Recently, the Blue Angels made their last formation flight with the F/A-18 Hornet. The team is transitioning to the Super Hornet ahead of 2021 and they have started working up with the new jets. It has been a while since I last saw the Blue Angels demonstration so I thought a few shots with their aging legacy Hornets was in order. They always got the oldest jets in the fleet so I hope they are happy to have some slightly newer airframes to work with.
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.
We made a trip to West Seattle with our guests while they were here. We were looking at the view of the city and also wondering what wildlife might show itself. I got a benefit in that departures from SeaTac and Boeing Field were coming to the north. I got a couple of nice airliner shots as they climbed out over us. They weren’t the only ones though. A KC-46 launched out of Boeing Field and climbed over us as it went off to its test area. I wasn’t paying attention, but my guests spotted something rocketing up behind it. An F/A-18C Hornet from the Strike Test unit was following it, presumably for some test work. It climbed rapidly but then leveled out, I assume to stay below the departure routes from SeaTac. Not a bad bonus for me while showing the sights to my guests.
The never-ending test program for the KC-46 Pegasus involves testing with a variety of receiver aircraft. Recently, the Navy has deployed jets to Boeing Field to work with the tankers. While I was there, it was a Boeing F/A-18D Hornet that was sent across. Operating with the call-sign, Salty Dog, the Hornet blasted out of the field ahead of its tanker. They were scheduled to be up until after dark so I didn’t hang around for their return.
As my day at the canyon continued (you can read about the beginnings here), I got a bit more luck. The Navy came to the rescue with some Hornets and Super Hornets making their way through the canyon. One came in at an odd angle and then pulled out of the canyon over the overlook location. This was fine for me but probably annoyed those further down the canyon.
Then we got something a lot more like what we had anticipated. Jets came in along the angle from the highway starting out a lot lower than those that had come across the ridge. They could drop in a lot more quickly and be deeper into the canyon as they came by. This was what it was all about. They provided a last minute contribution to what I had come for and I was very grateful. A few more would have been good but it was okay.
Once disappointing aspect of this was that, with so few jets coming through, I shot all of them. I didn’t have the opportunity to waste so I never got to keep the camera down and just appreciate the jets transitioning through below me for what it was. On my next trip I will hopefully get to do that as well as get some shots.
We relocated to the other end of Boeing Field for the return of the Blue Angels. They ran in across the field trailing white smoke. Unfortunately, with little wind, this meant a pall of smoke was now hanging over the airport. As they broke into the downwind and then turned onto final, it was sometimes hard to see them at all. A healthy boosting of the contrast makes some of the shots a bit more visible but, in truth, the viz was really awful. I only hope they had a slightly better view of the ground than we had of them since their being able to see was slightly more important.
I have only been to the Oceana show once. I headed down there with my friends Ben and Simon. We weren’t terribly lucky with the weather. There was flying during the show but things were overcast and deteriorated as the show went on. The finale of the show was, naturally for a big Navy base, the Blue Angels. I was shooting with a 1D Mk IIN in those days and that was a camera that was not happy at high ISO settings.
The problem was, the light was not good and the ISO needed to be cranked up a bit. Amusingly, if you were shooting today, the ISO levels would not be anything that caused concern. Current cameras can shoot at ISO levels without any noise levels that would have been unthinkable back then. However, I did learn something very important with this shoot. The shot above is one that I got as one of the solo jets got airborne. I used it as a test for processing.
I processed two versions of the image, one with a lot of noise reduction dialed in and one with everything zeroed out. I think combined them in one Photoshop image and used a layer mask to show one version in one half of the image and the other for the second half. When I viewed the final image on the screen, the noise in one half was awfully apparent. It was a clear problem. However, I then printed the image. When I did so, things were very different. If you looked closely, you could see a little difference. However, when you looked from normal viewing distances, there was no obvious difference between the two.
My takeaway from this is that viewing images on screens has really affected our approach to images. We get very fixated on the finest detail while the image as a whole is something we forget. We print less and less these days and the screen is a harsh tool for viewing.
The Fleet Week air show in San Francisco is wrapped up by the Blue Angels. The sneak passes made by the pair are an opportunity to try and get something interesting. Since they display over the bay and the city is known for having high relative humidity, I am always hoping to get some good vapor shots. This time out, that wasn’t to be. The air seemed to be pretty dry and there was not a lot of vapor on show. However, the fast pass from left to right takes the jet in front of the hills and Alcatraz which provides some detail to show up the distortion caused by the shock-waves. The large number of boats and associated masts meant a clean shot was tricky but I got a couple I was pleased with.
It has been a long time since I last saw some Spanish Air Force Hornets so I was glad to see them at Red Flag. They may not look very different to the Navy and Marine Hornets but still, some variety is worth it. It was the second week of the exercise so I would have expected everyone to be pretty familiar with the operations around the pattern. However, the Spanish guys seemed to have some different ideas.
They were certainly interested in keeping the patterns tight. I don’t know whether they convert to type with the Navy and are trained to fly tight or whether that is just their nature. However, on one occasion, the pilot came way inside the downwind line while another jet was flying that line and he was going to end up cutting them off. I guess he realized at the last moment because he turned left to get back out where he should have been. A bit strange to watch!
When the Canadian Hornets first came into service, they introduced the fake canopy on the underside of the front fuselage. This was a painted outline of the canopy. The idea was that, on the heat of a dogfight, the opposing pilot might be confused about the orientation of the jet and think it was coming towards him rather than away as a result of seeing this canopy.
The US Hornets never had this on the fleet jets but it appears that the Spanish Air Force has adopted it for theirs (although not all of the jets are so painted). I heard a rumor that the Canadians have some rights on this and other users have to pay for it but I have no idea whether there is any truth to this or not. However, their jets certainly do have the canopies painted on the fuselage.