Edwards AFB might be the home of the USAF flight test center but it is also home for NASA’s Armstrong test center. Consequently, NASA was included in the flying display. They put up a three ship formation that mad a series of passes. The formation was led by a Gulfstream with an F-15 and an F/A-18 on the wing tips. The Eagle is one that has been with NASA for years and is painted in a white scheme. The Hornet was still in Strike Test colors from Pax River but I have no idea how long it has been with NASA.
The two jets also did some demonstrations of sonic booms as they maneuvered high above the crowd with the booms reaching the ground at different times depending on how high they had been created. The sound was also modified by the maneuvering of the jet. Formations like this don’t appear regularly at air shows so this was a welcome addition to the flying program.
Alaska Air Cargo operates some 737-700s that have been converted to freighters. For some reason, I feel like I have struggled to get any good shots of them. I have either been too distant or the weather was crummy or I just made a bad job of the shots. They operate in and out of SEA daily so you would think that, after six years up here, I would have got something of them that I liked. Finally I got a bit more lucky. Some afternoon departures to the north on days when I could be there and the light was cooperating meant I was able to get something better. The -700 is not a big jet so, even with the 500mm, I was stretching things a bit but winter light makes everything better. If only the Cargo logo wasn’t hidden behind the wing for a good chunk of the time. The low light does make the texture of the door conversion on the front of the fuselage show up, though.
Boeing has been running a program for the last 10 years called the EcoDemonstrator program. They have used a variety of aircraft over this time – often ones that were bailed back from operators or that had not yet been delivered. The most recent aircraft to participate was an older 777-200ER. I am not sure why this jet was picked but I do wonder whether they pick up aircraft that don’t have a lot of hours left before a major inspection so they are more affordable.
This one has been flying around for quite a while but I have never seen it moving. Then, not so long ago, I finally got to shoot it but it was a miserable day with low cloud and awful light. I felt like I was destined to never get a shot of it in nice conditions. Things changed when I went to Georgetown to see the Steam Plant. I was in the plant having a look around shortly after arriving when something large took off overhead. I pulled out my phone to see what it was a saw that the demonstrator was powered up on the Boeing ramp and scheduled for a flight.
This was a lucky break – not just that it was flying but that I happened to look at my phone to see it. I went back to the car to change lenses when I saw it had started to move. I was tricked a little, though. They moved it to the exit of the Boeing ramp and then it stayed there for ages. However, eventually it did taxi down the field and take off. It was quite high as it came by me but I was able to get some shots of it and the underside had some graphics about being powered by sustainable aviation fuel so that was something I hadn’t seen before.
I then finished my visit to the steam plant. The demonstrator was down off the Oregon coast flying various profiles on their test card. When Boeing Jets fly down there you are left guessing as to when they might return. They will be flying towards you and then reverse course to do more test points. There were some interesting departures from SEA early in the afternoon so I was hoping to shoot them and then return to Boeing Field for the demonstrator. I saw it head towards me but figured it would reverse course any time.
I was wrong. It was coming back and soon. This was not in the plan. The departures from SEA would have been good but this plane is unique so it was getting priority. I headed back to Boeing Field where I was not alone. Plenty of people had come out for it. A sunny Saturday was clearly good news for the local photographers. I then watched the planes come out of SEA that I had wanted to shoot but that would have to be accepted. Not long before the 777 showed up out in front of Mt Rainier and then it was on approach. I was happy with my results. Chatting with some of the locals, they said it was not long before it heads to storage in the desert. I know it flew a few times after this but maybe this was my last chance. Thank goodness the conditions were good and that I even realized!
I have been through Palmdale a few times but none of those previous trips coincided with a time when the Joe Davis Airpark was open. I got to look through the fence at the aircraft on display but couldn’t go in. This time, I was better prepared and was able to check the place out at my leisure (if you ignore having to do a Teams call halfway through while trying to find some shade and avoid noisy kids). As it happened, they were planning on closing earlier than scheduled that day so I could have had another miss if I had waited until later in the day!
The park has a wide variety of aircraft types scattered around. Photography is okay as things are not right on top of each other but the desert sun is still pretty harsh and so doesn’t make for the best results. Still, I’m not going to stop shooting images just for that reason. There are a couple of more unusual types on display and at least one of those is going to get its own post. There are plenty of fighters and trainers. An F-14 is always a welcome jet on display but an A-7 is also going to go down well with me as will an F-101. The C-140 was a nice surprise as I do like a JetStar.
The larger aircraft start with a C-46 which was a bit close to the fence so made for a more busy background. It is a small exhibit compared to the two largest items on display. B-52s are well represented in museums around the US. They were certainly built in large quantities. This one has a Hound Dog missile alongside. Next to it, though, is the most special asset. A 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Retired by NASA at the end of the Shuttle program, it now resides in the sun a short distance from its old home at Edwards.
At the rate Boeing is building 737s at the moment (the actual rate rather than the one that they would like to be building at) means a delivery on any giving day is a possibility. I happened to be there when two deliveries went out in close succession. The nice thing about deliveries is that the planes are usually a lot heavier as they are fueled for a longer flight. When they are departing to the south, that means that they will rotate a lot further along the runway so will be easier to photograph.
Two airlines were taking delivery on this day. One was Lion Air for its Batik Air subsidiary. The other was COPA. The light wasn’t great for either of them but sometimes the dark skies make for a more interesting background provided the light on the aircraft is not terrible. I did okay on this occasion. I have been making better use of the processing capabilities of Lightroom since they introduced the more advanced masking functions so that certainly helps.
The British Army bought a bunch of Apaches which were locally assembled by Westland and were fitted with Rolls Royce Turbomeca engines to bolster the local content. Since that acquisition, the Apache has gone through a bunch of upgrades and the current AH-64E Apache Guardian is the latest and greatest. The British Army decided to acquire these and, this time, there is none of the local content to worry about. Their airframes have been rotated back to Boeing and AH-64E airframes get delivered. Some might have originally been British but others are not.
Middle Wallop is not the busy airfield it once was but there is still some Army flying underway and that includes operation of these new Apaches. While I was visiting, there were some airframes flying around the local countryside and also doing some pattern work. They pattern is a bit distant from the museum area but I was still able to catch some shots of them. Hopefully I will see them in more detail at some point but this was my first encounter with the updated fleet.
One of the highlights of the Blue Angels’ display is the sneak passes. The display is good but the sneak pass gets the jets as fast as you are going to get in their routine and there is a chance of vapor cones forming around the shocks and expansion fans. A display over water enhances the chance of the vapor. The distance of the display line on Lake Washington was a little disappointing as the jets were quite far away but the advantage of this location was that Mercer Island provided a backdrop.
The benefit of this backdrop was that, the rapid changes in density of the air in the shocks and expansions makes the refractive index change and this will distort the view of the background. With a clear sky, this is usually not visible but, with a background, you can see the shocks around the airframe. This is a rare opportunity. Fortunately, while there was little vapor, there were plenty of shocks. I was quite happy when I got home and studied the shots of the display to find I had some good results. It would have been great to have been on the media boat but let’s not complain.
I caught this 747-400F departing from SEA one weekend while waiting for something else. It is an original freighter rather than a converted passenger jet so it has the small hump and the nose door. However, when I was editing the shots, I noticed that the rear fuselage cargo door has blocked windows on it. This had me curious. Is this a door that has been swapped on from a converted passenger aircraft or did the doors all have windows for some reason? That seems unlikely so I am leaning to the former solution but anyone that is an expert on these things, please let me know.
Glorious weather had greeted the B-17, Sentimental Journey, when it came to Seattle. The following week, it moved up to Arlington but was not so lucky. The skies were pretty overcast and the air was more humid. It didn’t make for great conditions to shoot a bare metal aircraft. However, many times before, I have written here about how poorer conditions can sometimes be worthwhile. This was one of those times.
I started off shooting from further up the field and, as the B-17 started her takeoff roll, it was clear that the props were pulling a fair bit of vapor from the air. Consequently, I headed further down the field for the next flight. This also provided a close look at the plane as it taxied out. The real benefit came when the power was applied. Vortices were streaming from the tips of the props and swirling back across the wings. It is always a tricky call when trying to shoot in these conditions. A good bit of prop blur is good as is a blurry background to emphasize speed but, this will result in the vortices being less defined. A faster shutter speed helps make them stand out. I tried to get a good balance with the speed I chose.
My friend, Paul, had advised me that Lancaster CA had a couple of aircraft on poles that were worth a look. One is a retired Air Force test F-4 that sits at a busy intersection next to a rail station. The other is a NASA F/A-18A that is at the entrance to a baseball stadium. I decided to try and photograph both one evening when the light would be most favorable.
The guys hanging out near the F-4 looked a little perplexed as I drove up and started photographing this plane on a pole. I think they didn’t see the interest in it that I did. I think I attracted a few strange glances and I grabbed some shots and then headed back to the car. The Hornet at the baseball stadium was a different story. Not too many people around at that time so I took some shots and then headed off. There was one more target of interest but that would have to wait for a morning visit.