Category Archives: military

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.

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.

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.

Foreign F-35s

Luke AFB is not just home to a load of USAF F-35s.  It is also the training base for many of the export operators.  They also allocate some of their jets to the unit, so you do have the opportunity to catch a bunch of jets that are not from the USAF.  This includes Italian, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch jets.  Aside from the Danish ones that actually have a tiny bit of color in their national markings, all the jets are low viz.  At least they are slightly different, even if not very conspicuous.

I Guess More Harriers Were in My Future

During the trip with Mark, we made the excursion to El Centro to catch the Harriers.  As I wrote in the post about those airframes, I thought it might be the last time I got to photograph Harriers.  Turns out, I was a bit premature.  With an exercise planned up in Alaska, the Marines were planning on taking ten jets to participate.  Their routing staged through Boeing Field.  The plan was for two sets of five jets to come across.

The moves were not entirely smooth.  Bad weather in our area was not ideal, tanker support was not working to plan and then you get the occasional jet that breaks.  However, we did get most of the jets showing up.  The first bunch showed up at Boeing Field from the north.  They were strung out on the approach but, from certain angles, you could see all of them stretched out over Seattle.  One by one they came in and reminded us how loud a Harrier is in STOVL mode.

There was due to be the second wave later in the day, but they ended up showing up on another day.  We had departures of the initial jets as well.  When they called up for departure, they asked the tower to line up on both runways.  This would have put them up at the north and away from where I was.  This was a bad development.  Fortunately, the tower informed them that they were too heavy for the short runway’s surface rating.

Instead, they lined up on the main runway spread out in a line.  They powered up simultaneously and released brakes at the same time.  The northern jet had no problem getting airborne in such a short space because of the STOVL capabilities of the Harrier.  The jets further back were also airborne quickly and accelerating rapidly while still over the field.  They climbed out in a loose line which meant assembling the formation would be a simple process.  What a great thing to see one more time.  Is that it for me and Harriers????

Night Shoot at Pima

One of the special parts of the trip to Arizona was that Mark and I got invited along by our friend Joe to a night shoot at the Pima Air and Space Museum.  I had seen some images from previous night shoots and the idea of photographing the many interesting airframes there in the dark intrigued me.  The museum is excellent and well worth a visit, but it can be hotter than hell there and the light can be quite harsh, so this was a great alternative to try.

When I was a student, I used to do quite a lot of night photography.  In the days of film, you played a lot more of a guessing game as to how things were working out.  Also, film suffered from what was known as reciprocity failure so you could really extend the exposure in low light without necessarily ruining things.  Digital is a lot more linear and also gives you the chance to see how things are coming out and have another go.

A lot of the attendees had done this more than once and had come equipped with a variety of tools to play with.  Lights on stands, wands of different LEDs, huge flashlights etc.  Plenty of things to work with.  I had brought some tools along but was definitely keeping it simpler.  Joe offered us some lights to work with but, since this was a new effort for me, I decided to keep it simple and try to get one approach worked out.

I had a tripod so I could leave the camera in place and then a couple of strobes to play around with.  I had to make some set up adjustments first.  Take off IS from the camera since it can wander over long exposures and make things blurry.  Second, put the strobes on manual power and experiment with how well they do illuminating things.  What I didn’t do but should have with hindsight was to go to bulb mode rather than 30 seconds on the shutter.  At some points with the larger airframes, I was very frantic in trying to get everything lit in the 30 seconds.  It proved to be rather energetic, and I was pretty pooped by the end of it.

I would open the shutter and then move around the airframe illuminating it with pops of the strobe.  I quickly learned to shield the strobe, so it didn’t illuminate me and add me in to the shot.  I also came to realize how the larger areas when I stood back a bit needed more light to compensate.  All of this is logical but not something I thought of before trying it.  More research/planning would have been a good idea.  I was also surprised how my shadow could show up in some shots when I have no idea how it would have got there.

I did photograph some of the more famous assets in the collection – how can you ignore a B-58 or a B-36 – but I did also take time for others that were just of more interest to me.  The size of the place meant you could easily not come across one of the other photographers for a while.  They were helpful in pointing out the hazards of guy wires.  Some of the larger planes have wires to stabilize them and these are basically invisible in the dark.  If you are running around popping off flashes, you could easily collide with something unyielding.  Fortunately, nothing like this for me but maybe some luck in that?

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  It was very interesting and got some nice results.  It also taught me a lot about what I wasn’t doing right and would set me up for a few ideas of how to do things differently in the future.  I think a large flashlight would be an addition I would make, and I would definitely use the cable release and bulb mode.  My thanks to Joe for taking us along and to the team for letting us join in. 

Mix of F-16s in Tucson

Every once in a while, the Air Force moves airframes around between units.  One may have exhausted the limits on their airframes and they need to be retired or it could just be a balancing exercise to spread the usage types across the larger fleet.  The Arizona Air National Guard unit at Tucson has recently received a bunch of different (calling them new would be a stretch) jets that have come from various units around the country.  They will be marked up with the AZ tail code in due course but, at the time of my visit, they were still carrying markings from a bunch of other bases.  Getting a diverse range of tails before they all became the same was the challenge while there.  Here are some of the results.

Status of the Stuka

When making my first visit to FHCAM after it re-opened, one of the things I was interested to know was whether the Stuka had made any further progress from when I last saw it or whether it was paused for restoration.  Things looked like they had moved on a bit since I was last there, but it didn’t look obvious that a huge amount had happened so that could have been after I was there and before they closed down.  It would be very cool to have a Stuka back in the air so we shall see if this one progresses.  If anyone knows, please comment below.  In the meantime, here are some shots of how it looks most recently.