Boundary Landscapes – Aerostat View

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

There it is, right up there.  Yeah, the image right above this line of text is what I am pointing at.  That is the very first full scan of one of the 12×20″ plates from the Boundary Landscapes and Surveillance project.  I have often written that plates to not translate well to digital display and that is so much more true with these massive plates.  The level of visual detail on some of them is pretty incredible.  Frankly I hate to post these objects online because so much is lost from the viewing experience, but because my images are unique physical objects, most people will only ever experience my work in this digital form.  For this I am sorry because those who will never see an actual plate are truly missing out.

The plate above shows a view looking north from the foothills at the base of the Huachuca Mountains.  In the distance, just over the ridge is Libby Army airfield which is connected to Ft Huachuca.  The airfield is home to the group of Homeland Security Predator UAVs  used to patrol the nearby border.  On the actual plate, the two semi-permanent hangers that protect the Predators can been seen.

The camera placement for this image is near a major smuggling route through the mountains, and shows the last hills before the train opens into the gently slopping western edge of the San Pedro River Valley.  The reason for this plate is the aerostat  hovering in the upper left of the image (see red square).  This aerostat is part of an integrated anti-air smuggling system of airborne radars that has been in place since the mid 1980s.  The systems are under the control of the US Air Force and used to carry aloft an approximately 1200lb radar system 12 to 15,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level).  The target detection range of each system is around 200 miles.  The particular aerostat in this image is based on Ft Huchuca which has had one in the sky above the town of Sierra Vista sicne 1987.  Similar, but smaller systems were used in Iraq and currently in Afghanistan to carry optical sensors for base security capabilities.  It would be safe at assume that this system at Ft Huachuca is equiped with some type of optical capability because of its location along smuggling routes and one of the few north/south highways in the area.

Here is a detail view of the aerostat which is pretty impressive when distance from the camera and the chance of wind vibration is factored in.  This plate was the last one created during the trip as within a few hours a massive storm would park itself over my mountaintop camp and create dangerous conditions for the duration of the night.  During that time the access road would wash away, two children would need to be rescued by helicopter in the canyon below me, and I would spend most of the night in my jeep in an attempt to avoid extremely intense lightning.  The next day was to be the last day to produce images, but the three hour self-rescue down the washed out road used up the available pre-monsoon time for the day.  That is a story for another day.

Known operational areostat locations in the United States:

  • Yuma, AZ
  • Fort Huachuca, AZ
  • Cudjoe Key, FL
  • Deming, NM
  • Lajas, Puerto Rico
  • Marfa, TX
  • Eagle Pass, TX
  • Rio Grande City, TX
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~ by Phil Nesmith on November 18, 2012.

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