Cessna Citations are not the most exciting business jets. The original versions are particularly uninspiring with their simple design and unswept wing. Normally I might not even bother if I came across one. This example showed up at Davis Monthan while we were on the ramp and it obviously wasn’t a standard version. It belongs to the Customs people. I imagine it spends a lot of time looking at what is going on along the border. Flying out of Tucson would support that idea. I imagine the sensors on board are a lot more interesting than the plane itself.
Pinal Air Park is located northwest of Tucson. A number of business operate there. It used to be a location for Evergreen International. They carried out a number of programs of a spooky nature which meant there was strict security controlling access to the area. Evergreen have gone bust so now the airport is a lot less restricted. The hangars and ramp areas are still controlled but the roads around the field are now freely accessible.
The airport is used for active operators but also for storage of airframes. Some of these are planes that are clearly not going to be making it back into the air again. They are either old enough to not be in demand or of a type that has more value in the spare parts they contain than as a complete airframe. That isn’t the case for all of them though. Many of them are stored awaiting another operator finding a use for them. Consequently, you see a variety of aircraft from old TWA 747s to unmarked A330s.
While I was there, a Pratt and Whitney 747SP engine testbed was visible on one ramp while the Global Supertanker 747-400 was not far away. There were also some stored Grumman Goose aircraft (should that be Geese?) that looked like they weren’t moving for a while. A turbine Caribou was on the ramp obscured by a CASA 212. Plenty of variety. This would certainly be a fun place to tour with someone that has good access.
I was skimming through some shots from Tucson to thin out the shots that I got from that day. I looked at one of the shots because I thought that there was something wrong with the shot. When I checked a few of the surrounding shots, I realized that there was nothing wrong. The shot was real. The F-16 had a tire that was looking very sad. I know that budgets are tight but I think they need to change the tires on this jet.
Have you ever been excited to have a lucky break and then felt disappointed by the same thing afterwards? If so, you are like me and you really need help. I was up at Pinal Air Park in the evening after our time on the range at Hawgsmoke. An Apache helicopter was flying around the pattern. I was impressed that it was flying while I was there and grabbed some shots. The Singaporean forces have some Apaches there that they train on. When I looked at the shots, I was hoping that was what I had got. Sadly, it was just a normal US Apache. Why was I so disappointed? No good reason. It was still cool to see one in the nice evening light but you often focus on what might have been. Not healthy!
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.
If I hadn’t been with Joe who is a bit more familiar with the regular movements at Tucson International, I would not have been too interested in this aircraft. It looked like a pretty standard C-26 to me. However, Joe was quick to see it and told me it is one that he had not seen move (I can’t recall whether this was ever or just for a long time). Apparently, the turret under the fuselage is for surveillance activities of a spooky nature. Why it was moving on this day (was it watching me?) I have no idea. I was just glad that, rather than dismissing it as I might have done, I found out it was a little different.
The home team at Tucson International are the Arizona ANG F-16s. The Iraqi and Dutch jets may be of interest but the local jets are still worthy of attention. I didn’t get as much time to shoot them as I would have liked but there were still a few chances to catch some of them departing and recovering so here are a few from those times.
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.