My heart was in my throat as pilot Dave Tunge’s tiny plane gently rumbled and glided down the runway of the Yankton airport. It was a beautiful August morning and the air was still and warm. I noticed yellow flowers growing wild along the concrete lanes. The sky was the blue we all love.
Despite the sunshine, I was texting friends, family, and, well, anyone who might respond, about how nervous I was to be in a tiny plane. I have a fear of flying, and had never been in anything but big, commercial aircraft. And while I knew Dave’s Piper Cub would be small, I didn’t expect it to be so small I could barely fold my legs into the back seat.
In the spirit of journalism — and overcoming my fears — I had agreed to this early morning flight. I figured we couldn’t publish Tunge’s book of aerial photos unless I could see and experience the South Dakota skies like he has.
When I asked Tunge why he liked to fly, he replied, “I can’t tell you, but I can show you.” So this was show and tell day.
I steeled myself for takeoff. We gained speed on the runway as I muttered a prayer and kept a death grip on the pen and notebook in my hands. But my anxiety lifted with the plane as it gracefully ascended over Yankton. I stared out the tiny window and quickly forgot to be nervous as I saw the city I’ve lived in for most of 40 years from an entirely different point of view.
There were the soccer fields where I cheer on my 10-year-old son. There was our family farm, looking familiar yet different with a view of the trees, hills, valleys, stock ponds and creeks that let me see how everything was put together. The winding James River looked like a corkscrew jutting out from the wide, wild Missouri.
Transfixed by what I was seeing, I finally got it. I could feel why flying became a passion for Tunge and for so many others.
There was no need for my anxiety that morning because I was in safe hands with Tunge, who was all but born in the cockpit. His father was a pilot when Tunge was a small boy. “After Dad died, I went through his logbooks and I found I got my first ride with him in a Piper Cub when I was five years old,” he says.
He felt the urge to fly again during his junior year in college, so he took flight training in Sioux Falls. Tunge worked as a flight instructor in North Dakota, before moving to south to fly for Yankton Livestock Company. That’s when he began to explore South Dakota from the air. Although he was living his dream of flying, it wasn’t always exciting. “There’s an old saying that flying is hours and hours of sheer boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror,” he laughs
Maybe it was boredom that led him to aerial photography. He started taking photos from the sky in 2004. Turns out he had a talent for capturing artistic scenes from the air. Photography is challenging enough from the ground; flying 50 mph while shooting from an open window is another thing altogether.
Through the years, Dave has developed a true appreciation for South Dakota’s unique landscapes as well as a talent for capturing them with his camera. His photography is a gift to all of us who love South Dakota. We are thankful for the opportunity to present a retrospective of his work in a new book, Sky High South Dakota.
Dave Tunge’s aerial photography book is available beginning on November 7. Katie Hunhoff is editor and publisher of South Dakota Magazine. For more information on the magazine or the book Sky High South Dakota, visit www.southdakotamagazine.com.