Tag Archives: marine corps

Welcomed By a Flying H-34

As I mentioned in a previous post, my visit to Brewster to see the S-58/UH-34s was not one during which I was expecting to see anything flying.  As I drove up, you can imagine my surprise to see a UH-34 in pristine Marine Corps markings hovering in front of me.  It transitioned away as I pulled in to the airport so I was pretty annoyed thinking I was just too late to see it.  However, I was wrong.  They were doing pattern work and, while I don’t know how long that they had been flying already, they were not finished.

I parked the car and grabbed the camera as they came downwind and turned in to approach from a high position.  The next couple of approaches seemed to be autorotation training.  Each run around the pattern gave me a bit more time to get to a better position from which to get some shots.  Initially, there was a building in the way but I was able to move to a spot with a clear view of the action without going anywhere I shouldn’t have been.

As I had managed to grab some shots, I figured I would switch to some video while I was at it.  I didn’t get much video but enough to put together one composite circuit of the flying.  That video is on YouTube as seen below.  They then landed and taxied back to their ramp where, after a suitable cooling off period, they shut down.  I was tempted to hang around to see if they flew again but I had a long day planned ahead of me and wanted to make sure I got everything in so I decided, after a short while, to continue on my way.

Surprise Sharpshooters Visit

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.

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.

Bye Bye Prowlers

I should probably have planned this post better and timed it to coincide with the actual event but that didn’t happen.  The Marine Corps recently retired their last EA-6B Prowlers and the web was full of shots of Prowlers to celebrate the event.  I like the Prowler a lot so I thought I would get in on the act.  I have shot Prowlers a bunch of times over the years whether it was on flight lines, on exercise, during training or at an air show.  Here is a selection of some of my favorite Prowler shots.

My First F-35B Jets

A USMC F-35B climbs out after takeoff from Nellis AFB on a Red Flag mission.

I have had a bunch of times when I have seen F-35 jets.  I got to shoot the first prototype at Fort Worth in its early days.  After that, I didn’t see any more for a long time.  As the production jets started to show up, I saw a number of them at Nellis AFB. Sadly, when we were on base we weren’t allowed to shoot them and when I was off base, I was always in a bad place to get shots of them.  As a result, I do not have many useful shots in my catalog.

A USMC F-35B turns on to final approach at Nellis AFB.

I had no shots of the B model.  This is the one being developed for the Marine Corps to replace their Harriers and Hornets.  It is also being acquired by the UK and Italy to use from their carriers.  Red Flag 16-3 was the first one that the Marines brought their jets to so I was pleased to get a chance to shoot them.  My timing was not great and there was limited flying while I was there.  However, the Marines did launch a pair while we were in place.  Nicely, both jets flexed on departure and came towards our position quite nicely.  Recovery was a different story.  For those that aren’t familiar with shooting at the Speedway, there is a constant debate about which gate is the best one to be at.  Some jets turn on to final very tightly and you need to be a inside Gate 4 to get a good shot.  Sadly, a lot of the jets turn long and they can be a long way off if you are at 4.  If there is a four ship, the later jets tend to turn later so, even if the first jet is good, the later ones can be a way off.

B11I0418.jpgIf the jets are Navy or Marines, you need to be on your toes.  They can be a lot more enthusiastic about keeping their patterns tight.  When the two F-35s returned, we soon realized everyone else knew something we needed to know.  They were all grabbing their cameras and running down the street.  I took a while to catch on.  The first jet turned very tightly.  Even as I ran, I could only get a head on shots as he turned inside me.  I then got moving again and was just about in a reasonable option for the second jet.

A USMC F-35B climbs out after takeoff from Nellis AFB on a Red Flag mission.

The second day we were there, timing was again not in our favor.  Just as the 35s were returning, a pair of Growlers were launching to head home.  They were coming off the runway we needed the jets to land on to get good shots.  Instead, they were sent to the other runway.  They broke left towards the hills.  We did have some recovery though.  By the time they had run downwind, the Growlers were gone and the runway was clear.  They switched to land on our side.  We had lost the final turn but at least they came closer when on final.  At some point these jets will be very common but the first encounter is fun.

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Marine Corps C-9

AU0E3039.jpgIf you had asked me whether the McDonnell Douglas C-9 Skytrain was still in service, I would have said no.  Used by the Navy and Marine Corps, the fleet had been wound down as C-40 Clippers were introduced.  I thought that they had all gone by now.  You can guess, then, that I was rather surprised when I saw one at SFO.  Two aircraft were on parallel approaches – one a Delta 757 and the other appearing to be a DC-9/MD-87/Boeing717.  I wasn’t paying a lot of attention but parallel approaches are always worth a shot so I was taking pictures when I realized that the aircraft was a C-9B Skytrain in Marine Corps markings.  The conditions were a bit heat hazy but I wasn’t going to miss this.

C59F9152.jpgI grabbed a bunch of shots as it landed and felt rather pleased with the turn of events.  I then stopped thinking about it.  A little later I moved around to the other end of SFO to get some head on departures of some of the widebodies that were due out.  You don’t get many narrowbodies taking off on the 28s unless the wind is particularly strong down those runways.  One or two will use it but not many.  I saw a narrowbody start its takeoff roll and almost ignored it AGAIN!

AU0E3064.jpgHowever, I did end up trying some shots and then realizing as it got closer that it was the C-9B again.  I guess it was just my lucky day that I had two opportunities to miss it and didn’t either time.  As it flew overhead, I was able to get some far better angles on it than were possible when on approach.  I also got to experience the noise levels that jets of this vintage came with.  I did a little research afterwards and apparently only two jets remain in use with the Marine Corps and all Navy and Air Force examples are retired.  This one is a rare one indeed, not least because it is based on the east coast.  No idea how long they have left but this was certainly a fortunate encounter.

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V-22s But No Air Force One

wpid13566-AU0E8853.jpgThe President was visiting the Bay Area for a couple of days recently. This meant the arrival of Air Force One, the VH-3D helicopters, the C-17s to transport them and the V-22s that support the VH-3Ds. What more could an aviation guy want? I took a look at the temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) listed online to see when the airspace was going to be shut down. When the president flies, the airspace around him is shut down for security purposes. These closures are published (otherwise, how would the other pilots know not to fly) so it means we know when to expect things to happen.

Sadly, the arrival was on a day I was at work and was timed to come in to SFO around sunset so, even if I could be there, there was a chance that the light would have gone. (As it was, the arrival was just before the light went completely and a friend of mine did get some good shots.) The departure, on the other hand, was scheduled for Saturday morning. That I could manage. I figured that getting there early would be wise since I would not be the only one trying this so getting somewhere to park might be tricky. Plus, if they went early in the slot, I wanted to be ready.

wpid13562-AU0E8673.jpgI checked the TFR the night before and got up early the next morning. I had some breakfast and headed out. I arrived in plenty of time but did need to park quite a distance away. I got to the bayshore trail and found a few other guys with cameras. However, word quickly reached me that he had gone. I bumped into a friend of mine and he told me that he had checked the TFR earlier that morning and saw that it had been brought forward. He rushed out and got there just in time. I arrived about 20 minutes after they took off. Curiously, as I had been driving across the San Mateo bridge, I had seen a large jet airborne near the airport and wondered. Now I knew.

There was a silver lining to this disappointment. With Air Force One safely on its way, the V-22s were free to head out. The three of them took off in close succession and turned in our direction to head off down the peninsula. They didn’t come terribly close but I did get my first shots of them since they replaced the CH-46s that used to provide support. (Many moons ago I did see the CH-53Es that used to be undertake this role. They looked fantastic!)

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Fat Albert tearing the turf

wpid12463-C59F0120.jpgLots of my retro posts come about because I was doing something else that led me to a shot I had forgotten about. Having a system like Lightroom is a great way of throwing up some interesting shots that appear when you run a keyword search. In this case, I was looking at an old air show which had featured the Blue Angels. As is usual for their shows, the first part of the demonstration was the USMC C-130 display, Fat Albert.

wpid12465-C59F0133.jpgAt the end of the display, they land the C-130 and throw the props into reverse aiming to stop as quickly as possible. (A little bit of bouncing is also apparent in the top shot!)  On this occasion, I guess the ground alongside the runway was not too stable. The wash thrown forward by the props ripped the turf up ahead of the plane and threw it into the air. It made for a pretty dramatic view. Even through the viewfinder, I could see what was going on. The shots afterwards just confirmed how much material they threw around that day!

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Marine Week

wpid10983-AU0E6829.jpgEn route from a day with a client to the airport I had a spare hour to pay a visit to Boeing Field in Seattle. I figured that my time window would mean there was nothing much to see and I didn’t have anything longer than the 24-105 with me anyway. However, when I got there I could see an interesting collection of USMC machines on the opposite side of the field and the Blue Angels were parked up near the Museum of Flight.

wpid10985-AU0E6834.jpgI took a ride around to where the Marine helicopters and V-22 were parked and got chatting to one of the crews. He explained it was the start of Marine Week and offered a chance to walk around the ramp with one of the crew. I was not going to refuse that. Mario kindly showed me around and let me shoot anything external. They had three UH-1Y Venoms and three AH-1Z Cobras along with a single V-22. One fof the Cobras was marked up in special squadron colors. I took a walk around all of them and grabbed a few shots while chatting with Mario about what it was like to support these machines. He had worked on the UH-1N before converting to the Venom so he had some interesting perspectives on the relative reliability of the two.

wpid10989-AU0E6839.jpgThese machines were going to be progressively moved across to the other side of the field as part of the public displays for Marine Week and the first of the Cobras actually was towed while I was there so my timing was excellent. However I did have to go and then my timing let me down as, while I was driving away, I saw an AV-8B Harrier II coming down the approach. Oh well. I still did better than I had expected.