I have made countless trips between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight over the course of my life. Things change but most of the landmarks are remarkably consistent. I was therefore quite surprised to see some very large posts that had appeared in the approaches to Portsmouth Harbour. I knew that there had been dredging work undertaken to allow the new carriers (see this post) to enter the naval base. I suspected that these new large posts might be connected with the same project. Sure enough, some research after our returned confirmed that navigation lights have been installed to allow the carriers to navigate their way in. These light are mounted on top of large posts sunk into the seabed. They aren’t the most attractive things but I guess they do the job.
Another opportunity that Richard organized for us while at Mojave was the chance to shoot Orbital Science’s Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. This is an airframe that was modified to provide the launch platform for their Pegasus orbital launch vehicle. The underside of the fuselage is modified to mount the Pegasus which is then taken to altitude and dropped before the booster ignites. The TriStar is a type that disappeared from service far faster than its rival, the DC-10, so seeing one in great condition was pretty cool.
I was watching something on TV recently and there was some footage of the harbor in San Diego. The camera panned across the waterfront and right across the USS Midway. The Midway was a long lasting ship. She was originally built immediately after the end of WWII. A variety of upgrades and rebuilds meant that she served for nearly fifty years. She was a big ship but not as big as the Nimitz class ships in service today or Forrestal and Kitty Hawk classes. Consequently, she could not operate F-14s and was the last carrier to operate Phantoms which were replaced by F/A-18s when the Phantoms were retired.
Upon retirement, she became a museum in San Diego where you can visit her today. I took a look around a few years ago when ISAP was holding it symposium in San Diego. I got there a day early to have a look around and a bunch of us went down to see the Midway.
The collection of aircraft on board is pretty cool. There are some unusual types on display and they are arranged about the ship. The deck and hangar space provides plenty of options for the displays given the size of the air wing she used to accommodate. The deck has been used for other events including launching Kirby Chambliss during the Red Bull Air Races one year and hosting a college basketball game.
One frustrating memory of my visit relates to something not on the Midway. I had been talking with my friends about how I wanted to shoot LCACs – the hovercraft the Marines use for coming ashore. While I was up on the deck, what should I hear but an LCAC. Unfortunately, I was at the wrong end of a long flight deck so only got a passing look at the LCAC as it went by. I did get a quick shot but not one that will ever win any awards!
Should you find yourself in San Diego and you have some free time, I heartily recommend a visit to the Midway. San Diego has a lot to offer but the ship is impressive enough on its own and the collection of aircraft onboard is an added bonus.
I got to San Diego a day early for ISAP. There is often a chance to get out and about on the day before and some of the other attendees will do the same. Consequently, it is possible to hook up with a few folks and go exploring. I managed to get together with Bonnie and Gary (see the previous post about their visit to Chicago) as well as Larry.
As people who were heavily involved in the preparation for ISAP, there were some things that they were going to have to do to set up everything for the arrival of the majority of the attendees. That meant any trip we made would have to be back by mid-afternoon but that allowed us to make a trek down to the waterfront in San Diego to go around the USS Midway.
The Midway is a retired aircraft carrier that is moored in the harbor. It has a self guided tour that takes you around various parts of the ship to get an idea of what life aboard an aircraft carrier is. (Of course, wandering around a relatively empty ship in harbor is not the same as being at see with a few thousand of your closest friends for months at a time!)
There are a number of preserved aircraft through the hangar deck and up on the flight deck so there is plenty to see apart from the ship itself although that is fascinating in itself. Getting there shortly after it opened meant it wasn’t too crowded. Even as the time went by, it still didn’t seem that crowded to me and when I was on the lower decks, I was often the only person I could see.
The tour provided lots of interesting details about the way the ship operates along with a number of historical references to its time in service. Built shortly after the war, the ship has gone through a number of major updates to get to the point at which it was operating fast jets into the 1990s.
There are some nicely restored aircraft throughout the ship of varying vintages. The oddball for me was the F-14 since that was too large to operate from this class of carrier so it would never have been to sea on the Midway. However, that is really a minor issue. Besides, hanging out in San Diego Harbor on a sunny day is hardly a bad way to spend some time.
I had a lucky break which I nearly blew. Having grown up in the home of the hovercraft, one thing I like to see is hovercraft around the world. The Marines operate the LCAC hovercraft for landing ashore and have a base for the LCACs just up the coast from San Diego at Camp Pendleton. Given the opportunity, I would like to go up and photograph them at work. That wasn’t practical on this trip but, while up on deck, I heard a loud noise of a prop. At first I thought it was a sound effect from a display on the ship. It was only too late that I realized an LCAC was transiting the harbor.
If I had been quicker, I might have been able to move from the stern of the ship (closest to the shore) to something closer to the open water. Sadly, this was not to be. Instead, I ran to the LSO platform and managed to grab a quick couple of shots of the LCAC as it passed. Not what I would have hoped for but certainly better than nothing.
Once off the ship and getting ready to head back to the hotel, we bumped into a couple of other attendees for the symposium. Obviously, a sunny day by the water is considered a good idea by many!