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Some Nice Flexing

Departures over the Speedway are best when they flex.  The straight out departures are fine but not that exciting and they often get pretty high pretty quickly.  Those jets that flex seem to stay a bit lower and provide a more interesting shot.  The later in the day it is, the better the light on a flexing jet.  If they are doing an evening departure after the Flag participants are back, the conditions can be ideal.

Here is a selection of jets in both good and okay lighting.  If a four ship goes out, you hope for the last jet to be more dramatic since it will be playing catch up with the others and shoot turn in a bit tighter.  The fourth Saudi F-15SA was another story though since he went very early and then straightened up before having another go inside us.  Not sure he had been paying attention at the brief!

Brand New F-15SA Jets

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) was attending Red Flag 19-2 with some brand new F-15SA jets.  These jets had come direct from delivery so had not yet even made it out of the US.  I guess they had that new fighter smell.  They did fly the first day we were there, despite the strong winds which was a pleasant surprise.  They flew along with the rest of the jets on our second day.  I have mentioned their slightly strange approach to flex departures before so I won’t go there any further but instead will share what I have of the jets from the two days I was there.

Max 8 Departs Just Before Grounding

Paul and I were in Vegas for Red Flag but the early morning is also a good time to shoot at McCarran International.  The morning light is ideal for the north/south runways and, with the wind playing ball, you can get the iconic McCarran shots of jets taking off with the weird and wonderful hotel buildings behind them.  Where else will you get a pyramid and the Empire State Building in the background.  Southwest has a big presence at McCarran and we saw a string of their jets head out including one Max8.  We watched it climb out little realizing that the grounding order would be coming within hours or even minutes.  Whether the jet continued to its destination or turned around, we don’t know but that was its last commercial flight for a while.

Low and Sporty Lightning II Departure

Speedway departures can be a mixed bag at Nellis.  Flex departures with a pull over the Speedway are the best but it does depend on how high planes have got.  Some climb out quite steeply and are way too high for a good shot by the time that they reach you.  On my most recent Nellis trip, though, we were treated to a few departures by the locals that broke the mold. They got airborne and kept it nice and low as they accelerated towards us before breaking in to the flex departure routing.

The evening light combined with the great angles made for some good shots.  It didn’t hurt that I had a lower shutter speed than usual so got some nice blur of the mountains behind the planes courtesy of them being nice and low.  The Strike Eagles also gave it a go which was nice.

Dornier 328Jet

The FBO ramps at McCarran had a selection of Dornier 328Jets.  I noticed one at first and only later realized that there were more.  What did please me was seeing a bus pull up by one of them with the door open.  I figured we would have a flight before too long.  Indeed it did, in due course, power up, taxi down to the departure end and take off.  It was a bit far away but I’ll take a 328Jet when the opportunity arises.

Sunset Burner Departures

Fighters departing Nellis are well out of burner by the time they get anywhere near you outside the base.  However, if you are shooting in low light, the burners can show up quite well even though you are a long way off.  The plane is a small part of the overall shot but the intensity of the burner plume can make it far more conspicuous in the shot than would otherwise be the case.

E-8C JSTARS

E-8 JSTARS are not a rare thing at Red Flag but they do often get involved in the night sorties.  Seeing one heading out to play for the daytime activities was a pleasant surprise.  On their return on the first day they were following in the KDC-10 that I mentioned in a previous post.  They also adopted some sporty approach techniques and were similarly unsuccessful in converting them in to a landing.  The go around ensued and was followed by a more conventional straight in approach and landing.

Please Come Back Before Sunset

Some late day departures after the Flag returns included F-15Es, F-35As, L159s and A-4s.  You don’t know how long anyone is scheduled to be out but you find yourself hoping that they will all make it back before the sun sets so you can get some arrival shots in the nicest light available.  Once they are gone, it is a case of watching the time and crossing your fingers.  As it was, we got lucky.  They came back in a steady stream with all of them showing up as the sun was at its best.  Arriving over Cheyenne is not ideal from a sun angle perspective at this time of year but we still got some nice angles.  Some turned tighter while others went wider so we got to try all sorts of angles out to see which picked up what light was remaining.

Late Viper Arrival

Helicopters are constantly moving around McCarran.  There are tourist rides operating seemingly around the clock so hearing a couple of helps is not a surprise.  However, these two were close to each other and seemed to have a more powerful sound.  It turned out that they were two USMC AH-1Z Vipers coming in to an FBO.  Paul was able to try and get some shots as they landed but I had to move the car.  I settled for watching them for a bit and then got the camera as they were shutting down.  It was unbelievably dark given how much ambient light there is in Vegas so I was pushing the camera’s capabilities a bit.  The closer one shut down first which was unfortunate but let’s not get picky.  They were still there the following morning when we were shooting departures as I could see them in the background of some shots.

Sands 747SPs

It’s always interesting to see what is at the Sands ramp at McCarran.  The flight of luxury jets for bringing in the high rollers to play at the casino is a mix of types.  Some “normal” Gulfstream, an A340-500 and the Boeing 747SP.  I was delighted to see that two SPs were parked up on the ramp the morning I was there.  Seeing them move was a bit much to ask but getting them in some lovely light immediately after sunrise was a good alternative.