My trip to Coupeville to shoot Growlers undertaking FCLP worked out well as described in this post. What I didn’t emphasize in that post is just how close the road is to the north end of the runway. While southerly flow is not normal, when that is happening, you are very close to the action. The pano at the top of the post is the view you get of the runway from the road and plenty of people will show up to watch the jets bouncing.
The fields around the runway need to be looked after. There was a tractor cutting the grass while the jets were bouncing and you can see what a good view the driver probably had of the jets. I assume he had good hearing protection on while he was working in those fields. I also include a shot of a jet coming low over the field. Hopefully that shows just ow close everything is to the road.
Lots of still shots from my visit to Coupeville and the FCLP training for their Growlers but I was there long enough and there were enough passes to allow me to stop worrying about stills and to try getting some video from a variety of angles. Here is a video I put together of some of the jets.
One of the fun things about shooting the FCLP proactive at Coupeville when they are on a southerly flow is that you can stand on the centerline a shot distance from the threshold. The jets are passing very low over the road as they head for the runway so you get a very up close and personal feeling. Hearing protection is definitely worth having.
I experimented with a variety of shots. Looking head on at the jets as they turn on to final is good. They come right over you so you can get a very close up shot head on or, if you want, go to a wider angle lens and have the view right up as they come over you.
You also get to look down the runway once the jets have passed over you. You do have loads of heat distortion as a result of the jetwash behind the jets but that is a small price to pay. You don’t get anything sharp from that angle but it is an interesting view and the jelly air gives a hint to what it is like being behind the jets as they pass overhead.
I’ve made a few trips to Coupeville to watch the Growlers undertaking FCLP training on the field there. My first trip was lucky with the flow to the south and good light. Sadly, I didn’t get to see much activity. More recent trips have had plenty of traffic but they were flying to the north which doesn’t work so well for photography. However, with a forecast for nice weather and a southerly wind so, having been stuck at home for ages, I was keen to get out and shoot some planes while staying a safe distance from everyone.
I got there a little early because I needed to take a work call before things were supposed to get moving. The lighting was at the other end of the field so I was a little concerned that I might be out of luck but shortly after getting there, a pickup truck hooked up to the light trailer and pulled it to the north end of the field. Result!
The jets showed up relatively soon thereafter and really didn’t go away for the next three hours. There were jets arriving and leaving throughout this time but it was rare to not have a jet in the pattern at some point. This gave me plenty of opportunity to walk along the road to try out different angles. I also had enough opportunity to try shooting a bunch of video too. That will show up in another post. There was a fair bit of cloud initially but things cleared up to be very sunny as the afternoon wore on. Here are a bunch of shots of the jets bouncing around the pattern.
Since the Growler crews were training as if they were on the deck at sea, they don’t flare their landings at all. They hit the runway hard and the tire smoke that results is substantial. Normal landing procedure on a carrier is to go to full throttle as soon as they hit the deck. There isn’t time to react if you miss the wire so hit the gas and, if the wire doesn’t stop you, you fly right off the other end of the deck and climb away. Since there is no wire at Coupeville, that means every touchdown is followed by a rapid rotation and climb away. The climb is pretty steep initially which keeps the speed under control until the power is backed off.
The approach to the runway at Coupeville brings the jets right over one of the local roads. This meant I had the opportunity to go for some head on type shots of the jets. As they came right over the top of me, I got a nice view of the underside of the jets. I also experienced the noise level of a Growler. I hadn’t thought to bring hearing protection and, if I go back, which I am pretty sure I shall do at some point, I will remember to take some. You are really quite close and the sound levels are high!
Naval aviators have to practice the art of landing on a carrier a lot. Before they ever go to the boat, they undertake a lot of field carrier landing practice. This involves flying the carrier pattern to a runway as if it was the boat. The outline of the deck landing area is painted on the runway, the lighting is replicated and the guidance calls are provided by crews alongside the runway just as if they were at sea. The crews fly around the pattern and thump onto the runway just like it was the deck and then apply power just like they would if they were aiming for a wire.
Of course, there is no wire so they power up and fly away to repeat again. The goal is to be as practiced with the whole procedure as possible before they ever go to sea. Naturally, there is still a difference dealing with a static runway in a field as opposed to a moving ship in open sea. Still, it is the way to prepare. Naval air stations tend to have separate fields away from the main base at which this training can take place. They are away from the normal base flying and allow this training to take place uninterrupted.
NAS Whidbey Island has its outlying field at Coupeville. They announce when flying training will take place there in order to keep the local community aware of the potential noise. Usually there is little chance for me to go because of work but it turned out that one of the flying days was scheduled to have good weather and I should be able to take time off. Not only was the weather due to be good but the wind was in a direction that meant they would be flying to the end of the runway that is more accessible. I planned to be there.
As it happened, something came up at work and I had to go to Seattle before I could leave. Consequently, I was behind schedule. I eventually managed to get on my way and I got to Mukilteo just in time to catch a ferry. Once on the island, I headed up to Coupeville and, sure enough, as I got closer, I could see Growlers flying patterns. I got to the field and parked up away from the road. I walked back, all the time hearing jets flying around. Then I was in position to get some shots.
I kept moving so I could get closer to the touchdown point but the flying stopped as I got closer. Then they packed up operations. They were done, at least until the evening. If I had missed the boat, I would have missed the whole thing!