Edwards AFB might be the home of the USAF flight test center but it is also home for NASA’s Armstrong test center. Consequently, NASA was included in the flying display. They put up a three ship formation that mad a series of passes. The formation was led by a Gulfstream with an F-15 and an F/A-18 on the wing tips. The Eagle is one that has been with NASA for years and is painted in a white scheme. The Hornet was still in Strike Test colors from Pax River but I have no idea how long it has been with NASA.
The two jets also did some demonstrations of sonic booms as they maneuvered high above the crowd with the booms reaching the ground at different times depending on how high they had been created. The sound was also modified by the maneuvering of the jet. Formations like this don’t appear regularly at air shows so this was a welcome addition to the flying program.
The F-35’s appearance at Seafair has resulted in a few posts of departures and arrivals at Boeing Field on this blog. However, I don’t think I have actually shared any shots of the display itself. I quite enjoyed the demo routine that the USAF had last year. Unfortunately, the display axis for Seafair is a long way from the shore so the shots were a bit distant. I also didn’t know the routine and was caught out when flares were dispensed and so didn’t get shots of those that I am happy with. However, there were a few times when the jet came in close to the shore and I got some closer views. I do want to see the display at a more conventional location at some point.
During the air show at Edwards AFB, there was a lot of maneuvering of aircraft high above the crowds. There was a little cloud at higher levels – not enough to stop it being almost uncomfortably hot, but enough to be visible – and the planes that flew through this level left their wakes through the cloud layers breaking them up and forming patterns where they had been. I thought this looked really cool and, because the show was backlit, the sun was coming through these patterns and the shadows made them appear more conspicuous. A C-17 flew across at one point which gives you some idea of the scale of these interesting patterns in the sky.
One of the highlights of the Blue Angels’ display is the sneak passes. The display is good but the sneak pass gets the jets as fast as you are going to get in their routine and there is a chance of vapor cones forming around the shocks and expansion fans. A display over water enhances the chance of the vapor. The distance of the display line on Lake Washington was a little disappointing as the jets were quite far away but the advantage of this location was that Mercer Island provided a backdrop.
The benefit of this backdrop was that, the rapid changes in density of the air in the shocks and expansions makes the refractive index change and this will distort the view of the background. With a clear sky, this is usually not visible but, with a background, you can see the shocks around the airframe. This is a rare opportunity. Fortunately, while there was little vapor, there were plenty of shocks. I was quite happy when I got home and studied the shots of the display to find I had some good results. It would have been great to have been on the media boat but let’s not complain.
Over the course of the Seafair weekend, I got to see the demo F-35A arrive and depart a few times. The demo pilot would get airborne and keep the jet on the deck in full burner building up a decent amount of speed. Then, she would pull to a steep climb just as she got to the perimeter of the field. This looked pretty impressive from the side but it was even more impressive from head on.
The return to land after the display was a lot more sedate. It was a pretty standard pattern and approach but there were plenty of people at the south end to enjoy the last moments of the flight. I headed down there a couple of times. You could easily do both departure and approach since you had the whole time that the display was underway to re-position. I did all go to Ruby Chow Park from one departure and shot video rather than stills. Seeing the F-35 come right at us and then pull hard was impressive. The noise was intense and the wake threw dust and debris into the air around us. It made an impression!
Airlift Northwest is a regular feature in the Seattle area providing aeromedical services across the region. I have seen their helicopters at both Arlington and Boeing Field numerous times. During the Olympic Air Show at Olympia, I was wandering up towards the hangar where the Huskie was stored when one of the Airlift Northwest EC-135s made its approach. I couldn’t have been better positioned for it so got a bunch of shots as it came in and landed. The UW colors look good on these helicopters.
Seafair provided me with my first opportunity to shoot the Blue Angels during a display since they transitioned to the Super Hornet. I was interested to see whether the display seemed any different with the new jets. Seafair is a nice location over Lake Washington but the alignment of the display box relative to the shore of the lake is not ideal and this does result in the planes being further away than for most venues. The increased size of the Super Hornet is probably a benefit in this situation.
I was interested whether the larger jets would make things seem a bit slower somehow but I didn’t notice anything in practice to support that idea. The normal tight flying that the Blues are famous for was there and, if anything, the bigger jets look closer as a result of the changed perspective. It is not that big a deal, though, so I suspect some of this was in my imagination. I would like to see them at a different location where the display axis is closer in order to get another view of the display, though.
Aside from watching the display at Lake Washington, I did also Watch them depart and return from Boeing Field. They always departed to the north and returned from the north even if everything else had been landing from the south. I spent one arrival down at the south end and watched then run the length of the runway and break for landing. It was a good spot to watch this from. Overall, I was happy with the new look for the team. I hope the jets hold up well. The Blues have a reputation of having to live with some of the oldest jets in the fleet and reliability will be something to watch.
I went to see Seafair itself for the first time this year. I had been to Boeing Field to watch launches and recoveries before but this was my first time down by Lake Washington for the show. I was down close to Seward Park and, on one of the small bits of land jutting out in to the water was the location that the Coast Guard had parked their MH-65E Dolphin. It was part of the display but I suspect it was also on duty if there were any issues during the show.
I was looking forward to getting shots of it moving but, as a result of a re-planning of a presentation to a client which had been originally scheduled for the day before, I needed to take this call on my day off at the show. The call coincided with the Coast Guard demo. I was sitting on a Teams call on my phone as the Dolphin lifted off right next to me and did a dynamic low transition. Oh to have been able to photograph that!
I did get shots of it on the (sloping) ground and, at the end of the show, they took off to head back to wherever they were overnighting. At least this time, I was able to get shots of them starting up and taking off. Sadly, the departure was far less dynamic than the one for the show. However, there was nothing I could do about that. It was still cool to watch them from relatively close quarters.
One of the highlights of the show at Edwards Air Force Base was the appearance of NASA and DLR’s SOFIA airframe. A Boeing 747SP that has been converted for infra-red astronomy, this was my first time seeing SOFIA. It has a large telescope mounted in the rear fuselage with a huge rotating door that opens up when at cruising altitude – above the majority of the atmospheric blockage to IR – to allow the telescope to make observations.
SOFIA is being retired. There is a debate about whether this is purely budget related or whether the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (which also observes in the infra red spectrum), means that it is no longer needed. Whatever the reasons, it is being retired and this show was a bit of a swan song. As part of this, they actually opened up the door for the telescope which, apparently, is a first since it was first commissioned other than while it was observing.
The plane made a run in from show left making a cool pass but this was the side without the telescope visible. They then turned around and made a banked pass along the crowd line with the telescope visible. At first I thought that they had blown it because they had a nice bank angle on but were lining up too soon. However, they straightened up for a while before bringing the bank back on and giving the crowd a good view.
They landed after this and taxied in to where I was waiting but that will be a separate post.
After talking to someone that flew for the operator, I found myself checking through some older shots of the Olympic Air Show with the Hueys doing flight demonstrations. As I scrolled through the shots, I saw that, of the two crew, one was busy flying the helicopter and the other was playing with their phone. I imagine that they were filming the display but I preferred the idea that the whole thing was too boring and they were just checking out messages instead.