Tag Archives: fighting

Firefighting Helicopters

C59F6996.jpgWhen someone in Chicago needed to lift something that was too heavy for the S-58T fleet of Midwest, there was a good chance that CHI Aviation would get the job. When I first worked with them, they were known as Construction Helicopters but their scope has grown a lot and so the name has been changed. Whether it was the S-61 or the Super Puma, some big payloads could be taken up. I thought I wouldn’t see much of them once I moved to California. I was wrong.

AU0E1362.jpgThey have acquired some surplus CH-47 Chinooks from the US Army and a number of them are currently based in California working on firefighting contracts. Some of them were deployed to help fight the Wragg Fire and I had a chance to go hunting for them while I had some free time up there recently. I had no idea where they were going to be operating. A look on Flightradar24 showed that there was a lot of activity in the vicinity of the fires including fixed and rotary wing assets but I was heading off with little real idea what I was looking for.

C59F7120.jpgI took Route 128 that goes up through the hills and past Lake Berryessa. This road had been shut at one point when the fire first got established but had since been reopened. Even so, as I drove across, there were fire appliances from all over the state in any turn off I passed. There was also an orange streak on the road which, I assume, came from a fire retardant drop of some sort. As I came by the lake, I didn’t see any aerial activity. There were plenty of boats on the lake so I figured that they weren’t picking up water from there. It later turned out that was a false assumption.

C59F7081.jpgI dropped down from the hills and came around a bend in the road to find myself facing a Chinook coming in to pick up water from the river beside me. Fortunately, I was able to pull off right there. For once, I was well prepared. I had figured that I might see something and need to have the camera ready so I had fitted the lens and set everything up before starting the hunt so I grabbed the camera and started shooting.

C59F6823.jpgThere was a pair of the Chinooks coming in for water along with a Sikorsky Black Hawk. All of them were using Bambi Buckets to get water from the river before heading back to the fight. I got a bunch of shots from the road before things quietened down. Other than an Army Chinook without a bucket that seemed to be coordinating things (and marked with purple markings over its normal camo), nothing was moving. A guy came up from the river with his fishing gear in hand and suggested I go down to where he was to get a good shot.

I did as suggested but, of course, nothing was happening now. A couple of times I wandered back to the car only to hear something coming over and rushed back. Sadly, these were flights to the lake rather than the river. Finally I did get lucky and got a few shots from river level of someone picking up a load. Then it went quiet again so I headed off for a while on an idea that proved fruitless.

C59F6754.jpgMy return brought me back past the same spot and things were happening again. This time there was a Huey involved and he was running a lot of lifts. He also was loading from a slightly different part of the river. One of the Chinooks still showed up but at the original spot so I had to make my choices. Eventually, I needed to head back so started off. However, the Chinook and another Huey put in another quick appearance so I stopped for them and then finally headed back.

This was a totally impromptu trip and I ended up getting a lot of time with the CHI Chinooks as well as some other types too. Obviously, it is not great that they are needed with these fires raging but it was impressive to see the crews at work providing such a valuable service. Now I want to see them again, hopefully in a slightly more controlled environment! I wrote a piece for GAR which you can see here.

Red Flag Launches

wpid13296-C59F9722.jpgI was back at Nellis AFB recently for another Red Flag exercise for Global Aviation Resource. Chris Wood and I were there to cover it and the piece we put together can be found at this link. After the last visit to Red Flag when a security issue resulted in all of the media being escorted off base just before the launch, I was hoping for better luck this time. Fortunately, we did pretty well. The launch went well and, while the light was a bit poor for the departures, it got better as the day went on.

wpid13278-C59F8554.jpgStanding between the runways as the aircraft go off each side is pretty cool. We had a lot of USAF assets this time but also some Navy Growlers and RAF Typhoons. An RAF Sentinel was a nice addition – particularly as it was the aircraft with the squadron markings. One unfortunate element was that the launch was earlier than had been scheduled for our visit and the early aircraft off included the B-2s. We were still on the bus when they launched. I managed to get a shot with my phone out of the window but that was it. I do actually quite like the shot so all is not lost.

wpid13294-C59F9557.jpgThe feature has many more shots but here are a few to give you an idea of what was there.

Sex and Violence

wpid8998-C59F6169.jpgElements of this post may come with an R Rating.  If you are a sensitive soul, look away now.  Courtesy of Nancy, I spent a morning in the midst of a crazy place.  Ano Nuevo State Refuge is on the Pacific coast about halfway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.  The beaches of the park are a popular location for breeding elephant seals.  The park protects the seals from the visitors while allowing people to get a good view of them.  However, they also run a series of sunrise photo tours.  In a small group, you are escorted by a ranger to various locations where you are close in to the action with the seals.  And there is some action!

wpid9004-C59F6333.jpgThis was something Nancy bought me as a birthday treat.  She didn’t come along.  Something about a 5am start on a rainy day didn’t appeal to her – not sure why.  Calling it a sunrise tour was a little optimistic.  The horizontal rain meant it was more a case of dark transitioning to quite dark.  However, that didn’t get in the way of experiencing some great stuff.

wpid9016-C59F6569.jpgI was a little unsure of what sort of equipment to take with me.  I knew some walking would be involved and ultimately elected to leave the 500mm behind and go with the 70-200 and the 100-400.  If I do this again (and there is a good chance I will), I would include the 500mm and a tripod.  The early start meant the lighting was pretty difficult.  We did walk but spent most of our time in a few locations and only walked when moving between them.  Carrying some extra gear would not have been too tricky.  Keeping it dry was more of an issue of course!

wpid9002-C59F6283.jpgAuto ISO was a friend in this situation.  I went to manual mode, set up the speed and aperture I wanted and let the camera deal with the ISO.  With conditions evolving, this made things a lot easier.  The newer version of my camera has a function that would have been welcome here and that is the ability to add exposure compensation to the mix.  Mine won’t do that sadly.  It would have been helpful in this situation.  As the light got better, it was possible to go back to a more normal aperture priority shooting approach fixing the ISO and using exposure comp as required.  The high ISO capabilities of modern DSLRs are so handy on a shoot like this.  The 70-200 is an f2.8 lens so it allowed relatively low ISOs from early on but the 100-400 is an f5.6 at length and so the ISO was really pushing up there.  However, while the noise is noticeable, the images really are very useable.

wpid9010-AU0E4918.jpgThe beach was covered in seals.  Various dominant males had their harems scattered around.  They were either mating with the females or fighting males that wanted to get in on the act.  Some of the males would come in either straight through the front door looking for a fight or sneaking around the side hoping not to be noticed.  The result was usually the same.  Some of the fights were pretty brief when the challenger realized that they were out of their class.  Occasionally they went on for a long time with the males taking chunks out of each other as they swiped their teeth into the neck of their opponent.  I have heard the bellow these seals make on video before but in person it really resonates through you.

wpid9012-AU0E4970.jpgMeanwhile, a second group of males were waiting down by the water.  The females had raised their pups and were now leaving them on the beach and heading back to see.  They were fertile again so many males were trying to intercept them as they came to the water out of range of the harem.  They had some success with this but were also fighting each other to be in the best spot.  Consequently, it was almost non-stop fighting and mating on the beach with the occasional birth taking place too!  Good luck to those females because, once they were off the beach, they had the great whites to look forward to a little further offshore.

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