Before the F-16s became the drone target conversion of choice for the USAF, the F-4 was the jet. The contract for conversion was run by Tracor which ultimately ended up being part of BAE Systems at the time I saw these jets. They did the conversion program at Mojave Airport in California. We were a bit of a distance from the ramp where they were parked but it was early in the day and the heat haze was not yet a problem so a long shot was feasible. Looking at these, I think they were both RF-4C jets that had either been converted or were about to be.
Another day, another retro post. I am pleasantly surprised by what I find as I go through old shots since I am not able to get any new shots while we are all self-isolating. In this case it was a visit to Edwards AFB that was a pre-symposium trip ahead of an ISAP meeting. I think Richard was the one that organized it all. Anyway, the Edwards test fleet includes a bunch of F-16s. Some are from the test pilot school and some are test program assets or chase planes. There was also a Danish jet that was supporting the F-35 program.
We got to hang out on the ramp as see the jets under the shelters as well as get up close and personal as they were heading out for a mission and recovering. We later went out to shoot near the runway which was fun but not ideal from a shooting perspective because of heat haze. Who would have thought the Mojave Desert would have heat haze! Still better than a day at work of course.
Here are a bunch of shots from that day. I haven’t been through most of these for ages so it is interesting to see what upgrading them to the latest editing algorithms of Lightroom can do for the processing results. I have yet to find one that doesn’t look better with the new processes applied.
A Boeing F-15SA development airframe has been in the PNW. The F-15SA is a development of the Strike Eagle family specifically for the Royal Saudi Air Force. They are buying new jets as well as updating the F-15S jets they bought years ago. Production jets have been delivered for a while now but testing activities continue. I had heard that a jet was at Boeing Field for a while and had even seen the tails parked on the ramp as I drove by but I hadn’t seen it moving.
Military jets don’t usually show up on the mainstream flight tracking apps (but this one had when it traveled cross country) so I didn’t know it was airborne. However, I heard it call up on approach so stopped what I was doing and grabbed the camera. Sure enough, it came zipping down the approach. A few quick shots and then it was down. Apparently I was rather lucky. A couple of days later it headed back across country.
The sun was forecast, I had some time to spare and there was even suggestion of southerly winds so I took a day off and headed to Whidbey Island. Coupeville was planned for some FCLP training for the Growlers from Ault Field so I went up to see what I could see. With winter light, the sun is way to the south. It cross the centerline of the runway by late morning and, unfortunately, the first flight to arrive came after this time. They only had one meatball on the field and it was set up at the south end. The wind was southerly but not strong so they clearly decided a small tailwind was easier than dragging the lights to the other end and aligning them. Crap!
I spent some time on the sunny side which is far from the touchdown zone. I shot some stills and some video. The jets only get close when they are well airborne but it was possible to get a few shots that were okay. When they had finished the practice you knew it was the case because the jets cleaned up and powered away. I headed down to the water to have some lunch.
It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of jets again. I saw a couple of them turning over the bay and descending to the field so headed back up. While the light was on the wrong side, I figured I would just try something new since the alternative was just more of what I already had shot. It even was the same jets as the earlier session. I shot some backlit landings near the touchdown zone (and I was not alone – plenty of people stopped their cars to watch). With a bunch of shots and video done, I figured it was time to head home.
My Saturday morning trip to Boeing Field was to see the Gulfstream test jet covered in this post. I wasn’t expecting much else other than the usual traffic but I was very happy when I pulled up early to see three F/A-18D Hornets from the Marine Corps training unit, the Sharpshooters. They were parked on the other side of the field but had people around them and one was already strobing. It looked like they were going flying. All three soon powered up and taxied out.
The taxiway on that side of the field has a kink in it which provides an interesting angle on the jets as they taxi up together. I was wondering how the departures would look since the weather was heavily overcast and a gray jet with a gray sky is not ideal. The first jet got airborne and climbed quickly which was disappointing. However, the number two kept things a lot lower as they gained speed which helped a lot.
About an hour later, I heard them call up on approach. No run in and break at this airfield. The traffic over the top for SeaTac makes that more complicated so it was straight in approaches for all three jets. They did run down a decent distance and then turned off to return to their parking spots. That was a bit of a bonus. I don’t know whether they were flying again later as I had other plans but a launch and recovery was welcome.
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.
In my days in the aerodynamics department at Warton, I spent time working on the current aircraft handling section. This included a number of types but the main focus was on jaguar and Tornado work. When we were walking around the hangars at Duxford, there were examples of both jets on display. The Tornado was a big part of what I worked on and I had always loved the jet as it was coming in to service at the time I was getting interested in aircraft. The GR4 version is on display.
The Jaguar had been around a long time when I was getting into planes and the Tornado ended up replacing the Jaguars in the RAF Germany strike role. The jet continued for a lot longer though and got some decent upgrades late in life. I had a great time climbing over a jet in the hangar at Warton as we were looking at clearing a new store on the overwing pylon. A lot of fun!
With a sharp LERX, the F-16 regularly pulls a nice vortex on each side as it maneuvers hard. Getting a shot of that is not a surprise. However, I have recently been slowly making my way through shots from RIAT (months after the event) and I was working through some shots of the Belgian F-16 display. I came across a shot of the jet pulling and rolling, taken from astern of the aircraft. I noticed a second, smaller vortex trailing from the tail plane. It appears that, with differential tail for the roll, there is a vortex coming from the tail plane – possibly at the route. This pleases the old aero guy within!
F-4 Phantoms are rapidly disappearing from service. They remain in a few countries but their replacements are lined up in most cases. The Turkish Air Force is still using them and brought some examples to RIAT. They made their way to the west end for us to get some shots. These jets had been planned for replacement by the F-35A Lightning II. However, with the political fall out of the Turkish acquisition of Russian missile systems, they have been blocked from the program. Maybe the F-4s will live on a little longer after all.
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.