Ahead of an ISAP symposium many years ago, my friend Richard had arranged a visit to JRB Carswell at Fort Worth. As well as being the home of the Lockheed Martin assembly plant, it also hosts the 301st FW of the USAF Reserve with their F-16s. They were great hosts and we got to spend a bunch of time around the base. On their ramp space, we had a lot of freedom to shoot them prepping for missions and heading out.
We also got to go to the EOR and see them come in after their missions and have the jets safed prior to taxiing back to the ramp. Being close to the jets while they are doing real work is such a different experience to seeing them at an air show when things are all a bit more contrived. This was a new experience for me at the time and so I was following the example of a few of the other guys when looking to see what sort of things to get shots of. It was a great learning experience and a bunch of fun too!
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.
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!
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 early versions of jets are often repurposed throughout their life. They serve a role for testing but they are not configured like production jets and to make them so is too expensive to be worthwhile. Besides, they are instrumented to some extent so they can be useful for carrying out alternate tests. As a result, they often get used for trials, research tasks or development of alternate concepts. The early F-16s did a lot of this sort of work and ended up in some odd programs like the AFTI effort. Sitting outside at the Frontiers of Flight museum is one of these test aircraft. It spent its life with General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) at Fort Worth and, once it was done with, it found a new home at the museum. Compared to the average F-16, this jet will have had a lot of interesting experiences!
Photographing low flying jets in their environment is a popular challenge. The Loop in Wales is a great hunting ground. I have driven through there a few times and flown through there once but I have never been on a photo expedition there. Once I got close to setting up a trip but things got in the way. In the US, Rainbow Canyon is a popular spot. This canyon is known by a variety of names but it is well known for having jets flying through below the rim of the canyon so you can get shots of them beneath you.
I arranged to head there a short while ago with a buddy of mine. The two of us were going to meet in LA and head up. Sadly, he was unable to make the trip at the last moment but I figured I would go anyway as winter is a more acceptable time to be in Death Valley National Park and the chances of finding the time again soon were limited. I did stay up in Palmdale to shorten the drive a bit.
The trip had mixed results. We did not have a busy day. Plenty of jets could be heard overhead or in the distance but the number coming through the canyon was low. I probably got nine passes that day. More disappointing was how some of them were quite high and not against the backdrop of the rocks. Things did improve though…
The Open House at Portland International that the Redhawks held was not the only thing going on that morning. While we were checking out the F-15s, a bunch of ground crew were at work out on the ramp area. They were setting up spots on the ramp for some incoming planes. As soon as I saw the ladders being carried, I could see that they were not for F-15s. They looked a lot more like F-16 ladders. The crews carried them out in a variety of manners but this person seemed to have a more relaxed way of moving a ladder around.
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.
Before I say anything else, this shot is not original. I didn’t think of this and I certainly wasn’t the first to shoot it. Indeed, it is the exact opposite. This is a shot that I have seen from other people a bunch of times but that I have never achieved. The recovery for Red Flag has a lot of jets coming home at once. Jets will break into the pattern and will be turning final when more jets are coming in to the break. You can get jets coming in overhead directly behind the jet on final turn. It looks cool but I had not got it before. This time I got lucky. I don’t know whether I am pleased with the shot or just glad that I finally happened to get it!
I have made two short visits to Nellis for recent Red Flag exercises. The Pakistani Air Force attended RF16-4 but they showed up near the end of the preceding RF16-3 to allow them to familiarize themselves with operations before the next exercise kicked off. They weren’t supposed to be flying while we were that after their arrival but the F-16s that launched over us clearly had the conformal tanks and it turned out that they were up and flying ahead of the rumored times. Sadly, it was a brief opportunity and the lighting wasn’t great.
I did head back for RF16-4 and that trip will get a post of its own. Enough went on that week to easily fill another entry. However, staying on track, I did get to see the Pakistan jets as they launched and recovered. They are a recent build standard and, aside from the conformal tanks, they are also distinctive courtesy of a paint scheme that is different to the normal F-16s camouflage. I don’t know whether they had a productive time at Red Flag or not but I was glad to catch them while they were over.