Category Archives: aircraft

Indian Rafales Testing PNW Weather

I may have worked on the Typhoon/EF2000 in my younger days and have a strong affinity for that plane, but I have always appreciated its competitor from next door, the Dassault Rafale.  The Rafale is a very elegant-looking airframe, and it has recently started to sell very well on the export market.  One of those customers is India and the Indian Air Force brought some of its jets to Alaska for an exercise.  They routed across the US with an overnight stop at McChord AFB (JBLM) before continuing on to Alaska.

I went out with a bunch of friends to see them arrive.  They came in two waves and the first arrived in some quite poor conditions.  This resulted in them making straight in approaches to the field.  This was a bit of grey jets and a grey sky, but it was still worthwhile.  There was a fair time between them showing up and the second wave and, by that time, the weather had improved considerably.  This allowed them to do a run in and break to landing.  Four jets came in but one was clearly offset – presumably getting some shots of the others.  They tightened up before the break, though.

The final turns varied in how tight they were but, since the earlier jets had allowed me to get some more standard side-on shots, I decided to get closer to their approach path.  I moved in a way for the first jet and then proceeded to sprint closer between each arrival in order to try and vary the angles a bit.  If there had been more jets or time, I might have gone for directly on the centerline to get a head on shot but that wasn’t possible.  What fun catching something very different to the norm for this area.

T-38s Including Some Color

Mesa Gateway Airport is a popular spot for cross country flights by various military aircraft.  T-38 training jets are particularly common apparently so, while it was my first time visiting the airport, catching some arriving Talons was not a surprise.  What was unusual was that one of them was in a retro paint scheme in a green camouflage design.  It was looking very well finished as it taxied in and parked.  The various student trainees parked their jets and walked into the FBO.  Many of them appeared to be overseas students training in the US.

T-45s at El Centro

My involvement with the T-45 program was back when the aircraft were just coming into service.  Now I am reading articles discussing the US Navy’s plan for the replacement of the Goshawk fleet.  Another type I have been involved with that is going to disappear from service before too long.  Since the jet was never exported, when the Navy gets rid of them, that will be it.  Consequently, while I have shot T-45s at various places and times before, getting some more shots while on our trip was worthwhile.

We made a detour from our Arizona locations to El Centro to catch the Harriers.  El Centro is a regular haunt of the T-45s with the training wings sending jets out to use the ranges just north of the base.  Since it is not too far to travel, you can watch them launch and know it won’t be too long before they return.  Getting the departing jets as they break towards the south with the last jet cutting the corner the most to catch up with the first ones is easy enough.  The returns give you an option at both ends with either the overhead break with speedbrakes out at one end or the final turn at the other.  Managed to catch both.  I am sure I will see more T-45s in the coming years but here are some shots from the recent visit.

Twotter Jump Ship

One of the sky diving airfields in Arizona is at Eloy.  A small field in a very small town, Eloy has a lot of customers for the jump ships and the vertical wind tunnel.  During our trip, I had seen some Skyvans operating as jump ships, and I was quite looking forward to the chance to shoot some Skyvan ops from close range.  When we got to Eloy, it turned out that things were different on the day.  The Skyvans were nowhere to be seen.  Instead, it was Twin Otters providing the lift and, once we were there, only one of them.  However, there were a couple of locations around the field that gave us options to photograph the Twotter with it taking off to the north and recovering in a southerly direction.  There was even one departure when it turned right over us but the reason for that will show up in a future post.

Doesn’t Everyone Have a Hornet by the Front Door?

When deciding on what garden furniture to have, there are many options.  You could have some garden gnomes, maybe a stone lion, all sorts of possibilities.  Most of these are because most people don’t have access to a fast jet.  If you do, and the California Science Center does, you’d stick a Hornet outside the front door.  It was in the shade from the building in the morning I was there, but I thought it provided just the right amount of gravitas.

Vistara Flying at Last

With so many stored 787s at Everett in recent years, I have seen a bunch of Vistara jets on the ground.  However, I hadn’t really done very well in catching them moving.  Not very well is generous – I hadn’t got anything worthwhile.  Then I was up at Paine Field earlier in the day for something else and a Vistara jet taxied out for a test flight.  Thankfully it ran reasonably long on its takeoff roll and I was able to get some good shots of it.

A-4 and F-8 Airframes Aren’t Going Anywhere

Arizona is packed with old airframes.  You can go to any number of airports and find some old military aircraft stacked up in spare locations.  Marana Regional Airport is a great example.  Wander along the fence of the airport by the road and you come across a bunch of A-4 Skyhawks and F-8 Crusaders tucked away.  The weather is ideal for preserving an airframe and they look like they are in great condition.  No idea what state they were in when they arrived and what bits are missing but they do look like they could be so close to being useful even if they are really never going to move again.  Oh to see a Crusader or two back in action.

My Quest for the Cormorants is Finally Successful

The AW101 is a helicopter I really like.  I saw the early development airframes when I was young and have photographed Merlins of the Royal Navy and the RAF as well as an Italian example.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have really wanted to photograph the Canadian CH-149 Cormorants.  I have a desk model of one that I bought in California and figured I would have seen one fly by now, but I have had rotten luck.  The Abbotsford show last year was another time when I didn’t see one fly despite it having been a principal reason for me going.

CFB Comox is a base for the Cormorant and their show this year, while interesting overall, really had me figuring they were bound to fly there.  If they had a serviceability issue, there would be a spare airframe.  If someone got called out, there would still be another airframe available.  Surely it had to work out.  Fortunately, yes, it did.

Early in the show, a Cormorant was launched and flew patterns around the airfield, initially quite high up.  I grabbed the long lens to get shots of it.  Gradually it got lower, and the shots got better.  If everything else went wrong, at least I now had a shot or two of one flying.  The show opened with a Cormorant flying in with the Canadian flag suspended beneath it (with a crew member hanging on the flag too).  Then there was a SAR demo which it was a major part of.

I shot so many images of this helicopter.  I really went overboard.  I did play around with slower shutter speeds since I was able to get lots of shots.  I tried getting down to 1/40th of a second shutter speeds and have discovered that the rotor speed of the 101 is really low.  Even at that shutter speed, the blades are pretty distinct.  Something I noticed as I was taking these shots was just how stable the Cormorant is in the hover.  I have seen plenty of rotorcraft operations and hover stability is usually pretty good for larger helicopters but the 101 really did seem to come to a halt and then sit immobile.  Very impressive.

So glad to finally have time to photograph this lovely looking airframe.  I even got the best of the sun from the day, so the yellow paint was popping.  A trip to Comox was well worthwhile.

Some P-8s But Not Many Markings

A trip to Whidbey Island at the end of last year resulted in some encounters with the local P-8 Poseidons.  The disappointment was that they weren’t exactly showing off loads of unit markings.  With one exception, they were rather anonymous.  I’m not sure whether they had been recently received and were later to get squadron emblems or not.  I hope so.  Fortunately, the light was nice at that time of year so I got some images I was pleased with.

A Short Time Between Two Visions

It doesn’t take long for the weather to change in the Pacific Northwest.  One afternoon I got a couple of Cirrus Vision Jets into Boeing Field.  The weather was a bit overcast for one of them and then cleared up nicely by the time the second one showed up.  The result was a far nicer shot for the second jet than for the first.  It is amazing how quickly conditions can change and what a difference it can make to the images.