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The fastest photographer in the world?

Chris portrait
Chris Ryding is a professional photographer who flies back seat in the Typhoon aircraft taking pictures whilst enduring speeds of more than 1000mph and G forces at least 3 times the force experienced on the Big Dipper.

Chris Ryding

Southport based Chris is a Flight Trials photographer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire.  The role sees Chris flying in a range of aircraft, predominantly Typhoon, but including Tornado and Hawk.  His task is to obtain photos and footage during the flight for trial purposes. 

As a youngster, Chris was keen to follow a career in engineering but at the age of 16 discovered a love of photography.  The two merged when he enrolled in an industrial photography course which eventually led to his ‘high flying’ career at BAE Systems in 1987. 

Chris is required to carry out extensive training to be allowed onto the aircraft, similar to that of a pilot. Knowing how the oxygen and “G” protection system works is paramount to his safety at speeds and altitude the Typhoon will put him through. He has undergone training to understand the effects of altitude on the human body and how to recognise the symptoms of oxygen starvation or hypoxia, which involves regular training sessions in a decompression chamber to prepare his body.

Talking about the role he said “There aren’t many people that can claim to have a job where they get to ride in the back of an aircraft like a Typhoon.   I get to fly with some of the best test pilots in the world.  We have to build up a relationship of close co-operation in the cockpit so that I can get the right shots at the right time.  I feel extrememly lucky to be doing what I do.”

Typhoon is a continuously evolving multi-role fighter jet.  As such, as new kit and new capabilities are added, it is essential that the Warton based team of test pilots and engineers evaluate the product before it is put into production. Chris plays a crucial role in getting capability from concept to production.  His role is to obtain the necessary inflight photography to support the trials data and prove that it does what it says on the tin, safely.

Mark Bowman, Chief Test Pilot at BAE Systems has flown Chris at supersonic speeds, upside down and across the world on a number of occasions and said “Chris has been a critical part of Typhoon’s development.  He’s been back seat for some of the  most exciting breakthrough moments we’ve had on the programme.  Dropping a weapon for the first time is something we work towards for months at a time, and it’s moments like that where Chris gets the opportunity to be the second person to witness them for the first time.”

When he isn’t flying, Chris is developing, clearing and fitting specialist camera equipment to the aircraft in order that further photographic data can be gained in flight.