This Is The Most Stunning Photo Of A B-1B Bomber Night Launch We’ve Ever Seen

It’s no secret that the B-1B is quite an aesthetically pleasing flying machine, but it’s not until its quartet of F101-GE-102 turbofan engines, which pump out roughly 124,000 pounds of combined thrust, throttle up that the “Bone’s” true character becomes evident. Simply put, witnessing a night departure of a laden B-1B is an absolutely awe-inspiring experience. So much so, in fact, that I wrote an entire post about its trademark “Millenium Falcon” night departures in which its glowing engines remain in full reheat for miles downrange as the big swing-wing jet slowly builds speed and altitude. 

Seeing this spectacle in person, or even watching it in a video is one thing, capturing it in a still image is an entirely different proposition altogether. Aviation photographers from all over the world definitely try, but shooting white-hot afterburner plumes attached to something going at least a couple hundred miles an hour against a dark sky is photography hell. In other words, blurry, grainy images are the norm, not the exception. That wasn’t the case for one well-known aviation photographer, Kedar Karmarkar, someone I have known for well over a decade. He has captured what may be the ultimate Bone burner shot during his recent trip to Nellis Air Force Base to shoot the Red Flag 20-3 exercise that is underway now—you can read all about this iteration of the storied aerial wargames in this recent War Zone article.  

Amazingly, Kedar was able to stop the jet crisply as it roared overhead into the black night sky, its afterburners licking the air around its glowing tail. The image is an absolute showcase of photographic execution of the highest order. Above all else, it captures a “Millenium Falcon departure” unlike any video or even eyeball can. It is both elegant and ferocious at the same time—which is probably a good description of the B-1B, as well. Your instinct is to cover your ears while staring at the big bomber’s blue afterburner plumes frozen in time in the image. 

Kedar, who has an absolute passion for military aviation, shared a bit about how he got the killer photo with The War Zone:

I had seen and ogled at all the pictures of the Bone with the burner from so many other photographers in recent years that I wanted a shot as well – I had gone for just a day during Red Flag 2020-01 that featured Bones from Ellsworth and since it was Friday there were no night ops so that means there was not a chance to get the picture at that time. Then I heard Bones are around for Red Flag 2020-03 and decided to head down there for a couple of days.

I went out on Wednesday night thinking I might get a shot of the Bone with the burners and I was really thinking the dunes [a desolate expanse located north of Nellis Air Force Base] since the previous shot were from there – but then because of the gusty winds they changed the runway and it was a south flow. I camped at Cheyenne Avenue that evening and all the heavies went and then the fighters went and no sign of the Bone. I was disappointed. To add to the disappointment, I heard the next day that the Bones are broken and will not fly in the night launch. So I had absolutely no expectations when I went down there Thursday departures were still a south flow because of the winds. One by one the heavies departed and then a bunch of fighters departed lighting the night sky with their burners. 

Cheyanne Avenue is a rough part of Vegas, but it is a dream for aviation photographers when the winds are blowing from the south., Google Earth

It was almost around 2130-ish and I decided to pack it in as things were getting slower but just decided to hang around for a few more minutes. Then suddenly I saw lights on runway 21R, which is not where the heavies take off, the heavies taking off from 21L, so again I had no clue what the lights were attached to. Then the lights started rolling and I could not make out what it was in the darkness. Then I heard the guy beside me watching through binoculars say ‘Oh its the B-1.” I was like “Holy shit it’s the B-1! I better not screw this up!” 

I saw the shape lift skywards, I could clearly see the four flamethrowers working overtime in the back of the Bone. Those were the most beautiful burner cans I have ever seen in my life. I was watching the Bone takeoff with burners at night for the first time ever, and what a sight and sound it was—WICKED!!! You could see the afterburners even quite a distance as the Bone had them on for quite some time. I was ecstatic. I returned back to the hotel and just transferred the image from the camera to the iPhone using SnapBridge and then using PsX went for a quick and dirty edit.

And that is why my mantra is ‘be lucky than good.” I mean, of course, you need a certain level of proficiency in using the gear and what you do, but the rest is up to luck most of the time!

The image was shot with a Nikon D850 with a 500mm f/4 lens. My settings were Auto ISO with an aperture of f/4.

Bravo Kedar, you captured the firebreathing B-1B in all its glory as few have before. 

We have found a video of the exact departure Kedar photographed! The B-1B comes out of burner a little early, likely due to the noise abatement procedures for Nellis’ southern departure corridor. Check it out:

Make absolutely sure to check out Kedar’s awesome photography, which is truly international in scope, by following his Facebook page linked here. 

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