Tag Archives: flight

Taking a Ride in a Balloon

My visit to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was for an article I was going to write and, since I was there on a media pass, the organizers made a flight available.  I didn’t know who I would be flying with until close to the time but the opportunity was one I was really excited about.  When the time came, I was set up with a balloon crew from near Ottawa in Canada.  The pilot spoke mainly French with very little English but we managed to find a way to communicate well anyway.  Nancy was able to hang out with the ground crew.

I asked what I could do to help but they had things well sorted out and I was likely to be a hindrance rather than a help.  Besides, it did mean I could photograph everything that was going on.  The inflation of the envelope and then heating it up and getting it upright was great to see close up.  Then it was time to climb onboard and await our designated takeoff time.

When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, the balloons will fly off towards the river and is is common for them to drop down to the water and touch it with the basket before lifting off again.  I was hoping that this would be something we could do but the winds were not coming from that direction on this occasion.  Instead, they were doing something that is not uncommon at Albuquerque but is actually really cool.

The field is aligned north to south and, when the wind is blowing the right way, something they call the box is formed.  At about 1,000’ the wind is blowing north to south but, at about 2,000’ it reverses to south to north.  Consequently, you can climb up to 1,000’ and head south for a while before climbing up to 2,000’ and reversing course.  Once you get far enough north, you can descend and repeat the whole process.

Having never flown in a balloon before, I knew little about the process.  You can’t see upwards because the envelope is above you.  However, you can see sideways and down very clearly.  Therefore, the balloon above is responsible for maintaining separation from any balloons below.  We were all required to keep an eye on everything around is to be sure we stayed suitably separated.  Looking directly down on balloons with the ground behind them was something I found really cool.

The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was how quiet it was.  Sure, when the burner fires, the noise is loud.  However, most of the time you are drifting along with the wind so there is no breeze and everything feels remarkably still.  The main noise is other people’s burners or the conversation in the baskets nearest you.  You can hear a lot of other chatter.  It is a very peaceful experience and the views are lovely.  No windows between you and the view so a totally immersive experience.

After making our way around the box a couple of times, it was time to land.  Normally a balloon flight involves the ground crew tracking you across the sky and aiming to get to your landing zone when you do.  Flying the box meant we were able to land about 50 yards from where we had taken off and they could just wait for us to come back.  We drifted back down and touched down without any issues and it was time to jump out and let them deflate the envelope (which happened surprisingly quickly).

This is, so far, my first and only balloon flight.  I would be very happy to do it again.  I am not so sure that I would want to be in one of the large balloons that we see flying around here with big baskets to carry lots of passengers since that might feel slightly less relaxing but I would like to go again at some point.

Fourth 777X Takes Flight

My previous unsuccessful trip to Paine Field on the Saturday for the first flight of the fourth 777X was followed up by a more successful Sunday visit.  The dull and dreary Saturday weather had been replaced by clear skies (the smoke had finally gone away) and the sun was out.  The time for takeoff was not going to be great because the sun would be high to backlit, but this was a first flight so the chances of it going on time were limited.

Sure enough, things got dragged out and the sun moved to a more favorable part of the sky.  A 777F from Lufthansa Cargo was doing some test flying to provide some other interest and there was plenty of activity generally to photograph.  Eventually the 777X was towed. From its parking spot to the south entrance to the Boeing ramp where it could start up.

It taxied up the Alpha taxiway to the hold point and then pulled into position.  Normal Boeing practice is to do an accelerated and rejected takeoff before flying. They sat on the threshold and powered up, but the wingtips had not been lowered.  I don’t know whether this was a test of the system that is designed to prevent taking off with the wing tips in the wrong position or not, but it seemed that way.  Either way, the jet didn’t move.

They then lowered the wing tips, powered up, accelerated and then braked.  Taxi back to the threshold again and a long way for some other traffic before they lined up again.  The jet wasn’t heavy, but I was slightly surprised how much flap they had for takeoff compared to the other jets I have seen taking off there.  Anyway, power on and off they went.

They were due to be flying for a few hours and then landing at Boeing Field so I figured I would make the trip down there for the arrival.  On pulling up at Boeing Field, I bumped into my friend David so we were able to talk rubbish about planes for a while waiting for any arrivals.  In due course the 777X showed up on approach by which time the light was a lot nicer than it had been for departure.  Things may have taken longer than planned and meant the day was not much good for anything else but it was a fun outing and a successful trip.

US Navy P-8 Test Flight

Boeing Field always has the possibility of something interesting going on and a P-8 test flight for a US Navy jet was on the cards while I was there a while back.  Even better news was that it wasn’t a long flight that they had planned.  Consequently, I was going to be there for both departure and return.  Since the jet was lightly loaded, takeoff was not labored and they were well up by the time they were close to me.  Still, not a big angle on the jet with the light as it was.

I didn’t head to the approach end for the return as I was waiting for something else.  It did mean I was closer to the jet as it rolled out on is landing run.  The military ramp for Boeing is at that end of the field so the jet rolled to the end and turned off.  Heat haze is always a problem at this time of year but things looked surprisingly good considering.

Two Out of Three 777X

The test program for the Boeing 777X is gradually increasing and a third jet has been added to the fleet.  I stopped by Boeing Field because all three jets were scheduled to fly on this day.  Having seen the first two, I was hoping for the third since I haven’t got any shots of it and its livery which is different to the first two.  Sadly, I was to be disappointed as they scrubbed the flight.

However, the first two jets did fly.  They were both already airborne by the time I got there.  The arrival times back for both were supposed to be pretty close but you can’t put too much stock in those times as things on test will be what they will be.  I headed to the arrival end for the first of them.  It wasn’t that late so the light wasn’t ideal but it was still a bit better as we were well passed the solstice and heading to the equinox.  Happy to take the shot of course.

I moved to the other end of the field when the second jet came in.  I wasn’t interested in repeating the shot I had already taken (plus I had shot this jet in similar circumstances before) so some images at the other end seemed worthwhile.  They landed short but had clearance for a high speed run on the runway so that brought them down to where I was.  Fortuitously, they took the exit directly in front of me.  I missed the transition of the wingtips while changing cameras.  The tips were down in one set of shots but were folded as they taxied off the runway.  The wide angle view is a nice one to get of something so large.

Departure of the Prime Air 737

Continuing my interest in Amazon Prime Air 737s, the one I saw arrive from the conversion line in China was ready for delivery to Sun Country – the airline that will be operating it for Amazon.  It was a pretty sunny day when it went out so heat haze was a bit of a problem.  The jet was towed out from the ATS facility.  Once it was just short of the taxiway, they unhooked the jet and started it up.  Plenty of heat haze looking across the airfield I’m afraid.

It taxied to the north end of the field and then took off towards me.  It was obviously not heavy for its flight to Minneapolis and it was off the ground pretty rapidly.  This made for more of a belly shot than would have been ideal but it still looked okay and actually gave me a better look at the color scheme than I had expected.  It is quite a paint job that they have.

A Better Go at a Prime Air 737

In this recent post, I showed a shot of an Amazon Prime Air 737.  With a bit more notice and better timing from an availability point of view, I saw that another jet was coming in to Paine Field from Anchorage.  It was being delivered from the conversion line in China and would have the finishing touches taken care of by ATS at Everett.  I was there and set up in plenty of time – except… I had one camera ready to go but the other one had been previously used for some video at home and was on manual focus.  I was shooting with the 500mm initially and all was well.  As the jet got closer, I switched to the 100-400 and everything was wrong.  Nothing would focus.  It seemed like forever but I must have realized fast and flicked the focus switch because I was able to shoot it as it came level with me and crossed the threshold.  What an amateur mistake.  Fortunately, I got away with it!

Turkish Delivery (You Didn’t Think I Would Say Delight Did You?)

Boeing was ready to deliver a 787 to Turkish Airlines.  Normally these take place from the Delivery Center which is a nice building justifying the large wedge of cash that has just been handed over.  Boeing crews usually taxi out from the ramp but customer flights seem to get towed to the ramp entrance.  Maybe they don’t trust the customer pilots in amongst all of their expensive jets.

The departure was to the north so they taxied to the south end of the field before lining up for departure.  A flight to Istanbul is a decent length but, without any payload, it still doesn’t take long for them to get airborne.  Judging by the distance to go boards, they were off in about 4,000’.  Consequently, they had reached a decent height by the time they came by my location.  They headed off to the north to start the long trip home.

Flight Check Lear 60 Maneuvering Around BFI

I was driving over to Seattle a while back and, as I crossed the I-90 floating bridge, I saw a Learjet maneuvering at low level around the hill ahead of me.  I decided to see what was going on since I suspected this might be an FAA jet flying a variety of approaches.  Sure enough, it was one of their Lear 60s.  I have seen them on a number of occasions before at different airports.  Tracking them on something like FlightRadar24, it is easy to work out what they are since they fly a tone of patterns around an airport normally dealing with simple arrivals and departures.

Boeing Field is not such an airport as it has a lot of training activity but the Lear is a bit faster than the average piston single.  I didn’t know how long it had been there so it could have gone before I arrived but they still had a few circuits to do before they were finished.  These involved a different sequence of approaches from offset positions from which they could take their measurements and then break off to do it again.  It is interesting to see a business jet being thrown around like this in a way that would not keep the average customer happy!

Trying to Catch the 777X Airborne

The first flight of the 777X took place while I was out of the country which annoyed me quite a bit.  Having seen the things sitting around at Everett for ages and even watched the taxi trials, I was in the wrong place when they finally got airborne.  However, with an extensive flight test program to come, I knew there would be other opportunities.  I did manage to be at Boeing Field for a departure on one of the flights.  Conditions weren’t great, though.

With the viewing area closed while Boeing parks 737s wherever it can find a space, I was a long way from the rotation point.  It was in the rain as it rolled and, while it stayed below the clouds until well past me, things were not ideal.  Still, I had seen it fly.

On another occasion I was able to be there when it returned.  This had also been a day with some pretty crummy conditions but this time I was seeing the weather starting to improve as the day wore on.  A little bit of a wait while they flew test activities over Central Washington was not such a bad thing.  Indeed, as they turned for home, the sun was coming out.  However, the wind was not abating!

When they called up on approach, I wandered to one side to see how far up the approach I could see.  Despite me being to the right side of the runway from their perspective, when I first got a good shot, the jet was actually pointing beyond me to the right.  The crosswind was obviously pretty strong.  Early in the flight test program, I wonder whether they really wanted to be testing this capability.  Of course this then meant I got a head on view as they got closer before running past me.  Shots in nice light!  Happy guy.  In the next year we shall see plenty of these but, for now, I am happy to have got something reasonable of this airframe off the ground.

First Flight of a Korean Air 777

A new airliner, fresh from the paint shop, looks splendidly clean.  When you have an interesting paint color, things are better still.  This Korean Air 777-300ER was making its first flight from Paine Field when I shot it.  It looked great in nice light.  When delivered to the customer, it will be pristine.  Then, regular service will result in it looking a little bit more worn and grubby depending on how much time is available to clean it up.  Airbridge dirt marks and others scuffs or leaking fluids will seek to muck it up a bit.