When we lived in the Bay Area, I wrote an article on a search and rescue exercise the the 129th Rescue Wing was holding at Moffett Field. I got to spend a good chunk of one day on base while the exercise was underway. During some of the down time between launch and recovery, we were taken in to the airship hangars. Hangar One is the famous hangar which has had its surface removed as a prelude to its eventual refurbishment.
On the other side of the field are the other two hangars and it was one of these that we got to check out. The structure of these hangars is wooden as opposed to the metal framework of Hangar One. The condition of the structure was deteriorating and, while we could go in to one hangar, I seem to recall that the other one was considered more hazardous.
The wooden framing was something to see. Pictures really don’t do anything to convey just how big these buildings are. A P-2 Neptune was in storage at the time. After this, it was moved across the field to join the P-3 Orion on display. Wherever you were on the ramp, the hangars dominated the view. As we watched the Pave Hawks and Hercs launching, the hangars were always there in the background.
In this previous post about the hangars at Moffett Field, I mentioned that I was there to cover an exercise. The MC-130s were a big part of the exercise. They were loading up and launching down to remote landing strips on the California coast. The holds were full of equipment including off road vehicles. Loading these up was a tight fit. While the crews spent time getting everything ready to go, I was reasonably free to wander around the airframe and get some shots.
Here are some that I got that day. These were some of the oldest Combat Shadow (and maybe Hercules) airframes around at the time and I suspect that they have been replaced by now, I think by Combat King J models.
When I am on a shoot, the main focus is on the subject that you are there for. However, I have rarely had a shoot when I didn’t get some pictures of something else while I was there. The problem comes when I am going through the shoot. I need to get the shots I am going to use selected and edited. The other shots are put to one side and, it is really easy to forget about them when the next shoot needs to be worked through.
While this is a bit annoying, it does mean that you periodically come across something long afterwards when you are running through images for another reason. This shot of Hangar 1 at Moffett Field is just such a shot. I saw the shots while looking for a shot of an IL-76. I quickly realized that they were shot to be a panorama and had never been tagged as such. This time I ran it quickly through the pano function and got the shot out. It was shot early in the morning awaiting the departure of Solar Impulse and I like the misty look in the air.
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.
Moffett Field is located close to a couple of satellite manufacturing locations. When the time comes to ship the satellites to their launch location, the transport of choice is often the Antonov AN124. Twice, now, I have caught one of these huge aircraft coming in to pick up a payload. The most recent one resulted in getting these shots. The slightly annoying thing is that both times the plane came in in the middle of the day. This is the worst time for shooting at Moffett because the light is almost directly on the tail of the jet. Earlier or later would be fine. Oh well.
Having been to Moffett Field for the arrival of Solar Impulse and then made another visit to the hangar while they were there, I wasn’t going to miss the departure. This might not seem like a difficult decision to make but if I tell you I had been away in Southern California for the weekend and having driven back on Sunday and then finding out that departure was scheduled for 5am on Monday and we would be required to get there at 2am and I would need to be up at 1am, you can see why this was a bit tougher to do.
However, I was committed at this point (or should have been) so I slept in the spare room so as to not disturb Nancy. Off for an early run. Traffic was no problem at that time as your might imagine. Once there it was back to the same issues as we had faced with the arrival. It was very dark. Hayman did the stills and I went for video but got some stills as well. Unfortunately, they chose not to back-track the aircraft as had been briefed so it took off from ahead of us and went away. We still got some good shots and, while it got airborne very quickly, it got to a certain distance when it seemed like it had stopped moving.
Then, it was time to go. We wrapped up and got on our way. I actually was back at home a little ahead of my normal time to get up so I did my normal routine and headed in to the office. It would be fair to say that I was not at my most perky that day!
Solar Impulse was on the ground at Moffett for over a week while they waited for a good weather window for the next leg to Phoenix. They kindly invited me to go and have a look around in the more relaxed time compared to the arrival! The hangar was located on the apron at Moffett and they weren’t able to have a secure way to have visitors so, sadly, they could not have everything open to the public.
The hangar itself was pretty hot. It was white so reflective but it still warmed up quickly in the sun. The batteries were the only part of the aircraft for which this was a problem so they were permanently connected to air conditioning packs that kept them at the required temperature. I was a touch jealous.
The aircraft fitted snugly into the hangar given that it was custom designed. The air data boom had to be folded out of the way thought. The maintenance team were pretty busy checking out systems ready for the next leg whenever it would occur. Meanwhile, media attention was high and I wasn’t the only one there. A local TV crew were conducting interviews with Bertrand. When they had finished, he was happy to chat for a while.
The team were very generous with time and access but were very nervous about touching the aircraft itself. I wasn’t about to upset them so managed to get what I needed without causing any trouble.
There have been a bunch of AN124s popping in to Moffett Field recently, one of which I saw while at the Solar Impulse arrival event. When I went back for the departure (which I covered for Global Aviation Resource in this article), I was surprised to see another freighter from the old Eastern Bloc. At his one was a more recent version though. It was an Ilyushin IL-76 but one that is fitted with the PS90 engine. It had been brought in to transport the ground crew and their gear for Solar Impulse. They were heading to Phoenix next and, since it was a short flight, everything needed to move quickly.
I didn’t get a great chance to photograph the plane. It was a long way up the ramp and there were too many lights between us to make for a great shot. However, I got what I could. My friend Hayman works nearby and he was able to get the departure later in the morning. I’m not jealous…
Waiting on the ramp at Moffett Field for Solar Impulse, over on the other side of the field we could see another visitor. An Antonov AN124 Ruslan was parked up with its nosed raised in the process of loading a payload. It looked a bit like a satellite container and, given the proximity of two satellite manufacturers, that wouldn’t be improbable. It was a long way off but I had some time to try and get a shot and this was what I got.
The round the world trip of Solar Impulse, the solar powered aircraft conceived of by Bertrand Piccard and built/flown by him and Andre Borschberg, resumed its journey after an enforced stay in Hawaii while they dealt with some overheating issues with the batteries. By the time the batteries were fixed, it was too late in the year to continue. The aircraft charges its batteries during the day and uses them at night. If the day is shorter and the night longer, the flight is not sustainable. The arrival of spring meant they could resume the trip.
Originally the leg from Hawaii to the continental US was supposed to go to Phoenix. The break meant they came up with a revised route which included a stop in the Bay Area at Moffett Field in Mountain View. This meant I could cover it for Global Aviation Resource. There are two articles I prepared which you can see here and here.
The arrival was scheduled for about midnight. Late landings and early departures are scheduled to provide the calmest conditions. The very high aspect ratio, lightweight airframe is sensitive to turbulence. It also is easier to schedule a very slow aircraft in to the air traffic patterns during the night. While the time moved around a bit, it ended up being pretty much as expected. This brought the issue of how to shoot an aircraft at midnight.
I took a second shooter with me in the person of Hayman Tam. I wanted stills and video for the story and can’t get both at once so we worked on it together. He would focus on stills and I would get video. I would also get some stills too. The plane is sufficiently slow that you can get both for most situations apart from the landing itself. It didn’t hurt that Hayman had just taken delivery of his D500 which should be a lot better in low light.
I was mounting my camera and the 100-400 on a gimbal mount to steady it for video. This was also helpful for getting stills. Not ideal but better than nothing. I was at the max ISO for my camera of 12,800 (excluding the extended ranges) with -1 to -2 in exposure compensation. Even so, it was still a very slow shutter speed. Some bursts of shooting were necessary to get a reasonable shot. Fortunately the aircraft has a lot of lights of its own otherwise there wouldn’t be much to see. It’s a shame my new bodies hadn’t arrived at the time as they might have been able to get better results. Even so, I was quite pleased with what I got considering that I was shooting in the darkest conditions I have ever tried for a plane.