Media Member Spotlight: Welcome Brian La Fetra to the DC-3 Society
feature written by Brian La Fetra, media member
Aviation has been my passion my entire life. There’s a great photo of me at age three, in my grandfather’s arms waving an American flag, as a trio of P-51 Mustangs roar past. That was my first airshow. Aviation has played a role in almost every major life decision, from school to extracurriculars to hobbies.
As I grew up and my love for aviation blossomed, my dad introduced me to the southern California warbird scene. We often made the trip to Planes of Fame’s spectacular airshow, and eventually made our way to almost every museum or airshow in California or Arizona, often multiple times. I got to see even more when I was a teenager on a two-week road trip, starting at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, travelling to the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, and finishing at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. It was the trip of a lifetime and showed me what the peak of aviation could be.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I attended college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. When I arrived, I joined the Golden Eagles Flight Team, an organization that competes in regional and national competitions against 30 other collegiate flight teams under the auspices of the century-old National Intercollegiate Flying Association. My event was aircraft recognition, and I, who received the “Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft Since 1909” for my 4th birthday, was all in. I made the team freshman year and competed at Nationals twice, placing first and second alongside equally skilled teammates in other events.
Practice for the aircraft recognition event included making practice tests. I frequently scoured the internet for unique angles of different planes of all eras, and thought to myself, why not take my own photos instead of using shots someone might have seen before? The journey began with a newly purchased Nikon D3400 and a pair of lenses. That next weekend, I attend two airshows, 400 miles apart. In Prescott, I captured a C-53 conducting an airborne drop. The next day in Huntington Beach, CA, I photographed the RAF Red Arrows soaring over the beach. And I even got back to school in time to ace a midterm test on Monday. I knew I was hooked.
While COVID scrapped my newly hatched airshow plans, the pandemic provided an outstanding opportunity to hone my photography fundamentals. Prescott is a popular stop for transiting military aircraft, hosts an extremely active US Forest Service base in the summer, and is one of the busiest flight training airports in the country. With nowhere else to go, I spent hours upon hours out at the airport with my camera, shooting everything from Marine Corps helicopters to firefighting aircraft to our local Cessnas. As my skills grew, I established photography locations for every departure or approach path, accounting for sun position and the type of shot I wanted.
Even though I’m pretty young, I’ve made it a point to get out and see as much aviation as I possibly can, always with camera in hand. I’ve done something aviation related (whether visiting a museum or attending a flying event) in 13 different states so far, ranging from Nevada to Kansas to Florida, all with the goal to see some of the most notable and rarest aircraft ever built. Since moving to the Midwest, I spend many weekends at fly-ins or airshows both large and small. Getting to explore a new area has been fantastic and provided an excellent change of pace. During the winter when there are fewer flying events, I will often experiment at the National Museum of the US Air Force and other outstanding local museums. I often set a challenge for the day so that even photographing the same subjects multiple times doesn’t get old. I even finally picked up my old Polaroid SLR 680SE that had been collecting dust for years to provide a more analog foil to my normal digital camera.
Photography provides an amazing way to share my passion with others. My favorite moments though are when I can interact with those connected to the photo. I’ve had multiple military aircrew members reach out when I’ve photographed them in the air. My photos have also connected me with veterans who served on or with a particular type of aircraft I’ve photographed. There’s something special about that personal connection, and that’s a huge reason why I take pictures. It's neat having one of my photos up on my wall at home but getting to share my photos with others and help share their missions with the world is as awesome as it gets.
Follow Brian on Instagram: @theflyboybrian