The normal operations at Nellis continue even while Red Flag is on. The local units try to fly their missions at times that fit between the larger exercises. A four ship of A-10s launched in the morning and they were recovering shortly before the Red Flag launch. Rather than run in and break, they flew a straight in approach to runway 21R. Strangely the first jet came passed and it was still gear up as it came close. I have no idea whether they were just keeping it late or had got a call from the tower but the gear came down alongside us. The following three jets were gear down a lot earlier. Let’s say it was deliberate…
Getting up close with the jets gives you an opportunity to see right into the cockpit while the planes are flying. As the A-10s pull hard off the target on the range they come right towards you. Consequently you can find yourself looking right in through the top of the cockpit. Looking through my shots I could see this view of the pilots. They have a notepad of some sort strapped to one their legs. I assume it is for flight planning purposes but I can’t help but think about the slower transit speed of the A-10. They have a fair bit of time when making their way from DM to the range and back again. Maybe a game of Sudoku or a crossword is a good way to pass the time?
Since changing camera bodies to something that is full frame, one of the things I have been pondering is what I will notice about the reduced reach that I will get with my current lenses. Obviously there will be a change. So far it has only really resulted in me changing when I press the shutter since I still work based on what I see through the viewfinder. While we were out on the range at Hawgsmoke, the jets would carry out a strafing run and then pull towards the range tower where we were located. Sometimes they would be really close.
I had decided to try putting a 1.4x tele convertor on the 500mm to compensate for the larger sensor size. This worked well for a number of the shots but, when the jets pulled overhead, it was a touch too much! These shots are not cropped. They are really that close and you can see exactly what is in the cockpit.
While watching the arrivals for Hawgsmoke was a lot of fun, the main focus was the range work on the first day of exercise. The Air Force put us on a bus for the drive out to the Barry M Goldwater Range south of Gila Bend. This is about a two hour drive. The temperatures were above 100F and the bus was a bit lacking in air conditioning terms. We were toasty as we traveled out. Standing on the range is another thing. It is rather warm standing out in the sun. However, you soon forget how hot it is when the jets arrive.
The four ships for each unit have a range slot. They start with the various bomb missions so they are quite a way off while this is underway. You can just see the little practice bombs as they are released if you look closely and then the impact on the target out on the range. They try a few different profiles. Then they move on to the strafe work.
Long range strafe is first with the jets firing from quite a way out from the target. They then move on to low angle strafe where they are firing from very close to our location on the range tower often firing until alongside us. The first experience of the A-10 firing is quite something and it is good to see someone react to their first shoot. After the firing pass, the jets turn overhead our location so you get a great topside view of the jets.
With the different units taking their turns on the range, you can get shots from different perspectives. Close in shots, wider shots, a bit of video – all of this can be done in the available time. Sadly, we have to head off again before too long and it is back on the bus for the return journey. I spent the day drinking a ton of water. The bus was hot, the range was hot and the bus was hot again so I needed every drop I drank. The shower when I got back to the hotel was definitely welcome. I wouldn’t hold this against the visit though. It is a ton of fun and the time is spent with some good people too so you can’t go wrong.
While walking along the ramp at Davis Monthan I was looking for different shots of the A-10s that were arriving for Hawgsmoke. The lights on the nosewheel of the A-10s have been replaced with an LED based solution. This is clearly not the original light. It actually looked to me like it was a circuit board rather than a cluster of LEDs. I didn’t see it lit up but I don’t doubt that it’s bright. I just think it looks rather cool.
Every two years the A-10 community gets together for the Hawgsmoke competition. I covered it again for GAR and you can see the piece I wrote here. The first day we were there was the arrival day. The plan had been to watch some landings and then to move to the parking ramp area. As it happened, we couldn’t get too close to the runway and some of the arrivals were delayed so we headed to the ramp instead which proved to be a good choice. The A-10s were coming in from the various units.
Initially he team were a little concerned about how we could access the area while the jets were on the move but we gradually got more access as they got more confident in us staying in the right places. The jets were taxiing along the outsides and then parking facing inwards. Consequently, we could be in between the rows and out of the way of the aircraft on the move. As more jets were parked up, we could move further out towards to the taxiway and closer to the arriving aircraft. It all worked pretty well.
Once the jets were on the ground the ground crews were straight into action taking off he baggage pods and starting to load up with practice bombs ready for the range slots that were to come as the exercise got underway. Most of the jets were parked outside the sun shelters so the crews were getting pretty hot as they worked. Plenty of coolers of water were on hand to keep them in good shape. This was a good start to the coverage of the exercise from my perspective.
Many airbases have a selection of historic aircraft on display to show something of what has gone before on the base. Sadly, they are often unavailable to shoot when you visit. Davis Monthan AFB has quite a few different planes on display and, fortunately, the location of the Fallen Hawg ceremony during Hawgsmoke was in front of the display A-10. While everything was being set up, we had some time to kill and I was allowed to wander around the other planes.
The selection included some obvious DM aircraft like the A-10 and A-7 (even if it was actually a Navy A-7E that they had repainted). A U-2 was a slightly more surprising one to see. I’m not sure how that qualifies but I wasn’t complaining. The F-105, F-100 and F-4 all looked good too. Not only was it nice to be able to shoot them but it gave us something to do since we had got in place pretty early!
My trip to Arizona to shoot the shooting A-10s was a lot of fun and something I have already covered. One aspect of this shoot that caught my interest was the cannon shells in flight. I have seen images from other people that allow you to see the A-10’s shells leaving the muzzle or flying to the target and when I got something similar, I was quite pleased. However, a shot that really caught my eye was one of them that had a background with some clouds visible.
This background provides a mechanism to see any discontinuities in the density of the air as is experienced in a shockwave. This is the effect that is used in Schlieren photography in wind tunnels. The refractive index of the air changes as the density changes. Normally you don’t see this. However, if the background is not continuous, the refraction of the background results in the shockwave being visible. One of the shells showed this up and I thought it was cool. Therefore, I am sharing it here just in case you think it is cool too!
Every other year, the A-10 community in the US Air Force holds a competition called Hawgsmoke. This year it was being held in Arizona. The aircraft were based at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson and the Goldwater range complex was where most of the exercise was taking place. With the possibility that the A-10 might be taken out of service hanging over things, I was keen to get down there in case this was the last time the event would take place.
I covered the event for Global Aviation Resource so you can see the article I produced here. Rather than repeat that, I shall provide a little of the back-story. Arizona in July is not the coolest place in the world. Head out into the desert and it is even warmer. Get taken there in an Air Force bus which has air conditioning that doesn’t work properly and you will be pretty toasty. If the young guy driving the bus appears to be falling asleep all of the time, you are feeling a bit more alert than might otherwise be the case in that heat.
Our time on the range was a bit short. One of the TV crews from a local station obviously decided he had seen enough and told the organizers that he would miss his deadline if we didn’t leave. He had been given the same schedule as the rest of us so I suspect he was talking crap. However, while we were on the range for less time than expected, we still got a great experience of the A-10s running in to shoot the targets. The close proximity as they fired was something else as was their break over the top of us after each pass.
It was a good bunch of guys on the trip and we all headed out to shoot around Davis Monthan when we got back. This gave me a chance to get some more shots of the A-10s that would fill out the article a little. By the end of the day, I was shattered. I had been drinking liquid all day but I think I was just keeping out of trouble rather than being properly hydrated. Still, it was really worth it. A little longer and the benefit of the sun coming around would have been nice but it was still cool (but hot!). Below is some video that I shot for GAR while I was there too.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II or Warthog to most people. Global Aviation Resource wanted to celebrate this event in the magazine so I headed off to Tucson Arizona to visit Davis Monthan AFB. Well known for being home of the boneyard, DM is also the home of three A-10 squadrons. Two are training units and the third is an operational squadron.
I was visiting both a training squadron and an operational unit to see he people train to fly the jet today as well as learn about how it is used today. I have had a soft spot for the A-10 for as long as I can remember. Visiting an A-10 unit is a treat for me. This is still true even if it is 105F in Tucson while I am visiting!
The team took great care of me while I was there. I spent the morning with Major John “Tex” Lesho who is an instructor on the jet with a number of tours at different locations with the aircraft. He gave me a great description about the aircraft and the training process as well as the changes that have been introduced in recent upgrades. He also had some great stories as would be expected of someone who has been flying the jet a long time. During the visit with him the opportunity was presented to head to the weapons ranges to watch the jets training. However, this involved a long drive each way and would have taken up most of the day. Since I was there to learn about the units, going to photograph the jets gunning the range couldn’t be done. It would have been great to do and hopefully I will get another chance in the future.
In the afternoon it was time to visit the operational squadron. Beercan Collier was my host. I mentioned Beercan in a previous post for those of you paying attention. He gave me a rundown on how the unit works as well as the additional work he has with the Heritage Flight duties. He then handed my off to a group of pilots who were getting ready to launch on a four ship mission. We watched them sign out the jets and then head out for start up and launch. They were very accommodating but I did make sure to stay out of the way. Launching military jets does not happen quickly since there is a lot to do. You don’t just turn it on and go. I made best use of the aircraft shelters during this to stay out of the sun.
Once they were launched, I managed to grab a shot of a VC-25 that was parked on the ramp before it was time to wrap up. (Unfortunately, the VC-25 launched just as I drove off base and, while I scurried to find a spot to get a picture of it in flight, I was still driving up the road as it flew overhead. Oh well.) My escort for the day, Sarah, did a great job of getting me where I wanted to be and I am grateful to here and everyone else for taking such good care of me. The article is in the August edition of the magazine so go to www.globalaviationresource.com if you want to buy a copy.