Recently, the Blue Angels made their last formation flight with the F/A-18 Hornet. The team is transitioning to the Super Hornet ahead of 2021 and they have started working up with the new jets. It has been a while since I last saw the Blue Angels demonstration so I thought a few shots with their aging legacy Hornets was in order. They always got the oldest jets in the fleet so I hope they are happy to have some slightly newer airframes to work with.
Sad news in the air show scene for the US is the announcement that Art Nalls has put his Harriers up for sale. Art did an amazing thing by buying a retired Royal Navy Sea Harrier and getting it airworthy and then displayed on the air show circuit for a number of years. He also bought a two seater which is apparently close to being flight ready. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with Art and the team both at shows and also visiting them in Maryland.
His hangar there also includes an ex-RAF Harrier GR3 which has a lot of common parts with the SHAR so could be used for bits he needed from time to time. The support team had a bunch of Harrier experience from the Marine Corps and various ex-RN individuals also got involved over time – not harmed by many people deployed to Pax River on the F-35B program coming from a SHAR background. Maybe someone will pick the jets up and take them forward but Art has other things to work on now and they are not part of the future for him. Here is a selection of shots I have got over the years of the team at work and the jet displaying.
My F-16 shots from RIAT didn’t just throw up vortices (like this post). They also showed something that seems to be a common occurrence in flying displays. That is the failure of a Smokewinder to perform. Smokewinders are a smoke generating pod that fits on a Sidewinder launch rail. They are controlled from the cockpit and should add a nice effect to a display sequence. The Belgian Air Force display aircraft was using them for its display.
In the early 90s we used them on the BAe company Hawk demonstrators at shows. The crews had got to understand the workings of the pods well and knew what could cause them to quit during a display. At one Farnborough, they actually helped out one of the other companies that was having trouble keeping theirs running smoothly. I guess the problem hasn’t gone away and the knowledge is not widely shared as the Belgian jet lost one pod during its display. In the shot above, you can see a small amount of flame emerging rather than the intended smoke and, a short while later, the pod quit for the rest of the display.
The F-35 has been around for quite a while by now so I have shot them on plenty of occasions (although an F-35C is still on the wish list). My UK trip was one where I was hoping to get an RAF F-35B. It was scheduled to make an appearance at RIAT but the information did not make it sound like a display. On the first day of the show, the weather was shocking. Low cloud and rain got in the way of a lot of things displaying. Late in the day the F-35B was due in. Our initial forecast for arrival was extended as the cloud base meant an instrument approach was needed. It finally appeared and flew through the display line once. Then it powered away and a while later we were informed it had gone home.I was shooting video of that which is at the bottom of this page.
The next day had better weather so I was hoping for a little more. It did show up and we did get more than one pass. However, even then, it was a rather lackluster performance. I guess they have not worked up any form of display – not even a hovering portion – so we got some passes and a couple of configurations and that was it. I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little underwhelmed by what they put on. I guess in coming years, a more worked up display will be seen but I will have to wait a while for that.
I do like to experiment with alternative printing options and, when I heard an ad on the radio for FractureMe, a company that prints on glass, I was curious as to how it would look. I decided to make a print with them and to see how it came out. Their approach is pretty much how it sounds. A print is created on glass with a what backing sheet to provide the base and that is it. Nothing tricky about preparing the files so I uploaded an eclipse shot I had and placed the order. I did this just before Christmas and the lead time was three weeks, probably as a result of a bunch of holiday orders.
I sort of forgot about it for a while. When I got the shipping notification, I was quite excited until I realized it would be a week for the package to make its way across the country. When it did arrive, I was quite impressed with the way it had been packed. The image was recessed into a cardboard mount that was supported by a thick sheet of corrugated card. All of this was wrapped together and then slotted into mounts on the edge of a far larger box. It was stable and well away from potential dings. It arrived in great shape along with a mounting screw for the wall.
The image looks great. The eclipse shot is not a standard type of image so I haven’t tested color reproduction with this but it does look nice and the darkness of the shot seems to work with the glass well. The first thing I had to do was clean it. It seemed to have acquired a lot of dust – presumably in the packaging phase. Now it is time to find a spot to keep it long term. For now it is sitting on the mantelpiece.
The FHCAM IL-2 Shturmovik has been airworthy for a while but I have previously only seen it on the ground. Skyfair was my first opportunity to see it flying so I was rather pleased. This is a pretty rare type and a new one for me so having it display was a treat. The sun was rather high when it flew which is a bit less than ideal for a plane with a dark paint scheme but that is a small price to pay. It flew a number of passes, all of which felt nice and close. Great stuff.
The SR-71 Blackbird provided a reconnaissance platform that was unmatched. It would have been pretty high in the sensitivity list when it came to its sensors and capabilities. Now the jets are all retired. The example that is in the Evergreen Aerospace Museum has one of the sensors extracted from the sensor bay and mounted on a stand in front of the aircraft. I imagine there was a time when this was something that would not be available for me to look at but now, I guess, this is just another obsolete piece of tech.
The 142FW of the Oregon ANG has operated a number of different types over the years. It was nice to see that the base has preserved some of the jets. As you come through the main gate, the grass area to your left has an F-15A mounted on a pole looking suitably dynamic and reflecting the current jets used by the unit.
A short distance away is a memorial park with two further jets. Both of these are in great condition (the F-15 looked a bit weathered from a distance). There is an F-4C Phantom which is nice but the one I liked the most is an F-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo is a jet I never saw fly. I have seen various examples on the ground over the years but there is something about the lines of the jet I just like. Oh, to have seen them in action.
The A400M Atlas is now in service with a number of air forces. My encounters with them, though, have only involved the development airframes displayed by Airbus. That changed in Sacramento when The Patrouille de France arrived as part of their North American tour. They brought an A400M as he support plane. I was rather disappointed that it arrived late in the evening, after I had gone home and disappeared early the following morning to recover some delayed jets.
It was back for the day of the display though. It started up at a remote location but then proceeded to give a short flying display. It then taxied back to the crowd line where it shut down and was opened up for visitors. The people were lined up to get inside it for ages. The plane still looked pretty clean so I guess it had not been in service too long. I was glad to get a close up look around the outside as well as to see the crowds inside and the flying display itself. Not a dramatic performance like the test crews have put on but still good to see.
Our overnight stop at Medford in Oregon was close to the airport. I took a stroll towards the terminal which had an F-16 mounted on a pole outside. This was an F-16A model. I assume it had been there for quite a while. There was a time a while back when units would detail bits of their jets with chrome. A-10 guns would be chromed and F-16s would have the port around their guns chromed up too. This jet had obviously had the treatment. The odd thing was that, over the years the paint had become heavily faded. However, the gun port looked exactly like new. These pictures won’t really emphasize this since they were taken wide to get the whole jet in but you might just be able to make out the gun port.