Erickson has a B-17 as part of its collection. However, while Ye Olde Pub was sitting outside during my visit, there was a second B-17 on site. This is Thunderbird and it is undergoing some major airframe work. The fuselage was sitting on stands directly in front of you when you entered the hangar. The wings and empennage were in racks around it.
I don’t know what the schedule is for sorting out this aircraft but people seemed to be busy working on it so I assume it will be back in the air before too long. I did enjoy sneaking around trying to find good views of all of the parts that were stored awaiting their return to their rightful place on the airframe. Madras is quite a hike for me but it might be good to go back when they get the plane back in the air. It sounds like the sort of thing that Matt Booty might get down to photograph. Maybe I can be his assistant!
I have posted some photos of the arrival of Doc previously on the blog. However, at the weekend, it did a series of flights and I went down one morning to get some shots of it before heading off to Skagit for the fly day up there. Shooting at BFI in the morning is not ideal so I decided to head up the hill to look down on the airport. I headed up there and met my friend Mark. We went in to the clearing to get ready and realized we had timed it well. It wasn’t long before several other people had arrived and things were getting rather crowded. Early arrival meant the choice of spots.
You are shooting from quite a distance at that location but you are elevated so the heat haze is not such a problem. Even so, not the simplest of shots to get. The crew kept Doc really low on departure, much as they had done on the first flight I saw. They were flying right by the Boeing ramp so you had a combination of modern Boeing planes and 1940s products!
Once they had headed out, we moved down to the approach end. Originally, I set myself up next to the fence. However, a Beech came in to land and I realized that the proximity to the fence, even with ladders, was not ideal. I relocated to the other side of the road and awaited the return of Doc. They made a pretty sporty turn from downwind. I got shots of it but none that were a combination of sharp and as dramatic as I would have liked. Then they were rapidly on to short final and swooping across the threshold.
It was all pretty good fun. I was okay with the results I got, even if they weren’t amazing. I could have hung around for more but had another place to be. It would have been good to go back over the weekend but timing wasn’t good with the other things I had on. I didn’t get the visit the plane itself which was a disappointment. I do hope they come back at some time and I can have a tour of the aircraft.
I have only seen one flying B-29 prior to this year. That is Fifi from the Commemorative Air Force which I got to see in DuPage IL many years back and also saw overflying Oshkosh. A second B-29 was returned to flight about four years ago – Doc. It is based in Wichita KS and has been on a tour which included a visit to the Pacific Northwest. Its previous stop was in Spokane and then it came to Boeing Field for a week.
I saw when it was due in to BFI and got down there in time for the planned arrival from the other side of the state. It was a little later than I expected but that was fine. It was easy to track as it came across the mountains and then across the city and on to the approach for Boeing Field. The light was pretty good on it as it came down final approach although the reflective nature of the polished aluminum fuselage meant it took on a greenish hue as it flew over the grass inside the perimeter fence.
Shortly after arrival, they crewed up to make a press trip. Sadly, I was not part of this but it did give me a chance to get some more shots. The winds meant they were doing a southerly departure and I didn’t anticipate them climbing too fast when babying these old engines. They certainly didn’t climb aggressively! They kept it nice and low while cleaning up the gear and were still very low when they came past me. It was ideal. They then put in a surprisingly aggressive turn downwind where they kept it low enough that they were behind the trees.
I decided to try for something different for the next return. I headed to the end of the runway to try for some shots directly underneath the plane. It is a tricky place to shoot with buildings in the way for a while and more power lines than is ideal. Still, it provides a cool perspective and something a little different. I was very pleased with the success rate of the shots because, while you are shooting at a wide angle, there is a lot of relative motion.
Once on the ground, the plane was going nowhere for a few days until the paid flights started at the end of the week. There would be another encounter. I got to see it one day as it flew over the city but I did make a more deliberate effort to shoot it again. More to come…
Red Flag 22-2 included a detachment of B-1B Lancers. The Bone is a cracking jet as it combines the size of a bomber with the shaping and engines of a fighter. It is an elegant shape whether the wings are fully swept or not. I have shot them at Nellis a few times over the years but I was still keen to get some shots of them on this trip. Unfortunately, things did not quite go to plan.
They didn’t fly on the day that I arrived. I had gone out in the evening for the night launch but they were not part of it. The following morning, they launched a lot earlier than I expected so I was still at Cheyenne when they went. My last day, they again didn’t launch. That meant the recoveries from the early launch were my only chance.
Weather was not helping too much. This was not just for the Bones. It was pretty overcast for a good chunk of the afternoon. The two jets came back in formation and broke into the pattern. Thankfully, the arrivals were using the 21s and they were allocated to the right runway. A pretty sporty pattern for a big jet combined with me having chosen a good spot by the Speedway meant that they were almost filling the frame as they turned on to final. Some nicer light would have been great but, since this was all I was getting in daylight, it would have to do.
Every once in a while, I really test the high ISO capability of the cameras I have. The R3 got an early test when I was at Red Flag, I went out on two evenings to shoot some night departures and experimented with the ability of the camera to perform in those conditions. The high ISO capability of cameras has not moved on too much to be honest. The max ISO I used on my 1DXII was 51,200 and the R3 is still the same. It does appear to be a bit cleaner but they have possibly hit a bit of a limit. What I had not tried out before was an electronic viewfinder in such conditions.
The first night, I went out into the dunes to be ready for the B-1 departures. As it turned out, they didn’t launch that night. I did get some fighters coming out my way for a while before I concluded that this was a bust and I was heading back to the hotel. I tried shooting a few of the jets but I discovered the limitations of the camera pretty rapidly. When there is no light, the electronic viewfinder really struggles. The frame rate of the viewfinder drops like a stone and tracking a subject becomes pretty problematic. The frames per second drop too so the chances of a result are slim. With an optical viewfinder, this is not an issue but the chances of a good shot are also slim.
I returned to the hotel feeling pretty dispirited by this result. I wondered whether this was a real problem for adopting the R3. The following night, I went out again with the B-1s again being my main target. This time I had some tankers heading out before the B-1s launched. It was a very different evening. Sure, the lack of light still makes the chances of getting a good shot pretty low but the camera seemed to have no problem tracking the subjects and keeping the viewfinder frame rate up to a perfectly acceptable level. If I had only gone from the previous night, I would have concluded that it was unusable.
The embedded images in the RAW files looked pretty good but the Lightroom edits required a lot more work. DPP might be the answer or DxO PrimeRAW could do a good job. However, that is not the issue. Will the camera allow me to shoot at night with very dark subjects. Apparently, the answer is yes. It can handle it. However, it can’t track an almost black subject with a couple of navigation lights like an optical viewfinder can. That is a limitation that I may have to live with.
An A-26 Invader, marked up as Sexy Sue, is based at Renton. It is flown pretty frequently. It is normal for it to take off and head up towards the San Juans before looping around and coming back down to Renton. A flight lasts about 40 minutes which means, even if I knew exactly when it got airborne, the chances of getting to Renton in time to get its return are pretty limited. I have caught it out and about one time when it landed from over the lake on a cloudy day.
My day off with the planes had me at Boeing Field when I got a notification that the A-26 was airborne from Renton. I was anticipating the arrival of something at BFI so wondered where I should put my priorities. It is about fifteen minutes from Boeing Field to Renton so a quick reposition is possible. I figured I could probably just make it when my other arrival touched down. However, I had assumed incorrectly about the direction of flight and the A-26 was heading off through Snoqualmie Pass instead of going north.
I tracked it for a while anticipating a turn but it kept going and eventually landed at Walla Walla. I did wonder whether they were heading to Oshkosh or not. Once it was on the ground, I forgot about it for a while. Then, when checking something else a little later on, I realized that they were up again and heading back home. Again, there was a question about something inbound to BFI but timing looked good so I waited for the first shot to be made and then hopped in the car to Renton. The lights all seemed to take forever but I was at the overlook in plenty of time. I wondered whether they would try for an approach across the lake and I would need to relocate but there was a lot of light aircraft traffic so they slotted in to the normal pattern having gone north a way before turning back in.
They were easy to see while downwind and then turned across the housing around Renton before lining up on final with Mt Rainier in the background. I decided to risk a slower shutter speed since the light was very bright and with such a cluttered background, I needed to blur things as much as possible to try and make the plane stand out. It worked a bit but it was still noticeable how much the background takes over shots from that location. As soon as they touched down, I was ready to head back to BFI since more things were due there. This day off was proving very fruitful.
I was working through some shots and came across a sequence a little before a bunch of shots I have used a lot in the past. It was of B-2s on approach to Nellis just before sunset. I had some clear shots of them in the distance including as the gear was traveling. Here is one of those shots. I just liked it and thought I would share it here.
Adobe periodically updates the processing algorithms that are used by Lightroom and Photoshop. Each update provides some improvements in how raw files are processed and it can be good to go back to older shots and to see how the newer process versions handle the images. I find this particularly useful for images shot in low light and with high ISO.
I have some standard process settings I use but have also experimented with modified settings for use with high ISOs and the higher noise levels that come with them. I got to some night launch shots from an old Red Flag exercise and had a play with the images. The E-3 launch was actually as the light was going down but it still had some illumination so it didn’t need much work.
The KC-135 and B-1B shots were a different story and were at high ISOs and with very little light. I was able to update the process version and apply some new settings I had worked out since the original processing and it resulted in some pretty reasonable outputs considering how little light there was to work with.
Aside from my two HondaJets and a little other traffic, things were not looking too busy at Boeing Field. I was contemplating my next move when I glanced at FlightRadar and saw a Douglas A-26 was flying over Seattle. This is one that is based at Renton and used as a personal transport by the owner. I have never seen it in action before. Consequently, I was quite excited. At first, I thought it looked like it was turning towards Boeing Field which would have been handy but then it headed north up towards the San Juan Islands.
I figured that, even if it was landing up there, it would be coming back to Renton later on so headed off in that direction to work out what flow the pattern was using. The A-26 had departed over the lake to the north but all of the movements now seemed to be from the north so I figured it would come in from that direction. No chance of shooting it from above at the overlook point at the south end but still plenty of options.
Unfortunately, they have closed off part of the park at the north end of the field and erected fencing. This takes away an area of higher ground which gives a good view of the threshold. However, with a couple of Cessnas bashing the circuit, I was able to see roughly what would be good and what wouldn’t. A check on FlightRadar showed that they had finished flying around the San Juans and were coming back over the city.
They followed the water from the coast in to Lake Washington and I thought would be coming straight for me. However, they continued over Bellevue instead. I wondered if they were off somewhere else but soon they had turned back and were heading for Renton. Looking up the lake, I could pick them out a long way out, long before they had even configured for landing. With the fall foliage still evident on some of the shorelines, it made for quite a nice shot – something that wouldn’t have been the case at the other end.
The A-26 is pretty speedy so they were soon on final approach and I grabbed a bunch of shots both tight and wider. Then they zipped by and behind the newly erected fencing! I packed up my stuff and headed off but, as I drove back south, I saw they were still on the ramp outside the hangar. I pulled in a watched them put the plane away. Only at the last minute did I realize that I could have got a closer shot from near the gate but I shouldn’t complain given how lucky I had been to see them out on my day off.
The B-1B Lancer (or Bone to almost everyone who cares) is an impressive piece of hardware. It might have some performance limitations resulting from the redesign it underwent from the original canceled B-1A to the B-1B – changes that might not look that obvious but run quite deep – but it is still a very capable jet. The blended airframe shaping really appeals to an aero guy like me while the swing wing is now a concept that is disappearing as other types retire so it is becoming the last of the line. Add to that four afterburning engines and you get something that makes an impression.
It used to be a regular performer at air shows but these days you don’t see them as much. However, it can still turn heads when it makes fast passes and plugs in the burners. A bit of vapor can also be pulled as they get the speed and load on. Seeing them launch from close to the runway is always worthwhile. They are such an imposing jet. Sadly, their limitations and the cost of supporting them will probably mean they get retired long before the B-52s that they were once considered to replace. Here are some shots of my Bone encounters.
A USAF Boeing B-1B Lancer turns on to final approach at Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Boeing B-1B Lancer on final approach to Nellis AFB NV.
A Boeing B-1B Lancer of the USAF touches down at RAF Fairford, UK.