Michael's Dispatches

Smithsonian Air&Space on Kopp-Etchells Effect


November 04, 2009

Helo Halo

Luminous halos twirled above a Boeing CH-47 Chinook on a recent night around 11:30 p.m. local time at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as helicopters ferried casualties and supplies in and out of the base. The photographer was independent journalist Michael Yon, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who has covered Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines with a camera. Helicopter pilots don't have a name for the effect, but one explained to Yon, "Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as...dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case, titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust." Yon says, however, that a researcher studying helicopter brownout emailed him to say that scientists are not 100 percent sure what causes the effect. Depending on the viewing angle, it creates dazzling little galaxies. An even longer exposure reveals stars and another aircraft marked by a string of lights at upper left of center; Yon suspects this aircraft was a Predator or Reaper UAV, which, unlike manned military aircraft, fly with their lights on in the Afghan night to avoid collisions. Yon, who made these shots with a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50 mm lens at an ISO of 800, claims that the night was far darker than his sensitive camera conveys, as evidenced by the green chemlights on the ground to guide the pilots. He was moved to create a name, the Kopp-Etchells Effect, for the rotor phenomenon to honor a pair of fallen soldiers, U.S. Army Corporal Benjamin Kopp and British Army Corporal Joseph Etchells, who died one day apart in July after fierce fighting in Helmand (Kopp had been evacuated to the U.S. before he died). "The tent in the foreground is a medical tent," says Yon, "so that casualties can be kept in a tent until the last minute. A substantial number of British casualties in Helmand have been lifted off of this exact spot...because this is probably either the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, or nearly the most dangerous."


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    PeterInMN · 10 years ago
    Bravo, Michael! God speed to all your paths!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MikeVB · 10 years ago
    Excellent news. Another opportunity for these brave soldiers to be honored!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jean,Fl · 10 years ago
    Just as the rainbow is a Promise from GOD he wouldn't flood the earth again to me is alos a sign he is always with us.This beautifull picture to me is another sign GOD is there and watching over our brave men and women who are honorably doing their jobs.GOD BLESS Michael and GOD BLESS our Troops and their families. Thank you for Honoring them and bring this to us who thank them much for what they do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Colin Perry · 10 years ago
    Indeed a great venue to honor the fallen warriors. Thank you for being there to capture the photos for all time and for naming them in their honor...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken Jones · 10 years ago
    Well done for all your efforts Michael. The lads deserve all the publicity they can get.
    Ken Jones,
    Ex R.N.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John J · 10 years ago

    Were these the same soldiers you stayed with in Helmand? Do you know anything else about this attack? How will this affect the British effort in Helmand?

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rich W · 10 years ago
    Some well deserved praise! Good job getting the word out and helping honor those that fight for their countries.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lorene · 10 years ago
    Glad to see you get more exposure while writing about our brave men and women...now more folks can read about these two Warriors. Take care, keep writing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lonnie McCarron · 10 years ago
    Profound and touching.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian H · 10 years ago
    The effect is beautiful but unfortunate. It marks the choppers clearly as targets.

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