World War II Camera Gives New View of Motorcycle Racing

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He suggested using a vintage camera from a World War II fighter plane to film from one of the most modern motorcycles on Earth.

World War II 16mm strike cameras were used on plane wings to capture shots of target sites as the guns fired. They were triggered as ammunition was released and only had about a minute's worth of film—enough to learn whether a mission was successful.

Chandler thought the obscure devices would be just light enough to fit on the race bike—and rider—at high speed.

He outfitted Burbank's bike with a number of strike cameras.

Chandler inherited the cameras from his father, who acquired them from surplus stores. Chandler's father was in the motion picture business, with his feet planted firmly in film technology. He stripped the strike cameras of the moldings that held them to plane wings and modified them with different lenses and cables.

A View From the Hot Seat

The advantage of these cameras is that they are small and cheap. "When I was a kid my dad rigged one underneath my skateboard—it was that small and it only weighs about a pound, pound and a half," said Chandler.

Technology wise, there is no modern equivalent of the strike camera, said Chandler. "All the recent technology has gone into the film chemistry and developing process. If a camera has a nice lens, then you basically can't tell the difference between something shot on a 1940s camera and something from today."

The size made the 16mm strike the perfect choice to film high-speed bike racing from the rider's point of view.

"It's always more dynamic and fun to put the viewer on the motorcycle, put them where the action is," said Chandler. "So we taped the camera directly on Sam's leg."

Unfortunately for Burbank, he had to hit a toggle switch to start the camera. "Just riding the bike, which has twice the horsepower of anything I've ever ridden before, was hair-raising enough. But trying to find that toggle switch on the gas tank while speeding around a curve—that was quite a ride."

The result is a dizzying perspective on a moment in the life of a professional racer as he shaves the track—balancing friction, momentum, and gravity.

"I wasn't expecting much from these 12 little boxes Tom showed up with. Figured it would be a grainy, jumpy picture—instead they gave us these crystal-clear, perfect images," said Burbank.

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