Years ago we shot an actual jet turbine engine with a woman. It was an impressive machine whose size and weight demanded we shoot on location. I fell in love with this beast and wanted to bring that experience into the convenience of the studio environment.
Some time later I came across an amazing Youtube series put on by a Canadian jet mechanic. Jay’s informative videos showed him working on and explaining the exact same jet engine I shot with. I contacted him and was able to negotiate a trade for the front compressor fan of this particular jet engine. I was excited to receive this amazing piece of equipment. Jay said it was worth $100,000 new, however this particular set was decommissioned from active service.
It was uncrated and pressed into service when it arrived. I was surprised how heavy this fan was — it is quite a struggle to move it around into different positions. And while it is a wonderful artifact/prop to have in our arsenal especially in the heart of Boeing country, it turns out it is somewhat undersized for the typical female form. Relative sizing is an important aspect to control in photography.
Creating Our Own Turbine
And so a subconscious mental percolation began to take hold. How can the essence of the jet turbine be conveyed in a more properly sized form without incurring the expense or heft of a real jet compressor fan of substantial size? What could I fabricate fan blades out of? Over time an idea started to form about using machined rods as a form of spoke system around bent electrical conduit to hang fabric blades on.
I started to cut out fabric blades for this idea but how these “blades” were to be fastened to the spokes never properly formed in my head. Thankfully an even better idea popped into my head half way through. Why not just get fabric panels to stretch onto the form with a double twist in the middle? I obtained stretchy, shiny fabric from a Canadian fabric store and had a local seamstress stitch loops at each end, then slid them on the conduit in careful order. Indeed, they ended up creating the “essence” of a large turbo-fan engine, fabric light and easy to use.
Here you see the finished “fabric” rotor alongside the much smaller actual compressor fan from a military jet engine (JP79). It makes a great studio prop I’m grateful and proud to have.
It can be lit and used in a number of different ways. See if you can spot the two different fans in our photo gallery. Are you a Boeing employee or an aviation fan? Just ask to shoot with our fans and be a fan of the fan! Haha!