I have a soft spot for Diamond SF50 jets. They are not the most elegant of aircraft but they are quite effective and seem to be selling well. There are quite a few based on the PNW and more seem to visit on a regular basis. This example was coming in to Paine Field on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Since it is a small jet, I can stick with the prime when shooting it there which can make for some nice sharp shots. I would be interested to know what they are like to operate and whether they provide a good performance boost to their owners.
The 777X wasn’t the only thing I got to see on my Sunday at Paine Field. A buzzing from a distant plane was the announcement of the impending arrival of a Cessna 3337 Super Skymaster. This is an unusual aircraft with two engines in a push-pull configuration. It is a noisy thing and is often banned at airports that otherwise allow piston twins. I understand it is a bit of a pain to maintain too! I haven’t seen one for ages so was glad to get it on approach.
Sunday afternoon at Boeing Field awaiting the arrival of a 777X meant plenty of time to catch some incoming biz jets. Sadly, rarely are they painted interesting colors. XOJet has no colors, NetJets very little and FlexJet shouldn’t have been given access to the color chart given what they chose. David and I were chatting during all of this and completely missed the G650ER that came in that was a nicer scheme but so be it. There was a nice-looking Citation X in the mix, so some color included. Here are a few of the arrivals we got.
After such a long time of struggling to get shots of the Boeing T-33 chase planes, I seem to have had a lot more luck recently. One showed up at Paine Field and, rather than just shooting an approach and departing straight to Boeing Field, it made a full stop landing, taxied back, took off, entered the pattern and came around again. This was a welcome addition to a sunny afternoon. There was only one crew onboard so I guess with was some continuation training.
As the plane taxied back to the threshold, I got a good look at the upper side of the front fuselage. There appear to be quite a variety of antennae mounted on there. I didn’t know whether they were GPS location antennae or other types but there are plenty there. Whether they are used for different functions or are needed for validating test data and cross referencing, I have no idea. Some of them may even be redundant but no one has seen the need to remove them. Whatever the reasons, there are lots there!
My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available. I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about. When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada. The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway. Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.
I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help. Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on. The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up. Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.
When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again. I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion. Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.
The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed. At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north. Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course. Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.
Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process. You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you. However, you can see sideways and down very clearly. Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below. We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated. Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was. Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud. However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still. The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you. You can hear a lot of other chatter. It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely. No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.
After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land. Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do. Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back. We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).
This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight. I would be very happy to do it again. I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.
A small twin is not going to get a lot of attention from the local photographers at Paine Field on a busy day with lots of traffic. However, it was still relatively early in the day and the air still had a fair bit of moisture in it. I took a guess that this might result in some prop vortices so decided to shoot it anyway. Sure enough, some swirls of moisture showed themselves. Not a dramatic look to them but still what I was after and there wasn’t anything else to do anyway!
Two visits to Paine Field in close succession resulted in two times to view a Lufthansa Cargo 777F undergoing tests. Lufthansa Cargo is in the process of replacing its MD-11F fleet with the 777F and one of the jets was undergoing a number of pre-acceptance flights. It was shooting a couple of approaches while the 777X was getting ready to depart on one of the days and doing a little more flying on another. On the second day, it came in with the RAT deployed too which makes for a noisier aircraft!
Often, when the jets are on the approach, I use the 500mm to get the shots as it is further out and then switch rapidly to the 100-400 for the closer in shots. Having got a bunch of shots in nice conditions on the first day, I decided to stick with the longer fixed lens for later approaches to do something different. Some tight crops on the cockpit and some compression of the features of the plane were the goal. It made for something a little different and I was quite pleased with the outcome. I also got to see the crew wearing masks in the cockpit!
Over six months ago, the Honeywell Boeing 757 testbed ferried from Phoenix – its home base – to Paine Field for maintenance work at ATS. I don’t know whether there were mods to be done too but, with a jet like this, that wouldn’t seem to be a stretch. I only found out it was there when I saw it outside the ATS hangars one time. I figured this was one to watch since it would have to go home at some point.
Whether there was a ton to be done or whether COVID delayed progress, I don’t know. However, it stayed at ATS for a long time. I had an alert on it should a flight plan be filed but nothing happened. I talked to other people up there and we all wondered when it would move. Then, finally a flight plan was filed for a flight coming back to Paine Field. This was good news since it would mean taxi shots, departure and arrival. I headed up. First flight after a long layup is not likely to go smoothly and the time for departure kept slipping and slipping. Eventually, later in the day, the flight disappeared off FlightAware.
A few days later, up it popped online again. Unfortunately, this time it was a flight direct to Phoenix so redelivery. That was unfortunate. So was the fact that we were experiencing some torrential rains. However, this is a rare one so I headed up. As per the last time, the departure time slipped a bit but then it pulled on to the taxiway heading for the runway. Amazingly, the rain had abated and it looked very promising. I got out of the car and walked to the bank to get some shots. At some point, I began to feel some rain drops. Then I felt what seemed to be the stream from a fire hose. The rain came pummeling down and I was instantly soaked. At this point, I was wet so no point heading back to the car.
When they got to the hold point, they stayed around for a while. Then someone came to the door on our side and opened it. I imagine they were getting pretty wet doing this since I was. As it sat there at low power, it was still pulling a vortex into the inlet of one of the engines. Maybe there was a door open warning but they closed it again and then pulled towards the active runway. The plane is covered in graphics pointing at parts of the airframe that have Honeywell technology installed. Its most distinguishing feature, though, is the pylon mounted on the side of the front fuselage on which turboprop engines can be mounted for airborne testing. No engines are there at the moment but the pylon itself is pretty substantial. Coming towards us and then lining up, we had the pylon on our. Side. They powered up and disappeared in to the gloom as they climbed out heading home to Phoenix.
Since I haven’t been out photographing aircraft as much as I would normally like to do, the blog has got me looking through older outings. I was discussing with Nancy what things I might look back on and, since some balloons were flying overhead at the time, we got on to the topic of our visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The blog has been going for nearly ten years so I tend to think that most of what I have done is on here but there are things that predate the blog and have yet to appear. A search through the archives suggests this is one.
We went to the fiesta because it was something I had long wanted to see but also because I was going to cover it for GAR and had arranged press access. This meant several days of being onsite early in the morning and later in the day. Having not been to a balloon event before other than a fleeting visit to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in the UK, I didn’t appreciate the timing until I was there. Everything starts really early and is pretty much done by just after breakfast. The evening might be the second wave of activity but, since the winds were getting up in the evening, that didn’t prove to be much good and, besides, Nancy wasn’t wishing to give up all her time to this so we could do other things during the day and the evening.
I made sure to be there well before sun up each day. The crews would be getting their balloons out at their respective launch locations across the large grass area. The sound of fans filling the envelopes would then be followed by burners bringing them up to temperature. We had a glow one morning to watch which was pretty impressive and then, as the light came up, the launches would start. These had to be well coordinated given the number of balloons there. Marshals, dressed in zebra outfits, moved around the site keeping everything under control.
The variety of balloon shapes and colors was fantastic. To see the skies filled with balloons was amazing and the specials that were shapes of interest or for advertising would get particular attention. There were three balloons that were bees which carried a single person beneath them and flew around together which looked great. Since there were so many interesting balloons, there are a bunch of shots below of some of the cooler ones. I would like to go back one day to see this again.
My previous unsuccessful trip to Paine Field on the Saturday for the first flight of the fourth 777X was followed up by a more successful Sunday visit. The dull and dreary Saturday weather had been replaced by clear skies (the smoke had finally gone away) and the sun was out. The time for takeoff was not going to be great because the sun would be high to backlit, but this was a first flight so the chances of it going on time were limited.
Sure enough, things got dragged out and the sun moved to a more favorable part of the sky. A 777F from Lufthansa Cargo was doing some test flying to provide some other interest and there was plenty of activity generally to photograph. Eventually the 777X was towed. From its parking spot to the south entrance to the Boeing ramp where it could start up.
It taxied up the Alpha taxiway to the hold point and then pulled into position. Normal Boeing practice is to do an accelerated and rejected takeoff before flying. They sat on the threshold and powered up, but the wingtips had not been lowered. I don’t know whether this was a test of the system that is designed to prevent taking off with the wing tips in the wrong position or not, but it seemed that way. Either way, the jet didn’t move.
They then lowered the wing tips, powered up, accelerated and then braked. Taxi back to the threshold again and a long way for some other traffic before they lined up again. The jet wasn’t heavy, but I was slightly surprised how much flap they had for takeoff compared to the other jets I have seen taking off there. Anyway, power on and off they went.
They were due to be flying for a few hours and then landing at Boeing Field so I figured I would make the trip down there for the arrival. On pulling up at Boeing Field, I bumped into my friend David so we were able to talk rubbish about planes for a while waiting for any arrivals. In due course the 777X showed up on approach by which time the light was a lot nicer than it had been for departure. Things may have taken longer than planned and meant the day was not much good for anything else but it was a fun outing and a successful trip.