Sonoma County is very pretty from the ground but it looks even better from the air. The hills that roll across the county look great and, from above, you get to see way more than you can from the roads. Not only do the hills look great but you also get to see some rather interesting properties that are tucked away in the hills and out of sight. There are some very nice places up there.
The trip to photograph Eric’s Clipper that I described here included a bonus (as if the flight wasn’t bonus enough). Eric had talked to another Clipper owner, Scott, and he had brought his plane across to Sonoma. Scott is not a formation pilot but Eric landed after the shoot with his plane and jumped in to Scott’s plane with Scott in the second seat. We orbited overhead until they joined up and then we got a bunch of additional shots.
Since it was a bit later in the day, the light had got a bit better. The colors of Scott’s plane were particularly receptive to the evening light and, while it was a totally stock aircraft and therefore not possible to get too vertical with (see the roof mods in Eric’s plane in the other post), we could still get some great shots. Thanks Dave and Eric (and Scott for bringing your plane).
Eric Presten is a guy who spends his career photographing other people’s aircraft. He is not so often the subject of the photo. Dave Leininger was writing an article on Piper Clippers and wanted some shots of Eric’ aircraft to illustrate the piece along with some details of the modifications it has and how Eric uses it. I was up at Sonoma Skypark on the day that Dave was visiting and he kindly allowed me along on the photo flight. A Bonanza was the camera ship so I took the second spot shooting over Dave while he was seated on the floor.
Dave had a publication date for his feature so I embargoed these shots until his piece had gone live which it now has. It was late in the afternoon so the light was getting pretty good. The Clipper is a cool little plane and Eric is used to formation work so makes a great pilot for bringing the plane in close. In addition, his plane has a roof that is modified to include a transparency which means he has good visibility upwards. This makes some shots looking down on the plane possible since he can maintain visibility of the camera ship safely while below us.
Shooting air to air is so much fun. It is impossible to avoid stopping shooting every once in a while and just looking outside to see the other plane so close to you. Of course, you are there for a reason so don’t spend too much time staring out of the door. However, never lose the enjoyment of doing something cool.
The weather over Sonoma was absolutely gorgeous when we were out on the photo flight (when isn’t the weather great in Sonoma?). While we were orbiting over the county awaiting the second aircraft to come up to shoot, I was looking out towards the coast. There was a lot more cloud that was hanging over the coastline with the sun still above it. With the door open and a long lens on one body, I figured I should get a few shots of the coastline. It looked gorgeous from where we were.
Part of the entertainment at the Sonoma Skypark Family Fun Day was some skydiving. Some lines were marked out on the grass and Joey jumped from the Cessna flown by Trevor and targeted the landing zone. People could guess which line he would hit with a prize for the closest guess each time. Skydiving looks so cool to me so getting some shots of Joey seemed like a good plan.
He was great fun to hang out with as were the rest of the guys. His first jump came in a bit hot and he landed a little long compared to the marked area. That was not a competition jump, though, so no-one lost out. After that, he was on target for the remaining jumps. I started out staying well back but, as I built confidence in him and he knew I wasn’t going to do anything stupid, I was able to get in a better position to show him coming in. It is a quick transition from a long lens for the aerial shots to a wide one for the touchdown. He is coming in pretty fast. With a few jumps, you can try a different approach each time.
Once on the ground, Joey certainly knew how to keep the crowd happy. He stopped off to chat with people on his way back to repacking the chute and the kids seemed to love talking to him. I need to get more shots of these guys. They were fun and they look cool too. A couple of the group are also in to paragliding so now I have something else I want to check out. I also created a few animations of Joey’s departure from the Cessna so they are included below.
Big airshows can be fun. However, the confined nature of things and the number of people involved can also make them a little less enjoyable. Small events at local airfields do not provide the same level of activity but they can prove to be every bit as fun. Such is the case with the Sonoma Skypark’s Family Fun Day. This is one of those opportunities for a local airfield to invite people from the area to come and see what happens at the field. It is a good way to build relations with the local community.
I may not be “local” but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to join in. I arrived relatively early and some of the setting up was still in progress. A selection of the most interesting (read old) planes based at Skypark were being lined up on display. Some vintage cars were also being added to the lineup. Meanwhile, some of the stands were getting set up for local societies and offering food and drink.
There was no flying display taking place. However, there were some movements covering pleasure flights and some sky diving flights. The airport was shut for the main part of the event although one pilot didn’t seem to notice that. Another arrived and managed to leave the runway and ground loop in the grass. I missed this as I was watching a parachutist landing from the opposite direction. All ended up fine with no significant damage incurred.
Entry to the event included free lunch. There was a steady line of people taking advantage of the food that was being cooked and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Rides on a trailer pulled by a tractor seemed to keep the smaller visitors amused and there were competitions for paper airplanes as well. A lot of people showed up during the day and, hopefully, the bond between the airport and the community got a little bit stronger. I had a great time!
It’s always fun to get a nice surprise while you were out. I was up at Sonoma Skypark with my friend Eric looking at a bunch of pictures he had taken. There is usually something buzzing around on a Saturday so, while the noise of an engine will cause us to look, we normally then return to what we are doing. However, the sound of this engine made us take a second look. It was a Hawker Sea Fury circling high above. This is a plane belonging to Walt Bowe and we watched him high above us. Eric said it was unlikely Walt would do a pass so we just watched casually.
However, as we watched, Walt’s path did look like he was turning in towards us. We paused a little so as not to look foolish but then it was clear he was dropping down towards the field. Fortunately, I had the camera on the table near me. Eric and I jumped up to get to the other side of the field where the light is better. We scurried across as gracefully as two old geezers can and we in position as Walt dropped into his pass. I guess he saw us as we got a great pass from him before he pulled up and continued on his way. Now I want to shoot this plane again but in a more planned way!
We have had the MetLife blimp flying around our area a lot recently. I don’t know what brought it to us. It may have been tied to some sports events or perhaps it is just a campaign for brand awareness. The blimp has been based out of Livermore Airport near us. Nancy had seen it at night over there lit up when she drove past.
Then we had it flying one evening. I had seen it previously just before sunset but I wasn’t ready to get a shot and by the time I was, it had gone. Shame because the light was great. Then it showed up at night. It was pretty dark so I had to really take the ISO up. My camera has pretty good high ISO capability but nothing like the current generation of bodies. However, it did a reasonable job.
Next time I came across the blimp I was up at Sonoma. I heard an odd noise and thought it might be a helicopter. However, Skypark does not allow rotorcraft. Instead it was the blimp shooting a low approach. They weren’t on the banned list so I guess it was okay! The climb out was quite dramatic!
With so many things going on, I realized it had been a while since I made a trip up to Sonoma Skypark for the normal Saturday activities. I arrived and spent time with my friend Eric discussing many things aeronautical. While we talked, a Tiger Moth flew back into the pattern. We stopped to watch it for a moment and Eric assumed I had flown in one before – he couldn’t believe an aviation enthusiast from the UK could possibly not have done so. However, I hadn’t.
As it was, Eric got in discussion regarding an issue with the engine with Mike, the owner of the aircraft. Eric thought a short flight would be necessary to help diagnose the issue and thought I should provide ballast. I was not going to turn down this opportunity.
The flight was a short one as was required to check out the engine. We took off, climbed to a moderate height, flew a couple of turns and then returned to Skypark. It was a remarkably smooth aircraft and seemed to just glide through the air. Eric pointed out the guy with the stick might have something to do with that (for those of you who are photographers the assumption you must have a great camera will spring to mind) and, while I was certainly appreciative of Eric’s flying, I did like how the Tiger Moth flew.
Sonoma Valley airport (Schellville) is surrounded by fields and there is wildlife in those fields. I saw a coyote come wandering out of the field and head for the runway. An aircraft had just landed and was taxiing in at the same time. The two of them met on the runway although with more separation than the photograph suggests. I was particularly impressed by the way the coyote seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing. It stared at the plane for a while and showed no interest in getting out of the way. However, it obviously had other things it wanted to do and eventually turned and trotted off. I’ve no idea what the occupants of the plane made of the whole thing!