Navy 'Top Gun' Shoots Way to Photographic Fame
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 14, 2003 A Navy "Top Gun" was among more than 125 military and civilian photographers who fanned out across the globe on Oct. 22, 2002, to chronicle a day in the life of the U.S. armed forces.
Cmdr. Thomas R. Twomey was pleased to have two of his photographs published in the book that resulted from the project. The volume, entitled "A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces," went on sale May 13.
But Twomey was even more pleased when the May 12 issue of U.S. News and World Report magazine hit the newsstands with one of his photographs on the cover.
That's not bad for a self-taught photographer whose regular job takes places in the back seat of a Navy F-14 fighter aircraft.
"I'm the naval flight officer, but in F-14s you call them radar intercept officers," Twomey said. "If you saw the movie 'Top Gun,' the guy in the back seat who runs the radars and radios that's me."
Twomey didn't know his pictures were selected for the book or magazine until they were published. "I saw them (the pictures) this week for the first time," he noted. After he turned in his undeveloped film to the book's producers last fall, he said everything was "pretty much under wraps" until the recent press and book releases.
Furthermore, Twomey said even the "Day in the Life" folks had no idea which photo U.S. News would pick for its cover. The magazine's editors selected Twomey's self-portrait in the back seat of an F-5E training aircraft over Fallon Naval Air Station, Nev., home of the "Top Gun" pilot school. The caption with that photo in the "Day in the Life" book reads: "These nimble planes are used as 'adversary' aircraft in training. But their lack of advanced electronics means they have limited use in combat by U.S. forces."
"It's not a front-line fighter," said Twomey, "but it's a pretty neat plane. The photo is of the F-5E coming in at the end of the flight at Fallon. It was one of the last few pictures on the roll of film."
To take the photo during his flight mission, Twomey "devised a clamp system where you screw the camera onto a clamp and put the clamp on a little handle in front of the airplane."
"So your hands are free and the camera is riding up there with a cable release attached to it," he explained. "If you're not too busy doing the mission, you can just reach down and press the cable release to take a picture."
To gain photography skills, Twomey said he "just picked up bits and pieces and talked to other folks -- civilians, some military -- who had done this and gotten nice results. I asked them what kind of equipment and what kind of lens and film they use."
For his formal education, Twomey graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 and from the Navy's "Top Gun" school in 1989. He is the deputy for joint plans and policy on the staff of commander of the 3rd Fleet in San Diego.
Twomey was one of about 60 photographers, including 12 Pulitzer Prize winners, who attended the May 8 opening of an exhibit at the Women's Memorial in Arlington, Va., featuring photography from the "Day in the Life" book. He calls the volume "outstanding" and points out "the timing couldn't be better."