Japanese jets have a reputation for interesting colors and, while the fighter units were pretty dull gray, the recce jets were far more interesting. Most of the flying jets I saw were in the blue camo scheme and they look very nice. One the first wave I saw, there was also a jet in green and brown camo. Sadly it only flew once and I messed up a bunch of my shots. The other scheme on the ramp was a green and grey scheme that looked a lot like the old German colors. Sadly, it stayed on the ramp the entire time I was there.
I was able to have a day out while in Japan after the work was done and the meetings were complete. I have seen plenty of pictures from Hyakuri and I was keen to get there. Mark had kindly brought me up to date with the latest arrangements for visiting, a rental car was booked and I was all set. Starting out from the center of Tokyo on a Monday morning was surprisingly straightforward and I was soon cruising through the countryside heading to Ibaraki Prefecture.
The weather was a bit overcast. After days of heat and sun, this was a bit of a surprise but it actually worked a bit in my favor. I didn’t have a ladder so switching sides in the afternoon was not going to be too simple. With the clouds, there was far less need to move. However, that was an issue for later. I drove up and, as I got close, I had a Phantom pass over me as it was on final approach. A promising sign.
I got to the towers and got myself settled in. There was plenty of action on the ramp of the recce unit. Soon a couple of jets spooled up and taxied. The came right by me. I was shooting away but there seemed to be a bit of a focus issue. Repressing the AF button brought things back into focus so I kept shooting. Only after they took off did I realize that I had somehow switched to One Shot focus mode. Crap. No doubt most of the take off shots would be out of focus – they were. However, problem fixed and then things were performing as intended.
What followed was a day of Phantom fun. Recce and fighter jets went up in regular waves. They taxied right by and then took off in front of us. What a great way to spend a day. The recce jets would do a straight in approach and landing. Some of the fighter guys were more happy to bash the pattern for a while when returning which added to the fun.
As the afternoon wore on, there was a hint of sun showing through the clouds. Backlight was becoming a bit of an issue but at this point I was staying put until I called it a day. I had the drive back to the city to deal with, rush hour was beckoning and I needed to get the rental car back. I made the most of what was on offer before packing up for the day. The whole trip was so worthwhile. Plenty have been so it was nothing original but it was pure fun. There were also other types flying and they will get their own posts.
The 142FW of the Oregon ANG has operated a number of different types over the years. It was nice to see that the base has preserved some of the jets. As you come through the main gate, the grass area to your left has an F-15A mounted on a pole looking suitably dynamic and reflecting the current jets used by the unit.
A short distance away is a memorial park with two further jets. Both of these are in great condition (the F-15 looked a bit weathered from a distance). There is an F-4C Phantom which is nice but the one I liked the most is an F-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo is a jet I never saw fly. I have seen various examples on the ground over the years but there is something about the lines of the jet I just like. Oh, to have seen them in action.
Flipping through various shoots looking for something else, I happened to come across a few shots of aircraft from the FedEx fleet. It occurred to me that I could drag together a post that was focused purely on the FedEx aircraft types. FedEx has an extensive fleet of aircraft these days. Their early days of using Falcon 20s to move their packages around are long gone. Now they have a variety of aircraft types of different sizes and range to meet all of their needs.
The fleet is constantly in a state of regeneration. The types that have long been a part of FedEx operations are now going or gone and being replaced with something more up to date. The 727 fleet has gone. The A300s and A310s are still in use but the number in the fleet is gradually going down. The interesting thing about the FedEx fleet is the way the economics are changing. For a long time, second hand jets that had been retired from airline service made a lot of sense. The operating model involves a lot of jets flying from their home base to Memphis in the middle of the night to deliver packages to the hub. Then, after a quick turnaround of all of the sorted packages, the planes fly back to base. Then they sit on the ground for most of the day.
This model means that utilization for the aircraft is low. Having a less efficient jet is not a problem when it only flies a few hours each day. If it is cheap to buy, you can use it efficiently. Having a bunch of inefficient 727s works very well. Similarly, the smaller aircraft that feed into hubs also can be operated relatively cheaply. A fleet of Cessna Caravans that sit on the ground or a bunch of ATR42s is effective.
The 727s are gone now. They have been replaced with 757s which have all been retired by airline operators (a lot of them from British Airways).The big change is that new jets are being acquired. The operating economics for FedEx have changed. The DC-10s (which got upgraded to MD-10s) are gradually being replaced by new 767s. Meanwhile, the MD-11s which had previously been the kings of the long haul flights are now being relegated to domestic service while the 777F takes over the long haul missions. Direct from Memphis to China is now the norm for the 777F. You don’t see MD-11s crossing the Pacific as much any more. I think the Europe runs are limited too. The 777 can go direct with a decent payload and doesn’t need to stop for fuel in Anchorage.
The MD-11 will survive for a while yet. Its less efficient operate will mean it can be pushed onto shorter segments with lower utilization. The high utilization missions will be the preserve of the newer jets. The older jets will be fine on the flights that only involve a couple of trips a day. For these their low capital costs will offset any operational cost penalty. The migration of the fleet will continue though. Soon it will be a fleet with a few less types and things will be a bit less interesting. There will still be a bunch of 727s scattered around airports that had them donated though so keep an eye out for them.
Damp conditions are not uncommon in the Bay. Getting some vapor over the wing during a climb out would not be a surprise. Getting it on the approach can also happen but not so often. A FedEx MD-11 was on the approach to Oakland while I was walking along the shore. As it headed away, they were configured for the final approach as some flashes of vapor showed themselves above the wing. I happened to get them this time.
Oakland is a big hub for FedEx and they have a lot of aircraft movements through the airport on a normal day. While its use in passenger service is pretty much done, the MD-11 is still a regular on the freight circuit and FedEx is by far the largest operator. When walking along the shore in Hayward, I saw a couple of MD-11s come in. Normally, the jets are configured for landing by the time they come over you in Hayward. However, one MD-11 seemed to be coming in with a little more urgency. As it approached me, it had flaps deployed but no gear. Then, as it came over, the gear started to travel. There is a reasonable distance to go to the airport so I am not suggesting that the approach was not stabilized at the right time but it was a little late.
Talon Hate is a program that the Air Force is running involving an infrared sensor mounted in the front of a centerline fuel tank. It is mounted on an F-15 from the operational test unit at Nellis AFB. The first time I saw it, I was walking along the flight line at Nellis. We were shooting with the California ANG unit that was the next space along the line. As we walked past the Talon Hate jet, we were under strict instructions not to photograph it. I was right there but nothing I could do.
During my visit to Red Flag 16-4, the Talon Hate jet flew a couple of times. It flew with a second F-15 each time and sometimes with other jets. The pod is clearly visible on the jet but the other modifications are less conspicuous. There is a satellite communications antenna mounted on the back on the jet. When it turns for final, you can see the antenna mount. I don’t know what the outcome of the program will be but it is cool to see the venerable F-15 still trying out new stuff.
Not all old airliners end up being broken down for parts. Some get a reprieve, at least for a while. A frequent secondary use for airliners is freighters and FedEx have an extensive fleet of old DC-10s that they use. These have gone through a cockpit upgrade program and have been renamed MD-10. However, even that is not enough to keep them going indefinitely and the fleet is gradually being reduced. One of them has got a new lease on life though.
Orbis is a charity that carries out eye surgery around the world in places where the medical facilities are limited. Cataract surgery is a simple procedure in some countries but a rarity in others yet it is a simple solution to a problem that affects thousands of people. Over the years they have had a number of airliners that are fitted out with an operating theater and they can fly into locations and carry out surgery on people who would otherwise have little hope of regaining normal sight. The current aircraft (see at the bottom) was a DC10-10 that had originally been with United. That aircraft is now being replaced with the MD-10 from FedEx.
I first saw the aircraft at LAX during its press roll out. I was landing and looked out of the window and there it was on the ramp. No camera to hand so just a memory. More recently, it spent some time at Moffett Field and I was able to grab a few shots. It was hot so, while I chose the better side for the light, it meant being a distance away and getting a fair bit of heat haze. I did also see the shady side through the fence. I imagine the jet is now off doing good work around the world. A great cause.
Many airbases have a selection of historic aircraft on display to show something of what has gone before on the base. Sadly, they are often unavailable to shoot when you visit. Davis Monthan AFB has quite a few different planes on display and, fortunately, the location of the Fallen Hawg ceremony during Hawgsmoke was in front of the display A-10. While everything was being set up, we had some time to kill and I was allowed to wander around the other planes.
The selection included some obvious DM aircraft like the A-10 and A-7 (even if it was actually a Navy A-7E that they had repainted). A U-2 was a slightly more surprising one to see. I’m not sure how that qualifies but I wasn’t complaining. The F-105, F-100 and F-4 all looked good too. Not only was it nice to be able to shoot them but it gave us something to do since we had got in place pretty early!
If 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.
I 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!
However, 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.