I have been to a bunch of shows at RIAT and have done arrivals day a few times too. One thing I had not managed to do before was be there for departure day. I wasn’t going to be able to do the full day because I needed to head off on the next leg of our vacation but I got a good chunk of the time. Of course, the weather continued its theme of overcast conditions. There were certain things I really wanted to see which didn’t always work out whether it was Tornados going when I wasn’t there or things that departed up field and didn’t come near us.
Even so, there was a great selection of interesting bits and pieces to see heading out. Some of them just took off and climbed away normally. Others seemed to be trying to get as high as possible quickly which wasn’t much fun for the gathered photographers. A few put on a decent wag of the wings to please us. The rotation point for most aircraft was quite a way from where we were which was a bit of a shame as rotation can make for an interesting shot. A bit of heavy cropping and you can get the idea. At least the lack of sun reduced the amount of heat haze. Here is a gallery of a bunch of shots from the time I had.
A Royal Air Force Textron T-6 Texan takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Royal Air Force BAE Systems Hawk T2 takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Danish Lockheed Martin F-16A Fighting Falcon takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
Two Swedish Air Force SAAB JAS39 Gripens take off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Luftwaffe Eurofighter EF2000 takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
An Italian Air Force Eurofighter F-2000A takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Hawker Hunter takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
Departures over the Speedway are best when they flex. The straight out departures are fine but not that exciting and they often get pretty high pretty quickly. Those jets that flex seem to stay a bit lower and provide a more interesting shot. The later in the day it is, the better the light on a flexing jet. If they are doing an evening departure after the Flag participants are back, the conditions can be ideal.
A USAF Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles passes the moon as it flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
A Royal Dutch Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16A Fighting Falcon flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
Here is a selection of jets in both good and okay lighting. If a four ship goes out, you hope for the last jet to be more dramatic since it will be playing catch up with the others and shoot turn in a bit tighter. The fourth Saudi F-15SA was another story though since he went very early and then straightened up before having another go inside us. Not sure he had been paying attention at the brief!
I haven’t shot at Fisherman’s Park before and I am glad Hayman suggested it. The location provides a slightly different perspective on the planes coming in to SFO. It also seems to be the right angle to get lots of planes in one shot. Parallel approaches will give you two but you can also get the aircraft departing off the 01s in the background too. Sadly, they were often in shade as they departed but it still provided some contrasting shots. Then it was just a question of whether you could get two arriving and two departing jets in the same shot or not. Sadly, not this time.
When the Korean Air 747 pulled away from the gate, the ground crew all lined up to wave goodbye. I loved the personal touch. Not something you ever see in the US. I did wonder how many people on board were looking out of the windows to appreciate this gesture.
Sometimes you find yourself in a position that yields a shot that you hadn’t anticipated. Normally shooting stuff over a long distance doesn’t do much for you because atmospheric distortion means the shots are of no use. However, sometimes the conditions are clear and things show up better. In this case I was shooting some jets on final to SeaTac. The position meant I had a good view of jets that were climbing out on departure. The departure path from SeaTac to the south is straight for a long time so you could get two or three jets climbing out in sequence. In this shot I got the three of them.
Shooting at Nellis always requires choices to be made. Aside from determining which end you will go to, there is the question about how far up you will go at the Speedway. Some jets turn very tight, others turn long. Some departing jets flex, some flex more tightly than others. Where to go? Paul and I headed up near Gate 7 to see whether we would do alright. As it happened, quite a few of the jets were flexing right overhead us. This didn’t provide the sort of shots we had originally envisaged but, as it turned out, I was rather pleased with the different look.
I was getting some very head on shots of some of the aggressor F-16s as the turned towards the ranges. There was even a bit of moisture in the air and the vortices over the root extensions were showing up. That angle has a very dynamic look, even though the lighting in that location is not great for such an angle. The other benefit was as they had passed overhead. You got a close look at the top side of the jet from behind as they flew away. It might not have been what we intended but I was rather pleased with the outcome anyway.
Regular visitors to Nellis will know this and can move along. For those that haven’t shot there, Nellis departure routes when taking off from the 03 runways can be one of two things. The jets tend to climb quickly and they are offset from the usual photography location alongside the speedway. You can get shots but they are pretty samey with side on shots of the jets further away or slightly underside shots of the jets coming off 03L.
However, anything that is playing as Red Air tends to take a Flex departure. This involves a break to the left from the normal route with a different heading to take the, to the ranges to deal with the incoming Blue force. The aggressors tend to flex most of the time. The other aircraft that may be augmenting the aggressors might flex too. The nice feature of this is that they break towards you. Then you are playing a guessing game as to how quickly they will break. You pick a spot along the road and hope that they will come your way. Sometimes they will turn tight and catch you out. Other times they will delay a bit and still be far away from you. At their speed, it doesn’t take much to increase the distance from where you are. At least you get more dynamic shots.
Normally airliners stay quite a distance from each other. Getting more than one in a shot is the result of compression of the distance as they pass in different directions. What is more fun is to have each jet be replaced by two. SFO likes to have the parallel arrivals and similarly the departures are often involving two planes at a time. If you time it right and have the angles aligned properly, you can get four jets in one shot – two on approach and two taking off.
Having been to Moffett Field for the arrival of Solar Impulse and then made another visit to the hangar while they were there, I wasn’t going to miss the departure. This might not seem like a difficult decision to make but if I tell you I had been away in Southern California for the weekend and having driven back on Sunday and then finding out that departure was scheduled for 5am on Monday and we would be required to get there at 2am and I would need to be up at 1am, you can see why this was a bit tougher to do.
However, I was committed at this point (or should have been) so I slept in the spare room so as to not disturb Nancy. Off for an early run. Traffic was no problem at that time as your might imagine. Once there it was back to the same issues as we had faced with the arrival. It was very dark. Hayman did the stills and I went for video but got some stills as well. Unfortunately, they chose not to back-track the aircraft as had been briefed so it took off from ahead of us and went away. We still got some good shots and, while it got airborne very quickly, it got to a certain distance when it seemed like it had stopped moving.
Then, it was time to go. We wrapped up and got on our way. I actually was back at home a little ahead of my normal time to get up so I did my normal routine and headed in to the office. It would be fair to say that I was not at my most perky that day!
The layout of SFO with the two pairs of cross runways makes for some operations that are quite specific to this airport. At peak times, parallel approaches are made to the 28 runways from along the bay shore. These approaches require the following plane to make sure it does not overtake the leading plane. I don’t know for sure but I imagine the choice of which side leads is based on the wind direction so the wake turbulence doesn’t affect the downwind plane.
Getting them close together is the goal as a photographer. Often they end up being separated by a lot more than you thought. When further out things look like they are close but then the approach turns out to be more offset than you expect and you don’t get a good shot when they come in to land.
Arrivals aren’t the only parallels though. The departures are sent of the 01s from both sides. The clearances are usually offset and the thresholds are slightly different so the planes often get airborne well apart. However, that is not always the case and sometimes you get what amounts to a formation takeoff. Once airborne, the planes turn to increase their separation. Getting a shot of them close together is something to try for if you can. They are too far away when they take off to be a great shot individually but getting both in frame certainly makes for a more unusual shot than is the case for most departure procedures for big airliners.