a SJ jet).

  19. Kevin F.

    My twitchy brain wants to say that it looks photoshopped – the shadow detail of the plane against the blue of the sea — but it’s probably just because I’m not used to seeing that large a distance disparity. It is almost definitely NOT photoshopped, due to its source.

  20. Mark Hall

    That picture makes me want to put my widescreen monitor on its side so I can make it my wallpaper :)

  21. ASFalcon13


    Speaking of pilots tooting their own horn/showing off, I was on the NASA Causeway for this launch. Lee Archambault was up in a T-38 to scope out weather before the launch. Before he took it back to the SLF, he decided to give the spectators a show and performed a high-speed low pass along the causeway. Definitely wish I would’ve had my camera ready for that one.

  22. Mancuso

    That pic just gave me the mother of all nerdgasms. I will miss the Shuttle program so much it hurts.

  23. Bad Albert

    Ha! Shows what you know. Maverick and Goose flew an F-14 Tomcat.

  24. It almost looks like a shock wave from the orbiter in that cirrus cloud, rather like the one that broke up the sundog a few days later with the launch of SDO (as photographed by UVa Astronomy Dept’s George Privon and seen on APOD). But it could just be a smudge or reflection inside the canopy…

    The next time a shuttle launches, they should be closer and flying a Raptor. This is an important photo op for the AF. Major Steve: Have any AF PR contacts you could ping?

  25. The picture was obviously taken by Tony Stark.

  26. This sums up the AIAA, quick, someone make a new logo based on this for the AIAA.

  27. Allen

    It must be quite the spectacle to see a Shuttle launch all the way up there.

  28. Chris Winter

    The winds must have been amazingly calm that day.

  29. Wow! That picture is MADE of AWESOME! Wow.

  30. Chip

    @5 Jove /@9 costas both asked who took the picture.

    It was taken by a guy in a Piper Cub and was that turbulence rough when the F15 passed by! Wooo-Weee!

  31. Is that a Tyrannosaurus pilot???

  32. Endy71

    That has to be one of my favorite shuttle photos ever. Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Phil! Unbelievable. Really gives a great sense of scale. Many kudos to the 333rd for that one. Way to go guys!

  33. Dr Cy Coe

    The title didn’t make me think about Top Gun until after it became clear to me that this article wasn’t about the recent geese-related emergency landing at Schiphol Airport, last Sunday. http://www.aircrashobserver.com/e107/comment.php?comment.news.624

  34. jcm

    This is übercool.

  35. exarch

    ERROR: The requested URL could not be retrieved.

    No embiggened version for me then :(

  36. Grand Lunar

    @ 7, Chris:

    “Be awesome to have the eagle chase the orbiter and watch how fast the orbiter pulls away even with the eagle at full afterburner.”

    I don’t know; it’d be like racing a bicycle against a Formula 1 racecar.

  37. Ray

    Why do they need an F-15 to watch the shuttle take off? Has someone threatened to attack it? I’m not aware of any threat air forces in the area that could do so, and a terrorist with an SA-7 would launch it way before the F-15 or anyone else could react. Seems like a total waste.

  38. Bad Albert

    That’s a real cushy assignment. I wonder whose butt they had to kiss to get it.
    Goose: “Well the list is long but distinguished.”

  39. Keith (the first one)

    @14 Guysmiley777. The F-15E Strike Eagle retains full air-air capability. It’s not a pure air-ground aircraft. So I’d say it’s a good choice for the mission.

    Visible in the picture are AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder AAMs (on the wing pylon) and A-G targeting pods below the engine air intakes.

    @26 Ray. If I was a terrorist planning to attack the shuttle at launch, a light aircraft would be an obvious choice, to try to hit it on the pad. The F-15s would be a deterrant and would be the obvious way to shoot down such an aircraft.

  40. Abby

    Goose was in an F16, not an F15.

  41. I was in the other F-15E, just about over Titusville. Sonic wasn’t there, I don’t even think he’s at SJ now. Tony Stark wasn’t there either, and no, it wasn’t photoshopped other than normal contrast/tone. “The threats” are light plane pilots who might knowingly (or unknowingly) fly into the restricted area and delay the multi-million dollar launch if not turned away (http://www.norad.mil/News/2010/052010.html). I think that about covers it? Click on the name for more pics. Cheers, John.

  42. Gary Lake

    I’ve just made a widescreen (1920×1200) desktop image of this using photoshop CS5s content-aware fill. Worke a treat.

    If the photographer is interested in sharing I’d be happy to send it over.

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    Magnificent photo. :-)

    @ 23. Bad Albert Says:

    Ha! Shows what you know. Maverick and Goose flew an F-14 Tomcat.

    Hey, I imagine they would’ve flown *lots* of different planes in their careers – not just the one type the whole time! 😉

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 26. Ray.

    If I was a terrorist planning to attack the shuttle at launch, a light aircraft would be an obvious choice, to try to hit it on the pad. The F-15s would be a deterrant and would be the obvious way to shoot down such an aircraft.

    I believe the top choice for “attack the shuttle” aircraft is this one :


    according to Stephen Baxter’s Titan novel anyhow. 😉

    After all, *that* is the nearest thing to a spacecraft that isn’t actually a spacecraft. 😉

  45. Charles Boyer

    “It must be quite the spectacle to see a Shuttle launch all the way up there.”

    You can pretty easily find videos shot from c0mmercial passenger jets of STS launches on YouTube. They are very cool indeed.

  46. Niaz Chalabianloo

    Truly awesome. The photo is taken with a Canon 5D Mark II

  47. @Ray (#36 or thereabouts)

    Why do they need an F-15 to watch the shuttle take off? Has someone threatened to attack it? I’m not aware of any threat air forces in the area that could do so, and a terrorist with an SA-7 would launch it way before the F-15 or anyone else could react. Seems like a total waste.

    Clearing airspace around a launch has been policy for quite a while now, possibly since the earliest launches, for a large number of reasons: civilian safety, screwing with telemetry/communications/visual tracking, and so on. Not only can the rocket go haywire, but ruptured propellant tanks can spew toxic materials over a broad area. There has been at least one launch delay due to private aircraft too close to the pad – the standoff area is at least a few kilometers radius. I can only imagine what the FAA did to that pilot.

    In the immediate post 9/11 days, the shuttle was considered a prime target for a terrorist strike, and security was probably increased then. They no longer have civilian observations as close as they used to (about five kilometers,) and it is my understanding that the standoff area is wide enough to prevent any portable missiles from reaching – they just don’t have that kind of range. An F-15 can close on any civilian aircraft, including business jets, and is a rather ominous threat – somewhat more so than the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters that also patrol closer in. The idea is, you get the message very quickly without room for misinterpretation.

    I’ve seen a few launches, but never any combat/strike jets, just the Blackhawks. The photo shows a fairly decent altitude, though, so maybe I simply wasn’t hearing them. I imagine they loiter in the area, so turbine noise is greatly reduced.

  48. Khyron

    According to the aeronautical charts for the area, the entire island at all altitudes (20-30 NM from the shuttle pads depending on direction) is restricted airspace on “24 hours notice.” The entire seaward direction is also either “restricted” or “warning” airspace. In practice the ATC is going to be on the radio asking where the heck you think you’re going if you get a small plane within about 30 NM of the pad unless you’re on a parelleling path towards the west, and even then they will be very alert to where you are and ready to intercept.

    You could conceivably take off from one of the local airports and get within about 20 NM of the shuttle pads before you enter the restricted airspace. If you’ve ignored Air Traffic Control’s orders to change course, one of the friendly & courteous escorts pictured above will likely have met you before then and you’ll either be given a guided tour of the route to the airport where you’ll be arrested, or a first-hand experience of being shot down. Either way, a ride you’re not likely to forget.

  49. LSandman24

    @ ASFalcon13 (#21):

    Sweet. I just wish I could get an incentive flight on one of these shuttle launch patrols.

    “Fly? Yes. Land? No!”

  50. MattF

    I saw this launch from the ground (my first) — a stunning display even there. We were about as close as you can get without being in the Visitors’ Center or the Causeway, right across the Indian River. Just amazing. A countdown seems to come to an almost-too-quick climax on NASA TV, but the exhilaration in person is much more pronounced.

  51. MarkDido

    “40. Abby Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 6:20 am
    Goose was in an F16, not an F15.”

    F-14 Tomcat – USN type.

  52. Gus Snarp

    How long before we start seeing this photo posted elsewhere as some kind of “near miss”?

  53. ASFalcon13

    @Khyron: You’re assuming that all the aircraft around there are talking to ATC, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sure, there’s a big tangle of Class B/C/D airspace in the area, but there’s also plenty of Class E adjacent to the Kennedy/CCAFS airspace as well, even underneath the Orlando Class B shelves. An aircraft may operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Class E airspace without being in contact with ATC.

    So, with that in mind, here’s a scenario that’s definitely within the realm of possibility…let’s imagine some Cessna pilot at Massey Ranch Airpark, just north of KSC’s airspace. It’s a sunny day, he’s in a hurry, and, for some reason, he decides to just jump in and go without checking Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), filing a flight plan, or requesting flight following. The field’s untowered, and he’s climbing immediately into Class E, so he’s not required to talk to ATC. Let’s say his plan is to follow the coastline south to stay clear of Orlando International’s airspace…this’ll take him right through the restricted airspace. It might be active but, since the pilot didn’t check the NOTAMs, he might be unaware (note that it’s the pilot’s responsibility to be knowledgable of all active NOTAMs that would affect his flight).

    So why the F-15s? Simple. ATC can’t tell him to divert: they don’t know what frequency (out of a possible 760 aviation channels) that the pilot is listening to and, since his transponder is transmitting a generic VFR code, they don’t even know who he is. Shooting him down with a surface-to-air missile is a bit of an extreme response to a confused Cessna pilot. However, having a loud, fully-armed military fighter jet enter his vicinity is the sort of event that will get his immediate attention.

    By the way, here’s the Orlando Terminal Area Chart, which includes the airspace in question: http://skyvector.com/?ll=28.85439920027766,-80.92677586443915&chart=131&zoom=4

  54. Shobhit

    A FAKE!!!!
    the shadows of the plum falls on the left but if u look closely shadow of the tail of F-15 falls on the right.
    btw COOL Photoshop

  55. Nigel Depledge

    When I read your title for this, Phil, my first thought was “Eject Goose? Why the hell was a goose in an aeroplane?”

    Then I realised – you meant “Eject, Goose” not “Eject Goose”!

  56. That’s the view of lifetime there. Few see the shuttle go up and even fewer see it like that. Nice job!

  57. @ Shobhit:

    Those are not shadows. The twin stabilizers of the aircraft are a darker color than the fuselage. Please note the shadow of the port wing on the wing tank below.

    At least you didn’t close with, “I should know, I’ve seen a few ‘shops in my day.”

    It’s all in the pixels.

  58. Paul A.

    I too wonder what sort of distances and altitudes we’re dealing with in this photo. I would be surprised they if let anything withing 50 miles of a launch.

  59. peter

    I’ve always said there must be some incredible shots taken from the iss of just this sort of thing

  60. Todd M

    @Matt Taridtti: that is AWESOME! I wonder how many people caught that…

  61. Paul Burke

    It’s been done. :)
    MOF, one Tristar test flight over the Pacific Missile Test Range, Vandenburg fired a Titan missile that passed over us on its trip to the South Pacific.
    Din’t get a photo of it.. drat!

  62. Geo

    Great shot! Only thing to make it more impressive is a Boeing KC-767 in the picutre!

  63. bazza

    One minute, you’re buzzing around in your jet-fighter, the fastest thing in the vicinity. Then some upstart shows you how it’s really done and leaves the planet behind!

  64. luiszacheu

    wolll, this is very beautfull!!!

  65. Great FOTO!!! must have been taken after lunchtime per shadows, Sun would be casting rightside of the plane

  66. The coolest photo I have seen in ages!

  67. Haggie

    Imagine being inside the vehicle that makes a F-15E Strike Eagle look like a late model Subaru hatchback driven by a soccer mom…

  68. OK, I had an awesome view of the launch (my first!) and this picture just blows it away.

    @Just Al Says:(47) They do still allow civilians to view at about 5km (that’s how close the press site is) they just don’t allow the general public. At the Launch Experience ride at KSC they said that at about 1200 meters the blast won’t kill you but it will annoy the snakes & alligators so much that they will. :)

    Hey Phil, do you remember the stuffed Moose that Melissa K. took your picture with on the Galapagos cruise? Click on my name to see his view of the launch of STS-132! Little guy gets around!

  69. ME

    @ Shobhit:
    Even if “the shadows of the tail fell on the right,” the shadow of the plume could still be over the water. The plume shadow has to be to the right (west) of the shuttle (which is clearly traveling east), not to the right of the launch tower. Only if the shuttle went STRAIGHT up would the plume shadow need to fall to the right of the tower.

    Imagine if the tail of the jet suddenly blasted off of the jet and started traveling up and east. After about 3 feet of eastward travel, its shadow would be over on top of the engines, and after a few more feet it’s shadow would be over on the opposite stabilizer. Both of which are east of where it was launched from, just like the plume shadow is east of the launch tower.

    IS POSSIBLE!! moron.

  70. Brian

    The shadow of the plume is on the water. I know because I’ve swam in the ocean there before the space center was built.


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