The normal operations at Nellis continue even while Red Flag is on. The local units try to fly their missions at times that fit between the larger exercises. A four ship of A-10s launched in the morning and they were recovering shortly before the Red Flag launch. Rather than run in and break, they flew a straight in approach to runway 21R. Strangely the first jet came passed and it was still gear up as it came close. I have no idea whether they were just keeping it late or had got a call from the tower but the gear came down alongside us. The following three jets were gear down a lot earlier. Let’s say it was deliberate…
Getting up close with the jets gives you an opportunity to see right into the cockpit while the planes are flying. As the A-10s pull hard off the target on the range they come right towards you. Consequently you can find yourself looking right in through the top of the cockpit. Looking through my shots I could see this view of the pilots. They have a notepad of some sort strapped to one their legs. I assume it is for flight planning purposes but I can’t help but think about the slower transit speed of the A-10. They have a fair bit of time when making their way from DM to the range and back again. Maybe a game of Sudoku or a crossword is a good way to pass the time?
Since changing camera bodies to something that is full frame, one of the things I have been pondering is what I will notice about the reduced reach that I will get with my current lenses. Obviously there will be a change. So far it has only really resulted in me changing when I press the shutter since I still work based on what I see through the viewfinder. While we were out on the range at Hawgsmoke, the jets would carry out a strafing run and then pull towards the range tower where we were located. Sometimes they would be really close.
I had decided to try putting a 1.4x tele convertor on the 500mm to compensate for the larger sensor size. This worked well for a number of the shots but, when the jets pulled overhead, it was a touch too much! These shots are not cropped. They are really that close and you can see exactly what is in the cockpit.
If I hadn’t been with Joe who is a bit more familiar with the regular movements at Tucson International, I would not have been too interested in this aircraft. It looked like a pretty standard C-26 to me. However, Joe was quick to see it and told me it is one that he had not seen move (I can’t recall whether this was ever or just for a long time). Apparently, the turret under the fuselage is for surveillance activities of a spooky nature. Why it was moving on this day (was it watching me?) I have no idea. I was just glad that, rather than dismissing it as I might have done, I found out it was a little different.
While watching the arrivals for Hawgsmoke was a lot of fun, the main focus was the range work on the first day of exercise. The Air Force put us on a bus for the drive out to the Barry M Goldwater Range south of Gila Bend. This is about a two hour drive. The temperatures were above 100F and the bus was a bit lacking in air conditioning terms. We were toasty as we traveled out. Standing on the range is another thing. It is rather warm standing out in the sun. However, you soon forget how hot it is when the jets arrive.
The four ships for each unit have a range slot. They start with the various bomb missions so they are quite a way off while this is underway. You can just see the little practice bombs as they are released if you look closely and then the impact on the target out on the range. They try a few different profiles. Then they move on to the strafe work.
Long range strafe is first with the jets firing from quite a way out from the target. They then move on to low angle strafe where they are firing from very close to our location on the range tower often firing until alongside us. The first experience of the A-10 firing is quite something and it is good to see someone react to their first shoot. After the firing pass, the jets turn overhead our location so you get a great topside view of the jets.
With the different units taking their turns on the range, you can get shots from different perspectives. Close in shots, wider shots, a bit of video – all of this can be done in the available time. Sadly, we have to head off again before too long and it is back on the bus for the return journey. I spent the day drinking a ton of water. The bus was hot, the range was hot and the bus was hot again so I needed every drop I drank. The shower when I got back to the hotel was definitely welcome. I wouldn’t hold this against the visit though. It is a ton of fun and the time is spent with some good people too so you can’t go wrong.
While walking along the ramp at Davis Monthan I was looking for different shots of the A-10s that were arriving for Hawgsmoke. The lights on the nosewheel of the A-10s have been replaced with an LED based solution. This is clearly not the original light. It actually looked to me like it was a circuit board rather than a cluster of LEDs. I didn’t see it lit up but I don’t doubt that it’s bright. I just think it looks rather cool.
Every two years the A-10 community gets together for the Hawgsmoke competition. I covered it again for GAR and you can see the piece I wrote here. The first day we were there was the arrival day. The plan had been to watch some landings and then to move to the parking ramp area. As it happened, we couldn’t get too close to the runway and some of the arrivals were delayed so we headed to the ramp instead which proved to be a good choice. The A-10s were coming in from the various units.
Initially he team were a little concerned about how we could access the area while the jets were on the move but we gradually got more access as they got more confident in us staying in the right places. The jets were taxiing along the outsides and then parking facing inwards. Consequently, we could be in between the rows and out of the way of the aircraft on the move. As more jets were parked up, we could move further out towards to the taxiway and closer to the arriving aircraft. It all worked pretty well.
Once the jets were on the ground the ground crews were straight into action taking off he baggage pods and starting to load up with practice bombs ready for the range slots that were to come as the exercise got underway. Most of the jets were parked outside the sun shelters so the crews were getting pretty hot as they worked. Plenty of coolers of water were on hand to keep them in good shape. This was a good start to the coverage of the exercise from my perspective.
A number of different airframes have been used for airborne early warning requirements. The Boeing E-3 Sentry is the most well-known but there have been a number of other types over the years. SAAB developed a radar system that has been mounted on Embraer 145 jets, SAAB 340s and SAAB 2000s. The development of this system was started in the 1980s and a testbed was produced prior to the system appearing on a production airframe. This testbed was a Fairchild Metro turboprop. It made an appearance at the Farnborough airshow where I got some shots of it. It was camouflaged in what was then the standard Swedish camouflage scheme. This was a cool look for their planes and I do miss it.
Many airbases have a selection of historic aircraft on display to show something of what has gone before on the base. Sadly, they are often unavailable to shoot when you visit. Davis Monthan AFB has quite a few different planes on display and, fortunately, the location of the Fallen Hawg ceremony during Hawgsmoke was in front of the display A-10. While everything was being set up, we had some time to kill and I was allowed to wander around the other planes.
The selection included some obvious DM aircraft like the A-10 and A-7 (even if it was actually a Navy A-7E that they had repainted). A U-2 was a slightly more surprising one to see. I’m not sure how that qualifies but I wasn’t complaining. The F-105, F-100 and F-4 all looked good too. Not only was it nice to be able to shoot them but it gave us something to do since we had got in place pretty early!
My trip to Arizona to shoot the shooting A-10s was a lot of fun and something I have already covered. One aspect of this shoot that caught my interest was the cannon shells in flight. I have seen images from other people that allow you to see the A-10’s shells leaving the muzzle or flying to the target and when I got something similar, I was quite pleased. However, a shot that really caught my eye was one of them that had a background with some clouds visible.
This background provides a mechanism to see any discontinuities in the density of the air as is experienced in a shockwave. This is the effect that is used in Schlieren photography in wind tunnels. The refractive index of the air changes as the density changes. Normally you don’t see this. However, if the background is not continuous, the refraction of the background results in the shockwave being visible. One of the shells showed this up and I thought it was cool. Therefore, I am sharing it here just in case you think it is cool too!