Sometimes my poor choices can help other people out. I made a trip down to Auburn to see the Stinson Reliant that the local chapter of the Commemorative Air Force has. They were having an open day but the conditions were not looking great. I got there as things were opening up and had a look around the plane while they prepped it to run. Then they fired it up and ran the engine for a while before shutting down. At this point, the rain was thinking about starting up and I decided to call it quits.
This was just what everyone else needed. I got a call as I was heading north again. My friend Bob told me they were looking to go flying. I was tempted to turn around and go back but decided not to. I had some other things I wanted to see and felt the conditions were likely to mean that they skipped the flying. I was clearly wrong. My friends got a bunch of nice shots of the plane flying. I have to make do with it on the ground for now.
Red Flag 22-2 included a detachment of B-1B Lancers. The Bone is a cracking jet as it combines the size of a bomber with the shaping and engines of a fighter. It is an elegant shape whether the wings are fully swept or not. I have shot them at Nellis a few times over the years but I was still keen to get some shots of them on this trip. Unfortunately, things did not quite go to plan.
They didn’t fly on the day that I arrived. I had gone out in the evening for the night launch but they were not part of it. The following morning, they launched a lot earlier than I expected so I was still at Cheyenne when they went. My last day, they again didn’t launch. That meant the recoveries from the early launch were my only chance.
Weather was not helping too much. This was not just for the Bones. It was pretty overcast for a good chunk of the afternoon. The two jets came back in formation and broke into the pattern. Thankfully, the arrivals were using the 21s and they were allocated to the right runway. A pretty sporty pattern for a big jet combined with me having chosen a good spot by the Speedway meant that they were almost filling the frame as they turned on to final. Some nicer light would have been great but, since this was all I was getting in daylight, it would have to do.
Boeing Field has a lot of civilian traffic, but it is also a popular stop off point for military traffic. What I hadn’t anticipated was a McChord C-17 wanting to use it for some pattern work. I was sitting in the car working on a spreadsheet updating my forecasts for a project that we are working on. I guess I had heard something call up but was busy with the work and had not realized what was coming. However, the rumbling of four engines got quite loud and I looked up to see the C-17 on short final.
I did grab a couple of quick shots, but luck was on my side. They wanted to fly a few patterns so I was going to get another go at it. The left-hand patterns meant you could see them heading downwind and turning back on to final. I could get on with my spreadsheet and be ready when they came back again. The light was really nice and they seemed to fly a little higher on the approach than is normal so getting shots was not tricky.
At one point, while flying downwind, I could see another C-17 flying directly across the field. They were actually setting up for an approach to McChord and were not going to come our way but it was cool to see both in shot at once. After they completed their pattern work, they headed back north again so I am not sure what their next plans was but I was pleased to have seen them and had the chance to try and few different shots.
My buddy, Mark, sent me a message about a plane that he had spotted coming inbound from the Pacific which he had hoped would stop in Vancouver. It was a Royal Thai Air Force Airbus A340-500. Instead it was coming further south but it was still at cruising altitude so there was no way it was coming my way either. However, it did end up flying directly overhead, albeit at 34,000’. It was a lovely clear day and the four contrails from the jet showed up nicely as they ran back and then rolled up together. I grabbed the camera from the trunk and got a few shots as it passed overhead. It was heading for DC so we didn’t have a chance that day or for the return journey.
Is what I am seeing real or is it a Mirage? Sorry, pretty crummy pun usage. When I was going to Nellis for Red Flag, one of the things I wanted to shoot was the Mirage F1s of Draken International. It is a long time since I have seen an F1 – it was back when the Spanish Air Force was still flying them and they came to RIAT. Now that Draken is using them for aggressor support services, I was keen to catch one or two of them.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long. The first time I drove up to the base, a pair of the Draken jets were recovering. I grabbed the camera as they came in straight towards me before going over my head. I had not set up the camera as I would have intended but just turned it on and pointed it at the jets. Not bad luck and some of the shots came out okay.
I did get a couple more opportunities. These were departures at the Speedway. In one morning I had a pair of them heading out without flexing. The camo pattern they have is the same but the colors vary. The black and white scheme was interesting. However, I prefer the brown scheme and the last two jets I got to shoot before I headed to the airport were F1s flexing north. Top and tail the visit with Mirages!
When the arrivals at Nellis on on the 03 runways, it means a trip to Cheyenne. This is not the greatest part of the world to visit but it is a feature of a Nellis trip. The sun angles were still quite low while I was there so I decided to try shooting from further around the road than I have done previously. For the planes coming in on the left runway, I had a reasonable sun angle on them. For planes on the right, they were coming right over my head.
I quite liked shooting like this. The planes have a surprising amount of variety in their line up angles when this far from the threshold so, while they are all coming close to you, it is not a repeat of the same shot every time. Each pilot takes a slightly different line and some variation in elevation too. You get something akin to head on shots and then it is a case of rapidly swiveling around to get a shot from behind.
There is a lot of fencing and trees along that part of the road so getting a clean shot of everything is hard to achieve. However, it is still possible to get something a little different. With the light angles being less than ideal, rather than worry about shots that aren’t going to be very usable due to either glare or shadow, why not get something a little different. It does require some quick adjustments and it can get a touch noisy but it is still fun to try something a little different.
The weather at Nellis was definitely not playing ball for the majority of my time at Red Flag 22-2. However, as the recoveries from the afternoon exercise were completing, some of the regular base traffic was getting ready to launch. Nellis is a bit like Seattle (hear me out) in that, even when the weather is a bit crappy in the afternoon, there is a good chance the light improves later on. This proved to be the case on my first full day there.
As the later jets were launching, the clouds had cleared up a bit and there was some nice low angle sun to be had on the aircraft as they headed out. I had gone up past Gate 6 at the Speedway to be in place for any Flex departures and this proved to be a good spot. Some of the jets turned a little beyond me but gave a better top side view while other turned a bit earlier and were almost heading overhead where I was. The light was better than anything I had got earlier in the day so it worked for me.
I stopped at Boeing Field to make a couple of calls and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Boeing T-38 chase jet was not far out. I was able to get the camera out in good time for it to arrive and, even better, while there was plenty of cloud around, the sun popped out to allow me to get a reasonable shot. I then went back to dealing with my calls. I had noticed a USAF T-38 further east in the state but had assumed it was not coming my way. However, I was wrong. A short while later, it called up on approach. The sun was less cooperative which was a shame for a gloom black painted jet but it was still good to shoot. From expecting nothing to getting two T-38s in short order was a nice surprise.
It was recently announced that Nellis AFB has ended operations of the F-15C/D Eagles. The Eagles have been at Nellis since the 1970s so this ends a long association. The Strike Eagles are still based there and there will, no doubt, be F-15EX jets based there in the not too distant future but this was still noteworthy within the aviation community. I have shot a bunch of based Eagles over the years including the aggressor jets. They went a while back so I won’t include them here but here are a few of the Nellis jets over the years.
It had been quite a while since I made a trip purely for aviation photography. I may have managed to sneak some photo elements in to other trips but nothing just for planes. I decided to go to Nellis for Red Flag 22-2. I had skipped 22-1 because it clashed with some other stuff despite having some things I was quite keen to shoot. German Tornados were supposed to be at 22-2 which I was keen to shoot but they sadly canceled before the event even kicked off.
Despite this, I still wanted to go. A couple of days off work seemed like a good plan and it was a chance to explore the capabilities of the R3 on aviation subjects. While the Germans were not attending, there were some foreign operators taking part. Singapore had brought its jets – admittedly, they didn’t have far to come with Singapore having units at Luke and Mountain home – and Saudi Arabia had brought some F-15SAs.
Things were not as active as they have been on some previous Red Flags. Not everything seemed to be flying in each wave. The B-1s only flew on one of the evening and one of the day sorties of the two I was there. Also, things seemed to happen earlier than is sometimes the case. There were some long gaps in flying when I wondered whether something was up. It was just a slow Flag I guess. However, it was a good chance to hang around and photograph some jets. I guess I can’t complain about that.