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.
When putting together some images for a group online that I am involved with, a dug out a couple of shots of jets departing O’Hare I shot years back. When coming off 22L, some of the jets make an early turn to the south and you can get a view of them that is either quite level with the wing line or slightly above. When shooting them, they are climbing so it is obvious what you were shooting. However, as I looked at these shots, it occurred to me that they looked a lot like an air to air position except the angles were wrong because of the climb. Since I had shot quite tightly, re-cropping the shot required some Photoshop work.
Taking the image out of Lightroom and in to Photoshop, I selected the crop tool and rotated the image to be the sort of angle that an air to air shot might be. Doing this crops off the nose and tail of the jet. However, one feature of the crop tool in Photoshop is that, if you then drag the edges of the tool back out, you can expand the canvas size. You now have the whole plane in shot but have added some white space in each corner where no image previously existed.
It is a simple task to then use Content Aware Fill to add sky back in to these areas. The result is a shot that looks almost as if you had been flying in formation at altitude. Would you have spotted it? Having done it with an A320, I then had a go with a 757. The light angle makes it look a bit like we are flying along towards a setting sun. I was rather pleased with the trick.
In the UK, I have seen plenty of Aer Lingus A320 family jets. In the Midwest and on the west coast I have seen their A330s a lot too. One type of theirs that I have not seen before is the 757. These seem to be used for the shorter transatlantic runs. While taxiing out at Newark for a flight back to Seattle, a Shamrock 757 taxied out too and departed ahead of us. I have to admit I was quite surprised. I guess I knew they had 757s but this was the first one I had seen.
I saw something at Vancouver that I hadn’t seen before and that was a FedEx jet that was not registered in the US. I had assumed that all of their fleet was N registered but, apparently, that is not the case. A number of the jets are on the Canadian register and the 757 that departed while I was there was one of them. My first commercial flight was on a 757 with British Airways and many of those jets ended up with FedEx. I don’t know the origin of this example but it was good to see it still providing good service.
The first Boeing 757 built was kept by Boeing as a test aircraft and never went to an airline. When Boeing became a partner in the F-22 Raptor program, a new use was found for the aircraft. It was fitted out as a flying testbed for the avionics suite. A test crew could ride in the cabin and they could try out a number of different configurations of software changing things as they go without having to have the software flight qualified.
To make the whole ensemble work appropriately, the aircraft was fitted with F-22 sensors. This included a radome on the aircraft nose with the F-22’s radar. In addition, because a number of sensors were embedded in the wings, a wing structure was added about the cockpit. This unusual configuration resulted in the aircraft gaining the nickname “Catfish”. It flew a lot during the development program but I only ever saw it on the ground at Boeing Field and then it was partially obscured. I did also look down on it from an airliner approaching SeaTac.
I knew it didn’t fly often but I hoped that, in moving to the area, I would finally get to see it airborne. Then I discovered that it had flown to St Louis. The rumor was that it had been retired. Indeed, on a flight across the country involving a plane change in St Louis, I did see it parked up in an open-ended hangar. I figured that might be as close as I got. Then I got a notification that it was heading west again. Better yet, it wasn’t going direct to Boeing Field but to Everett first. It is a short drive from the office to Everett and the flight plan meant it was coming in during lunch.
The harsh lunchtime light and the prospect of heat haze notwithstanding, I figured this was too good a chance to miss. It showed up pretty much when expected so I was able to get some shots of it coming down the approach and across the threshold. The heat haze was really bad as it was over the runway but actually slightly less of an issue further out. I don’t care. I finally got to see it fly and that is what I was after. It headed back to St Louis from Boeing Field the following day. I have no idea when it left Everett for Boeing Field though. If it comes back again and I can see it, that will be a bonus.
Icelandair painted one of their 757s in a scheme that portrays the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. It is named Hekla Aurora. It was painted a long time ago but, since they didn’t operate anywhere I lived, I hadn’t got to see it. Then I had my first sighting when landing at SeaTac when it was parked across the ramp as we taxied in. I certainly didn’t get a shot of it. Moving to Seattle meant I would have a chance to see it in action but that was dependent on it operating here on a day when I could actually be there. Turns out my luck was in – and it was sunny! (In fact it had been a crummy day but I had a feeling it would clear up and, while it was raining as I drove down, the sun came out on cue. Hurrah!)
If you spend a day somewhere, you can get absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Alternatively, you can be somewhere for a short time and get a really lucky break. I was down in Hayward awaiting an unusual Airbus movement as I headed to something else and, in the short space of time I was there, someone else showed up. This was a Boeing 757 that has been converted for private charter use. I have actually come across this aircraft before but, when it showed up heading in to Oakland, I was rather pleased with my good fortune.