Category Archives: vintage

Sexy Sue Returns

An A-26 Invader, marked up as Sexy Sue, is based at Renton.  It is flown pretty frequently.  It is normal for it to take off and head up towards the San Juans before looping around and coming back down to Renton.  A flight lasts about 40 minutes which means, even if I knew exactly when it got airborne, the chances of getting to Renton in time to get its return are pretty limited.  I have caught it out and about one time when it landed from over the lake on a cloudy day.

My day off with the planes had me at Boeing Field when I got a notification that the A-26 was airborne from Renton.  I was anticipating the arrival of something at BFI so wondered where I should put my priorities.  It is about fifteen minutes from Boeing Field to Renton so a quick reposition is possible.  I figured I could probably just make it when my other arrival touched down.  However, I had assumed incorrectly about the direction of flight and the A-26 was heading off through Snoqualmie Pass instead of going north.

I tracked it for a while anticipating a turn but it kept going and eventually landed at Walla Walla.  I did wonder whether they were heading to Oshkosh or not.  Once it was on the ground, I forgot about it for a while.  Then, when checking something else a little later on, I realized that they were up again and heading back home.  Again, there was a question about something inbound to BFI but timing looked good so I waited for the first shot to be made and then hopped in the car to Renton.  The lights all seemed to take forever but I was at the overlook in plenty of time.  I wondered whether they would try for an approach across the lake and I would need to relocate but there was a lot of light aircraft traffic so they slotted in to the normal pattern having gone north a way before turning back in.

They were easy to see while downwind and then turned across the housing around Renton before lining up on final with Mt Rainier in the background.  I decided to risk a slower shutter speed since the light was very bright and with such a cluttered background, I needed to blur things as much as possible to try and make the plane stand out.  It worked a bit but it was still noticeable how much the background takes over shots from that location.  As soon as they touched down, I was ready to head back to BFI since more things were due there.  This day off was proving very fruitful.

Kenosha Hangar Visit

Back when we lived in Chicago, I went to Kenosha to photograph the Grumman Wildcat that had recently been lifted from Lake Michigan.  While I was there, I also got to have a look around the hangar which housed the collection of Chuck Greenhill.  His airworthy planes were stored in the hangar but it was also busy working on restorations of some Grumman amphibians.

His Duck was in the hangar and it was a great looking example.  I was disappointed that I never got to see it fly.  It looked immaculate.  I understand it has been sold and is now in Texas.  There were also two Mustangs parked in there.  One of them, Geraldine, they claimed to be the most authentic Mustang example in the world.  I don’t know how you would measure such things but they seemed very confident claiming this.  It even included a full, working armament so you could head up and shoot someone down if you were so inclined.

The amphibian restorations were very interesting.  Bare metal fuselages and the wings off while they were in work.  It would have been good to make regular visits to see how things progressed but I was not able to go back again so couldn’t do that.  Even so, pretty cool to see the workmanship on these airframes.

A Bonus With the A-26

Aside from my two HondaJets and a little other traffic, things were not looking too busy at Boeing Field.  I was contemplating my next move when I glanced at FlightRadar and saw a Douglas A-26 was flying over Seattle.  This is one that is based at Renton and used as a personal transport by the owner.  I have never seen it in action before.  Consequently, I was quite excited.  At first, I thought it looked like it was turning towards Boeing Field which would have been handy but then it headed north up towards the San Juan Islands.

I figured that, even if it was landing up there, it would be coming back to Renton later on so headed off in that direction to work out what flow the pattern was using.  The A-26 had departed over the lake to the north but all of the movements now seemed to be from the north so I figured it would come in from that direction.  No chance of shooting it from above at the overlook point at the south end but still plenty of options.

Unfortunately, they have closed off part of the park at the north end of the field and erected fencing.  This takes away an area of higher ground which gives a good view of the threshold.  However, with a couple of Cessnas bashing the circuit, I was able to see roughly what would be good and what wouldn’t.  A check on FlightRadar showed that they had finished flying around the San Juans and were coming back over the city.

They followed the water from the coast in to Lake Washington and I thought would be coming straight for me.  However, they continued over Bellevue instead.  I wondered if they were off somewhere else but soon they had turned back and were heading for Renton.  Looking up the lake, I could pick them out a long way out, long before they had even configured for landing.  With the fall foliage still evident on some of the shorelines, it made for quite a nice shot – something that wouldn’t have been the case at the other end.

The A-26 is pretty speedy so they were soon on final approach and I grabbed a bunch of shots both tight and wider.  Then they zipped by and behind the newly erected fencing!  I packed up my stuff and headed off but, as I drove back south, I saw they were still on the ramp outside the hangar.  I pulled in a watched them put the plane away.  Only at the last minute did I realize that I could have got a closer shot from near the gate but I shouldn’t complain given how lucky I had been to see them out on my day off.

Fisher P-75A Eagle

While researching some old images of mine from the experimental hangar at the USAF Museum in Dayton OH (the collection of which has since been moved into a new, custom build display hangar which is far more spacious), I saw some shots of something which, to be honest, I had no idea what it was.  I took a look at the website of the museum to try and identify the type.  It is a Fisher P-75A Eagle.

I did not knew Fisher existed and discovered it was part of General Motors.  The configuration of the aircraft is quite unusual.  The engine is mounted in the middle of the aircraft driving a contra-rotating propeller.  The cockpit is further forward that on other single-engined fighters of the era since there was no space allocated to the engine up front.  The underside includes a pair of inlets.  The airframe is finished in polished metal rather than paint.  Overall, it looks quite impressive.  From what I read, another type was not deemed as necessary so development was terminated and they used the airframes for engine development work.  Funny how I saw it on the visit and took photos and then promptly forgot about it.

Douglas Dragon

Moses Lake was the last stop on my road trip.  There were a few things I was hoping to see while I was there but one thing I saw I was not expecting at all.  A Douglas UC-67 Dragon, a conversion of the B-23.  There weren’t many built at all and I have come across a couple in museums.  However, this one looks like it might be airworthy.  There aren’t a ton of photos of it online but it has been shot flying a couple of years ago so I hope it is still flyable.  It was very close to the fence in nice afternoon light so a great surprise to add to the day.

Spirit of St Louis Replica

Arlington is the current home of a replica of the Ryan Monoplane flown by Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic.  This is a detailed replica built over many years by a guy called Mike Norman.  It has flown a few times and they are increasing the hours on the airframe prior to taking it further afield.  I hadn’t seen it before but my friend, Bob, advised that it was due to fly on a recent Sunday morning.  The weather was looking nice if a little warm (heat haze) so I made the trip up to Arlington early on the Sunday.

They taxied out a little later than planned but not by much and certainly not when you are working with an experimental airframe.  They took off to the north and flew a couple of circuits.  We were a bit distant from it but not too bad.  I figured I would head to the approach end for the next circuit.  I got there just as they were on short final so too late to get a shot but I figured I would get the next one when they climbed out again.  However, the next approach turned out to be for the cross runway.  They flew close by while downwind but I was on the wrong side for the light when they were on final.

On the next climb out they left the circuit to fly up towards Bellingham.  This left a problem.  By the time that they were due back, the light would almost definitely be tail on down the runway.  I discussed with Bob the options and we decided to go to the south of the runway and hope they came that way.  As it was, they arrived back at exactly the time the light was aligned with the runway so the worst of options.  However, we were not far from the threshold and had a mountain backdrop on final approach so not too bad.  It is a lovely looking replica.  I hope to see it fly again, maybe in nice evening light.  I suspect it is easier to fly when the air is a bit less bumpy!

Wildcat Has Looked Better

In 2012, A Grumman Wildcat was raised from the bottom of Lake Michigan.  The lake has numerous wrecks scattered across it as a result of the training that was undertaken during the Second World War with students ditching their aircraft.  Many have been raised over the years with some being restored to flight and others ending up in museums.  The one that was raised in 2012 was the subject of a piece I put together for Global Aviation Magazine.

The airframe was moved to a hangar under the control of Chuck Greenhill (who had financed the recovery) at Kenosha Airport after it was raised from the water and this was where I got to see it.  Opening the hangar door was quite a shock because the smell was pretty overpowering.  The airframe was covered in various creatures that had attached themselves over the years and they were not doing well in the air of the hangar.  It was a tough smell initially.  You got used to it a bit and having the hangar door open helped to get some fresh air in there.

The airframe was in several parts.  The wings were laid out in place and the tail section, which had separated at some point during the accident, was laid out behind it all.  Obviously, there was lots of damage to the aircraft given that it originally had crashed and then spent decades underwater.  The recovery process was delicate to avoid inflicting any further damage.

The airframe remains the property of the US Navy.  It was originally going to go to Pensacola for restoration but ended up going to the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo MI in the end.  It is currently undergoing restoration there.

Douglas World Cruiser

I first saw the Douglas World Cruiser when Hayman and I were were skulking around Boeing Field prior to an ISAP symposium.  The aircraft was being worked on by a restoration team  and we chatted to them for a while.  When I moved it up, it had moved too and now it lives at Renton.  I have seen it plenty of times as it sits in its open ended hangar at Renton.  However, it clearly is moved as, on a recent visit, the nose was pointing out of the hangar rather than in.  It is not in a great place to shoot but a bit of live view and holding the camera above the wall and you can get a shot.

Avro York

The Avro Lancaster is a very famous bomber from the Second World War but its transportation derivative is a lot less well known.  Outside the aviation community, it is probably totally unknown.  It is the Avro York (War of the Roses comments are welcome) and it takes the flying surfaces and power plants of the Lancaster and mates them to a larger fuselage for transporting people.  It was an important type in the latter stages of the war and immediately afterwards.  This example is in the main hangar at the IWM Duxford.

Hamilton H-47 Metalplane

This is not a great shot but it is a rare airplane.  I was out and about when I heard what sounded like a vintage aircraft engine rumbling nearby.  I took some long shots and only checked them out when I got home.  It turns out it is a Hamilton H-47 Metalplane.  This aircraft used to operate on floats – that would have been good to see – but it now is on wheels.  Apparently it lives someone in the area so I am going to try and track it down at some point.