With a black camping chair, a sack of cold sandwiches, and a very large camera, Harvey Brugger, 56th Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., sits between runways, doing what he loves: aviation photography.
Brugger culminated his 41 years of service to the Department of Defense the best way he knew how and that few others have ever had. From dusk till dawn he photographed F-35A Lightning II’s and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke AFB, taking off and landing.
Brugger spent 21 of his years of service in the Air Force as an air traffic controller, which took him to places all over the world including Panama, Greenland, and around the U.S.
“My favorite experience is when I came back to Luke in 2004,” Brugger said. “I was 52 years old working with 18 to 19 year old kids and I told them ‘this will either keep me young or kill me.’ It’s a good experience working with young troops. Retiring from the military and then finding my way back was like coming home to family.”
ATC can be a challenging career, charged with ensuring the safety of pilots and Airmen on the runway and the flow of air traffic in an orderly manner.
“ATC’s job is to control the air space in an orderly and expeditious way,” said Brugger. “It’s a job that’s very rewarding and fulfilling, and you’re either good at it or you’re not. It’s like a calling.”
Though he is well traveled, Brugger still recalls his favorite base as Thule Air Base, in Greenland.
“I did one year at Thule, and that turned out to be a very interesting base,” said Brugger “There wasn’t a lot to do there, but I would be out taking pictures while everyone else was in the barracks.”
Photography and aviation have been a lifelong passion of Brugger’s since his days at Thule AB, Greenland where two Danish photographers taught Brugger how to shoot on film.
“I could shoot as much as I wanted and they taught me to develop color slide film,” said Brugger. “I learned a lot of valuable information from them, and it sure made a year go by rather quickly at Thule.”
After retirement, Brugger plans to continue his passion of photography by traveling with an aviation photography group that moves between southwest states to different Navy and Air Force bases.
“I’ve been out to Edwards AFB, Calif., and central California,” said Brugger. “Now that I’m retired I’ll be able to travel with them a lot more.”
As Brugger sees the shot he wants and raises his camera, he becomes inseparable from the moment. He describes often being caught in a trance by the beauty of the scenes he photographs. Looking through the lens and watching light cast over the object in his focus, Brugger finds serenity.
“I’ve been told I go into a zone when taking photographs,” Brugger said. “It’s like everything else goes away when I’m looking for a specific shot with the lighting I want. It’s not just point and shoot for me.”
After 41 years of service Brugger switches off his radar system for the last time passing the torch to the upcoming Airmen of the 56th OSS ATC.