400 flights flown

On July 11, 2017, I found myself flying over Guelph, Ont., with Bruce Paylor in his Fleet Finch, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) No. 4488.

This was a special flight for two reasons.

Dumigan in cockpit of an aircraft, with Lancaster in the background
Photo journalist Eric Dumigan’s memorable shoots include flying with an Avro Lancaster bomber from Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, pictured here. Eric Dumigan Photo
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One, we were there as part of a Vimy Memorial flypast with Vimy Flight’s two replica Nieuport XI aircraft. Two, it was my 400th flight in an aircraft.

My passion for aviation photography began before I can remember. My father, Richard Dumigan, was a passionate amateur aviation photographer who took me to airshows and airports from a very early age.

One of my fondest memories is making black and white prints in the darkroom and listening to classical music. Post processing became a great way to carry on the excitement of an air show into Monday morning. I have since gone digital, but the feeling is still the same days after an air show, as I sit and process images on the computer.

I was born in 1964, and my father gave me my first SLR camera in 1974: a Practica with a 50-millimetre lens. I did not get many flying shots, but did get a few good taxi shots at the Toronto Island Airport during the Canadian International Air Show.

Dumigan in aircraft cockpit
Dumigan said his passion for aviation photography began before he can remember. Eric Dumigan Photo

The following year I shot an entire roll of 24-exposure film at the Hamilton airshow, where I got my first real taste of warbirds. I was hooked. Something about vintage aircraft and warbirds kept me wanting to shoot.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s I experienced some of the best warbird shows in North America at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) in Hamilton, Ont.

By the mid-1980s, my father and I began attending the National Warplane Museum’s Geneseo Airshow in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Both museums have been very supportive of my work and a great source of material.

In the late 1980s, my photography progressed to the point I thought it was as good as what I was seeing in magazines, so I decided to start sending material to Flypast Magazine in England and Air Classics and Warbirds International in the United States.

Dumigan shoots Red Bull Air Race pilot Pete McLeod.
Dumigan shoots Red Bull Air Race pilot Pete McLeod. Eric Dumigan Photo

Response was great, and my first image published was in Flypast, capturing Royal Air Force pilot Tony Banfield in the CWHM Lancaster on the day of the first flight.

Flights in aircraft were few and far between in those days, but one of the most memorable was on Aug. 1, 1987. I dragged my sister all the way to Rhinebeck, N.Y., to see Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

Flights in the 1929 New Standard D-25 were reasonable–something like $25–so I bought tickets on two separate flights. What made them incredibly memorable was the fact Palen himself was flying the D-25.

After several years of getting material published, my first air-to-air work came on Nov. 16, 1994, on the set of Iron Eagle IV at Oshawa, Ont. A local museum owner, Bob Stuart, was a great admirer of my work and introduced me to Hannu Halminen, who owned three Harvards, a Waco YMF-5 and a de Havilland Tiger Moth.

I flew on two flights during filming and got my first taste of air-to-air photography. Halminen owned Classic Wings, and in those days he often barnstormed his aircraft around Ontario. I took great pleasure to help load passengers and fly in the aircraft. We have enjoyed two decades of friendship, flights and photo shoots.

Retired Maj Stan J. Miller of the RCAF was Classic Wings’ chief pilot and we spent many memorable years flying in the aircraft together. He gave me my first taste of flying when he handed the controls of the Waco YF-5 to me over Toronto on our way to the Muirkirk airshow.

From that point on he let me do most of the transient flying and I built up stick time in the Harvard, Tiger Moth and Waco.

Looking through my flight log, the one type of aircraft that stands out the most is the North American Harvard/T-6/SNJ, designed as a Second World War advanced trainer.

To date I have flown more than 90 times in the iconic trainer. With tandem seating, the Harvard makes for a great photo platform. It also has a sliding canopy and good visibility that allows shooting out both sides of the aircraft.

Dumigan in aircraft cockpit
Dumigan has had many “airventures” so far, proof that an aviation enthusiast’s dreams can come true. Eric Dumigan Photo

When pushed, the Harvard can keep up with fighters and some of the faster aircraft. Similar designs I have photographed from include the Vultee BT-13, T-28 Trojan, Beechcraft T-34 Mentor and Nanchang CJ-6.

My passion is air-to-air photography, but over the years media flights and other opportunities have allowed me to fly in some of the most iconic aircraft produced. Second World War heavy-bombers include the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-29 Superfortress and the most coveted of all, the Avro Lancaster.

So far I have flown two flights in the Lancaster, and both were extremely memorable.

First was on June 15, 2013, when the Lancaster led “Merlin Flight” on a practice for the Hamilton airshow. The flight consisted of two Hawker Hurricanes, two Spitfires and a Mosquito.

The second flight was out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in 2016 with RCAF retired Gen Tom Lawson and his family. Among the passengers was 90-year-old Stan Bieniawski, Lawson’s father in law, who had trained as a gunner on Lancasters at the end of the Second World War.

A Second World War-era bomber I could not forget to mention is the North American B-25 Mitchell, one of the best photo platform aircraft still flying.

The twin-engine bomber packs lots of speed and boasts an emergency side hatch and tail gun position that are excellent for air-to-air photography. I have been lucky enough to fly in five different Mitchells, 14 times.

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More exotic aircraft include two famous British designs, both powered by Bristol engines, The Fairey Swordfish and Westland Lysander.

The Lysander flight was unique, as I flew in the Vintage Wings of Canada Lysander with Dave Hadfield and photographed the CWHM Lysander, flown by Rick Rickards.

Photographing a Lysander while flying in a second Lysander is one of those flights you don’t even dream of. The Rimowa Junkers JU-52M, Larry Ernewein’s Bucker Jungmann, EAA’s Ford Trimotor, CWHM Noorduyn Norseman and Neil Bilodeau prototype Helio Courier all rank high on memorable flights.

On Aug. 26, 2011, I had the pleasure of flying with Capt Brett Parker and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds over Prince Edward Island. Never had I worked so hard to get a flight, and it was well worth it.

As a Canadian aviation photographer, a flight with the Snowbirds was at the top of my list. The highlight for me was getting a little stick time on a CT-114 Tutor and rolling the aircraft during a tail-chase sequence.

In 2016 I was hired by the Breitling Jet Team for a photo shoot over Detroit, and flew with Jim DiMatteo in an L-39. Martin Mattes and his L-29 rounds out my military jet flight experience.

While not a jet flight, I also had the privilege of working with the U.S. Navy Blue Angel solo pilots for a legacy flight shoot with a Grumman F8F Bearcat. I have not perused many military shoots, but have flown in a Canadian Forces CC-130H Hercules on a media ride out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton and CC-115 Buffalo during a Canadian Forces Skyhawk jump over Gatineau, Que.

Other notable aircraft include an Antonov An-2, C-45/Beech 18s, several Boeing Stearmans, Cessna Crane, O-2, L-19 and C-195, a Catalina flying boat and Grumman Avenger.

Iconic de Havilland aircraft include six different Tiger Moths, four different Chipmunks, a Beaver, Turbo Beaver, DHC-8 Q400, and the above-mentioned Buffalo.

The Douglas DC-3/C-47, Ercoupe, Fleet Canuck and North American P-51 Mustang are also memorable. In total, I have flown in 92 different types of aircraft.

Behind all these flights are hundreds of great people. Some are acquaintances, while others have become great friends. Some are astronauts and others are maintainers who work their art, keeping the aircraft in top form.

Some work the ramps; others work in the towers, keeping people and aircraft safe. Some are the world’s top aviation entertainers, while others fly without radios from grass strips and prefer a low-key life.

Some are fellow photographers, historians and enthusiasts, and others are airshow legends from decades ago. Our aviation family is filled with the best friends anyone could hope to have.

The future has yet to be written, and I’m sure there are many more “airventures” to be had. For now I look back to 1974, at that little kid the other side of the frost fence, and say: dreams do come true.

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