Paul and I headed to Whidbey Island on the hunt. We would be happy to shoot a variety of stuff but P-3s were the goal. Whidbey still has them but they are disappearing fast so get what we can. As it turned out, we got a ton of P-3 action but it was all with the same plane. It flew a bunch of circuits after returning from a training sortie and then finally landed. However, it wasn’t done. A crew change and they were back up. That plane got some use that day. We could hear another engine running but it obviously wasn’t going flying. Here are lots of shots of one specific P-3 instead!
How many times in this blog have I commented on the nice light at the end of the day being the provider of my best shots. It isn’t just about the shot though. Stuff just looks better (hence the better shots) when the sun is low. Mark and I had spent a good day at Coupeville and then at Ault Field but, as the evening was beginning to draw in, we knew a few jets had launched earlier and were due back. As a result, we anticipated some nice arrivals. Mark had also scoped out a better spot for the final turn the jets would be making.
It wasn’t long before we heard some calls on the approach frequency and so we headed to the new location. Our first trade was not the jets we had expected though. Some maritime patrol training was done and a couple of aircraft were making straight in approaches. A P-8 and a P-3 were welcome additions. They may not have been flying particularly interesting approaches but we would have taken them at any time and in this light all was good.
Then the Growlers showed up. The flew some nice curving approaches around us and the evening light was illuminating their topsides in a great way. Clearly these were going to be the shots of the day that we were most happy with. Not only that but they did the decent thing and didn’t land straight away. Instead, a couple of patterns meant we got a good chance to get some shots of them. Once they were down, the radio was quiet and we both had drives home to make so we called it a day. (Sadly, as I got on to I-5 to head south, a C-5 flew over me heading in what appeared to be the direction of Whidbey. That would have arrived in gorgeous light as it looked really nice as it passed over me!)
When Ault Field is operating on 25, the aircraft taxi out to the departure end along a taxiway that gradually brings them into view from the crash gate. The sound will usually precede them and, in the case of the P-3s, that is a pretty distinctive sound. As the day wears on, they are coming at you out of the sun so a bit more silhouetted but that helps to make them look more interesting. They pull around to the hold point, sometimes mixing in with the Growlers before departing off to the west. This is a sight that will soon be gone as the P-8s take over.
A trip to Whidbey Island for me and Paul was aimed at seeing whatever we could get there on a random weekday. In truth, though, what we really wanted was P-3s. With the Orions rapidly being replaced by P-8s, they are getting harder to find and will soon be a memory. Consequently, our fingers were crossed for some of Lockheed’s aging subhunters. It turned out we were lucky.
It wasn’t a busy day for the turboprops but we did get to see a few. A departure early on meant we were pleased to have had some success. We also got arrival traffic later which certainly was pleasing. Our only disappointment was that one of the planes was operating with a rare canoe under the fuselage. We saw it in the distance (when the shots are horribly distorted by heat haze) but it was operating off a different runway from that which we were near, and we never were in the right place. However, we did get some of its buddies so a successful day out.
I had a brief opportunity to head passed the field at McClellan, previously and Air Force base just outside Sacramento. This wasn’t enough time to have a good look around but more of a recce for a future visit. I knew of the Coast Guard and the Calfire facilities so I was looking to see what else was there that might be worth a future look. There were a few bits and pieces around. One thing that I liked was the collection of P-3 Orions in storage. They were operated by Aero Union on firefighting duties before the company went bust. No one has ought them yet. I grabbed a couple of shots over the fence. I might like to come back here to have a more detailed look around.