There are many airlines around the world so plenty that you probably haven’t heard of and may never see. Finding one in your backyard is a surprise though. There I was hovering over LAX in a Robinson shooting pictures of the arriving and departing jets and a 747-400 appears on the approach. Since they are becoming fewer and further between these days, this was a good thing. When I saw the name on it, I had no idea what it was.
Wamos is apparently a Spanish airline. They have been operating some flights to LA but, up until this point (and the subsequent research I did), I had never heard of them. I guess we just never crossed paths. A new airline and a 747 was a pretty sweet combination. I was definitely on a roll on this flight as I got a number of treats.
A favorite airline of mine is Air Tahiti Nui. I have never flown with them but they have a colorful livery and they still fly Airbus A340-300s so they get points from me on two fronts. The only place I ever get to see them is at LAX. Normally they operate off the southern runway complex and I saw a couple on the ground while I was there on a recent trip. While I was doing my flight over the airport to photograph operations, I knew the timing was right for one of their flights to come in. However, things were pretty busy that day and we were reluctant to move over to the southside to get them arriving as we feared we might not get back into the center area to shoot arrivals on the northside again.
I was resigned to not getting them when my lucked took a very positive turn. For some reason, and I don’t know what it was, the controllers brought them in to the north runways. They came to me! I didn’t have to do anything to reposition and I hadn’t even been aware at first that they were coming that side. Needless to say, when they appeared on final, I was pretty stoked. I imagine these jets will be replaced before too long so I was delighted to get these shots of them airborne.
The Airbus A380 may be a lot more common now than it was a few years ago but they are still comparatively rare. LAX is a place that gets a lot of them so the chance of catching one airborne was high, particularly given the time we were flying. Korean Air were the operator that obliged. We picked up the aircraft as it was on its downwind leg. Knowing it was out there made it easier to keep track of it – particularly knowing which runway it was coming in on.
We spotted it when it was still well out on the approach. As it came across the buildings surrounding the airport were were able to choose how we wanted to have it line up with the background. Finally it was coming across the parking lots, passing the In’n’Out Burger and then coming over the threshold. A little float and then the tires smoked on touchdown. The angles and light were pretty much ideal and Paul, our pilot, had us ideally placed. We could also keep an eye on it as it taxied in including getting on the gate.
My regular trips across the country often result in seeing aircraft out of the window as they cross our path or head in the opposite direction. I have seen plenty of jets in relatively close proximity but, with the speed differential being high, they are usually gone without a chance to grab a camera. Keeping it to hand for the entire flight is a little inconvenient. However, I have been working on an alternative plan.
Southwest provides in flight wifi and I get it for free as a result of the amount of flying I do with them. I log on to the wifi and open up Flightradar24 on my iPad. I can see where we are and I can see where other planes are too. The number of ADS-B equipped planes has gone up substantially in the last couple of years so accurate tracks are now common. Flightradar is usually pretty close to real time. I have learned, though, that the speed of the net connection on the plane is a big lethargic and the locations on the app while airborne have a bit of lag compared to the real situation.
By compensating for this, I have been able to predict a few encounters with other jets. Of course, they are never as close when you plan for it as when you are caught out but they were still pretty close. Shooting through an airliner window is not ideal but I managed to get a few shots all the same. Does this count as my first airliner a2a sortie?
Day two of my Red Flag visit was to involve a trip in one o the KC-135 tankers supporting the exercise. After the troubles of the previous day, it wasn’t entirely clear whether it would go ahead but we turned up at the allotted time and were escorted to the tanker ramp area. A few confused conversations took place with our escort and the crews but it all got worked out and we were briefed on the flight. We were the Blue tanker and were supposed to be refueling F-22s and F-16s, supposedly from Aviano with the Shaw F-16s (which are almost always out of bounds for photography) supposedly going to the Red tanker.
We waited in the ops building for as long as possible before heading out. It was very hot on the ramp but even hotter in the jet. KC-135s do not have any air conditioning while parked on the ground and are painted dark grey. Consequently, the back of the hold (where we would be) is about as hot a place as I have ever experienced. We got there and it was time to sit very still and wait. Also, rationing the water was a good idea since we would be flying for about three hours.
We taxied for takeoff and, once airborne, the cooling started to work and the temperature became reasonable. We agreed a rotation for everyone to get into the boomer’s position to get shots as the aircraft refueled. There are a couple of windows on each side of the jet too so we agreed to allow everyone get a chance with those too. Soon our first traffic appeared. A group of F-22s from Tyndall AFB came into view. Quite an impressive sight they make as they hang on the wing tip of the 135. They then take it in turns to drop under the jet and hook up to the boom before sliding out to the other side and waiting for the rest to finish. With some encouragement, they might make a more aggressive departure from the boom which is nice.
Our next traffic soon showed up. These were the F-16s but not from Aviano. They were Shaw jets and so out of bounds for photography. This was a big disappointment. We could take shots but they would be subject to scrutiny by the security team so would probably be deleted. I took a few but deleted them myself to speed the review process. They were cool to see even so. Lying beside the boomer and looking straight down into the cockpit of the jet below while the pilot looked up at us was an interesting experience.
We had more F-22s while we were there but it didn’t seem that long before we were heading back down again. We strapped in for landing and then had an extra moment of interest as the aircraft had to carry out a go-around. There was a strong tailwind so, as we were looking like we would land long, a go-around was the safest bet. Once back on the ground, we handed in our cards for review. Waiting for them to be mailed back seemed like an eternal wait as I was keen to know whether I had got anything worthwhile. The summer sun was a bit harsh and there was a lot of fluid on the boomer’s window but I still ended up with a few that I am very happy with. Thanks to the team at Nellis AFB for making I work out.