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.
As my day at the canyon continued (you can read about the beginnings here), I got a bit more luck. The Navy came to the rescue with some Hornets and Super Hornets making their way through the canyon. One came in at an odd angle and then pulled out of the canyon over the overlook location. This was fine for me but probably annoyed those further down the canyon.
Then we got something a lot more like what we had anticipated. Jets came in along the angle from the highway starting out a lot lower than those that had come across the ridge. They could drop in a lot more quickly and be deeper into the canyon as they came by. This was what it was all about. They provided a last minute contribution to what I had come for and I was very grateful. A few more would have been good but it was okay.
Once disappointing aspect of this was that, with so few jets coming through, I shot all of them. I didn’t have the opportunity to waste so I never got to keep the camera down and just appreciate the jets transitioning through below me for what it was. On my next trip I will hopefully get to do that as well as get some shots.
I have only been to the Oceana show once. I headed down there with my friends Ben and Simon. We weren’t terribly lucky with the weather. There was flying during the show but things were overcast and deteriorated as the show went on. The finale of the show was, naturally for a big Navy base, the Blue Angels. I was shooting with a 1D Mk IIN in those days and that was a camera that was not happy at high ISO settings.
The problem was, the light was not good and the ISO needed to be cranked up a bit. Amusingly, if you were shooting today, the ISO levels would not be anything that caused concern. Current cameras can shoot at ISO levels without any noise levels that would have been unthinkable back then. However, I did learn something very important with this shoot. The shot above is one that I got as one of the solo jets got airborne. I used it as a test for processing.
I processed two versions of the image, one with a lot of noise reduction dialed in and one with everything zeroed out. I think combined them in one Photoshop image and used a layer mask to show one version in one half of the image and the other for the second half. When I viewed the final image on the screen, the noise in one half was awfully apparent. It was a clear problem. However, I then printed the image. When I did so, things were very different. If you looked closely, you could see a little difference. However, when you looked from normal viewing distances, there was no obvious difference between the two.
My takeaway from this is that viewing images on screens has really affected our approach to images. We get very fixated on the finest detail while the image as a whole is something we forget. We print less and less these days and the screen is a harsh tool for viewing.
The Fleet Week air show in San Francisco is wrapped up by the Blue Angels. The sneak passes made by the pair are an opportunity to try and get something interesting. Since they display over the bay and the city is known for having high relative humidity, I am always hoping to get some good vapor shots. This time out, that wasn’t to be. The air seemed to be pretty dry and there was not a lot of vapor on show. However, the fast pass from left to right takes the jet in front of the hills and Alcatraz which provides some detail to show up the distortion caused by the shock-waves. The large number of boats and associated masts meant a clean shot was tricky but I got a couple I was pleased with.
It has been a long time since I last saw some Spanish Air Force Hornets so I was glad to see them at Red Flag. They may not look very different to the Navy and Marine Hornets but still, some variety is worth it. It was the second week of the exercise so I would have expected everyone to be pretty familiar with the operations around the pattern. However, the Spanish guys seemed to have some different ideas.
They were certainly interested in keeping the patterns tight. I don’t know whether they convert to type with the Navy and are trained to fly tight or whether that is just their nature. However, on one occasion, the pilot came way inside the downwind line while another jet was flying that line and he was going to end up cutting them off. I guess he realized at the last moment because he turned left to get back out where he should have been. A bit strange to watch!
When the Canadian Hornets first came into service, they introduced the fake canopy on the underside of the front fuselage. This was a painted outline of the canopy. The idea was that, on the heat of a dogfight, the opposing pilot might be confused about the orientation of the jet and think it was coming towards him rather than away as a result of seeing this canopy.
The US Hornets never had this on the fleet jets but it appears that the Spanish Air Force has adopted it for theirs (although not all of the jets are so painted). I heard a rumor that the Canadians have some rights on this and other users have to pay for it but I have no idea whether there is any truth to this or not. However, their jets certainly do have the canopies painted on the fuselage.
One of the things that I was really looking forward to about Red Flag 16-1 was the large Australian contingent that was going to be present. The Aussies were coming with Hornets and Super Hornets as well as a P-3 and an E-7 Wedgetail. They were also tanked across by a KC-30 although that sadly went somewhere else so I didn’t see it while I was there. Another benefit of the Aussies is that they bring some fun to the media panel. Sometimes these can be rather dull affairs and like pulling teeth. Previous RAAF officers have been very chatty and informative. This time was no exception.
I was pleased that the Wedgetail flew on the main media day. They were alternative AWACS resources and whether this was planned or luck I don’t know. I am just glad I got to see it fly. The Hornets have been to previous Red Flags but this was the first exercise for the Super Bugs. They have been deployed on operations, though, judging by the mission markings some jets were carrying.
I was included in a second day on base when we got to spend some time on the Aussie ramp prior to the launch of the first mission. A team of RAAF personnel escorted us around as we got a chance to check out both generations of Hornet. One of the legacy Hornets was carrying squadron anniversary markings which looked good on it. The team was operating out of a building that they had temporarily adorned with something more personnel. If you don’t immediately get it, say the phrase out loud as a response to the question “Where are you from?”
The team was also selling a bunch of squadron swag. I am not a collector of this stuff but it looked pretty cool so I was happy to part with some cash for the squadron funds. Then we retired to the EOR for the launch. Of course, that also included both types of Hornet taxiing out past us on their way to the runway. Cheers to all of the team for being so friendly and accommodating.
Previously I may have mentioned my recent efforts to go through images I took a long time ago. The evening show at Chino had a number of performers and one of them was the Canadian Hornet demo. When I go through my images, part of my process is to render all of them at 100% and then view the full size image on one screen and the zoomed in version on the other. This allows me to see whether the shot is sharp and also whether there is anything glaringly wrong with it like bits cut off or someone’s head in the way.
I was going through the shots of the Hornet which flew after the sun had gone below the horizon, I noticed that, as it flew over the top of a loop, I had a view into the cockpit. Normally, this would be dark as the brightness of the day overpowered the shade of the cockpit. However, since it was pretty dark, the glow of the multifunction displays on the panel is clearly visible. We aren’t going to be able to see the details of the displays themselves but they are very conspicuous which is not the norm.
I have seen a large number of displays by the Blue Angels over the years. Their display is a good one generally (although the ground portion is a little time consuming in my opinion). The sequence does not vary much from year to year but it works well enough so that is probably no big surprise. One of the fun parts is the sneak passes. The four ship head off in one direction to distract you and a solo jet streaks in from the left at low level and high speed. This catches a lot of people by surprise.
Just as everyone is getting over this, the other solo jet does something similar from crowd rear to make you all jump again. The displays that are held over water provide an added option for the first sneak pass. With no obstacles, the aircraft can end up very close to the water. This makes things look even more impressive. Also, the high speeds can result in some impressive vapor formations in the shock waves.
The Fleet Week display on the Friday had great weather conditions but, surprisingly for the Bay Area, the humidity levels were not terribly high. Consequently, while the sneak pass had its usual surprise impact, it did not result in any vapor on the jet. The upside of this was that the optical distortion caused by the shock waves was visible in some shots when a reasonable amount of background was included. Not what I was aiming for but not a bad alternative.
The Canadian Hornet that was at Chino was the last display to fly during the sunset show. (We had a long discussion about whether it is a CF-18 or a CF-188 during the down time but that can be saved for another day.) The aircraft taxied out as the sun was just getting close to setting. We were thinking this would be the perfect combination. Taking off before sunset would allow us to get some shots of it in the low sun when it would look at its best and the, as the sun finally set, we would get the glow of the burners against the darkening sky.
Sadly, they decided to hold their departure until after the sun had already set. I think this was a missed opportunity. It did mean, though, that things were really dark by the end of the display. This was a time that really testing the capabilities of the camera. I was shooting at very high ISO settings in ranges that I would normally avoid. However, getting the shot sharp is better than having a low noise shot that is blurred.
The aircraft pulled off the runway pretty aggressively and the burners really showed up nicely against the runway surface. The display itself was fine but the camouflage of the commemorative scheme was a bit tricky in the conditions. The finale of the display was the landing with the hook lowered. The Hornet touched down and the arrestor hook dragged along the runway surface leaving a bright shower of sparks behind it. The effect was pretty dramatic! I talked to one of the maintenance technicians later about it and asked how many of those they could do. One landing is enough to kill the head of the hook. He did say that they are easy to replace and that he had brought five of them on the trip. A neat way to wrap up the show.