I mentioned the arrival of some USAF T-38s in this post. They weren’t alone, though. Boeing had both of their T-38 chase jets out on missions and they had to come back at some point. The day had lovely weather so I was going to wait around and get on with some work to see when they showed up. The jets have similar paint schemes but are slightly different in detail. I had shot one of them in nice conditions once so was keen to do better. I got both of them as they returned so finally felt like I had some success.
I wonder how long they will last. Since Boeing has won the contest to replace the T-38 in USAF service, I wonder whether the early T-7 jets they built will find their way to Boeing Field at some point to support flight test activities. They will probably not be a match for production jets so would be of less use for in service test activities. We shall see. The T-33s are still around so the T-38s may have years ahead of them.
This is part one of a two-parter. I was at Boeing Field sitting taking calls and doing emails and keeping an eye out for anything interesting. That included the Boeing chase T-38s but they are going to have their own post. They weren’t the only T-38s though. Three jets from Beale AFB also showed up. I missed the first and got the second as it landed. The third followed a while later. Strangely for Boeing Field (which sits under the SeaTac approach path) it did an overhead join and then broke into the pattern before landing.
The three jets were on the ground for a while and didn’t leave to late in the day. I heard them call up that they were taxiing and decided to try and get down to the other end of the field for the departure. As I drove down, I could hear them on the radio getting ready to go. I knew it was going to be close but sadly, it wasn’t close enough. As I pulled in to the parking area, they took off in formation. They kept it low and the light was gorgeous. It looked great but no photos to prove it. The third jet had taxied out but must have had an issue because it returned to the ramp. Oh well…
Boeing Field gets the occasional military visitors and you never know what might show up. I glanced up and saw a pair of T-38s downwind for arrival. They came in with about a minute of spacing between them. The tail codes showed them to be Beale jets. They headed to the FBO at Modern and were soon being refueled. The canopies stayed up so they may have been heading out again a while later but I had to move on so I didn’t get to see them depart.
I have struggled to get shots of the Boeing chase aircraft in decent light. Whether it is the T-33s or the T-38s, my encounters have generally been on overcast days. Finally my luck changed and one of the T-38s came in to Paine Field for a couple of approaches on a sunny day. It was the middle of the day so the light angles weren’t great but it was certainly a step up. A couple of passes and then they headed to Boeing Field.
Northrop Grumman brought the Firebird to Fairford for RIAT. RIAT is a big public show but it has developed a significant trade element to it and Firebird was clearly aimed at that audience. It is a Scaled Composites design (with Northrop Grumman having bought Scaled a while back) and, while it has a cockpit, apparently it has the option to be flown unmanned. I don’t know whether this is well tested or not. Nor do I know the state of production examples. I believe the one at RIAT was the prototype.
It was parked in the static park for a portion of the time I was there. I did see it getting towed across to the north side at one point, presumably so it could be parked in a hangar rather than left out. Supposedly, there is a US Government order for some of these and I imagine they will be fitted with some interesting systems. Whether I shall ever see one is a different story.
I was walking around the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tukwila after the opening ceremonies had concluded. A few things took off while I was there but nothing caught my eye. Then I heard another jet get airborne. I looked around and saw a CRJ climbing out. However, this was no normal CRJ. It was one of the Northrop Grumman radar test beds. These have replaced the BAC1-11 jets that are now all retired. I got the camera up late (settings weren’t ideal either) and shot it as it disappeared into the distance. I had no idea it was on the ground (and would have gone looking for it had I known). Oh well, win some lose some!
E-8 JSTARS are not a rare thing at Red Flag but they do often get involved in the night sorties. Seeing one heading out to play for the daytime activities was a pleasant surprise. On their return on the first day they were following in the KDC-10 that I mentioned in a previous post. They also adopted some sporty approach techniques and were similarly unsuccessful in converting them in to a landing. The go around ensued and was followed by a more conventional straight in approach and landing.
A jet I don’t often get to see in action is the E-8 JSTARS. There aren’t a huge number of them and they often fly at times that don’t suit photography so I have not previously got a lot of shots of them and certainly not too many in flight. Based on the 707-300 airframe, they were pretty old when they were selected for conversion to the JSTARs mission. They are definitely showing their age and the USAF is in the process of competing for a replacement program. There are a few years left for the E-8 but they won’t be around for too much longer.
One feature of their age is the engines that they have. The jets are fitted with old JT3D engines. A program had been put in place to re-engine them with JT8Ds and a modified jet did fly. However, the program was put on hold due to the potential for a replacement aircraft making the payback period unviable. As a result, we got the old smoky jets. It isn’t as bad as the old pure jet days of the KC-135s and B-52s but it still is easy to track the jet as it climbs out courtesy of the black trail it leaves behind.
A few years ago, I was in the LA area with my mate Paul. We decided to try our luck with a visit to Palmdale. Home of Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale has a history of interesting aircraft. The Blackbirds were assembled here as were the Space Shuttles. The B-2 bombers were also assembled on site. It is home to some NASA aircraft and continues to support a variety of types. Consequently, you can see some really interesting stuff. Alternatively, you can have a day with nothing going on. It is the luck of the draw.
We decided to try it out anyway and see what we could get. One of the NASA ER-2s had been active so there was hope that it might be up and about. One thing we hadn’t anticipated was that the weather was not going to be great. We had figured it was likely to be clear but actually there was a fair amount of cloud cover all day. Not ideal but it did keep the temperature down.
We did have success with the ER-2. Unfortunately, we did not choose well for our locations. It took off and landed on the runway that we were not close too. Consequently, we got some shots but they were a bit distant. We discussed a rapid change of location but, fearing we would get nothing by being in the car at the wrong time, stuck with it.
Our location was not a total bust though. We did get a sister ship. A USAF U-2S came in and we got some shots of that. It was not alone. A B-2 also made some approaches. We figured it was coming from Edwards and heading back there again. Sadly, shooting black aircraft against a cloudy sky is a bit tricky. Still, we might have done worse. After a while, the local movements of Northrop Grumman shuttles had been enough so we decided to get on the road back to LA.
Every once in a while I am looking for things to include in the blog from previous photographic outings. I was discussing an aircraft with an unusual radar installation which will now show up in an upcoming blog post as well. However, it triggered another thought about some radar testbed aircraft that I used to see quite regularly. For a number of years I was working in Washington DC on a regular basis and I would fly in to BWI airport. Aside from being a popular hub for Southwest, it is also the home of a Northrop Grumman radar plant.
They have a hangar on site which not only deals with their corporate aircraft but also their testbeds for the airborne radar programs. This hangar is located along a tree lined taxiway so everything is pretty obscured from view (unless you are airborne when you can see in a lot more clearly). The two testbeds that I saw quite frequently were a Sabreliner business jet and a BAC 1-11 airliner. The 1-11 was a regular sight when I was a lot younger but now they are almost all gone. Therefore, this was the one I was always pleased to see.
Sadly, I often saw them when I was without a camera or the camera was away. No electronics below 10,000’ in those days. However, I did catch them occasionally so these shots are a reminder of what was there. I suspect that the 1-11 is no longer in use. I imagine it was becoming a pain to maintain but I don’t know for sure whether it still is around. If you know, please do tell me.