I was thinking back to previous RIAT shows when I was putting together the 2006 post here. RIAT was my first encounter with the B-2. I recall it showing up to a show one year for a flyby without landing. It flew through accompanied by a pair of F-15Cs, one on each wing. Then, another year – maybe the next but I don’t recall for sure – one was actually deployed to the show. It was parked up so close to everyone on the flight line. I took quite a few pictures of it because it was so new and interesting. (A few pictures in the film days was a let less than it became in the digital days!) Even now, I think a show would consider it quite a coup to have a B-2 on the ground.
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.
The B-2 has been around for a long time now. However, with only 20 of them around, they are still a rarity and good to try and catch. We were having mixed luck with them during Red Flag. We were late to the runways and so missed the launch. I got an iPhone shot and that was it. They were almost the last aircraft to recover so, again, we were on the bus when they landed. This was more frustrating since the sun was low and right down the runway making them look amazing. I was on the wrong side of the bus so just watched what I could see through the opposite windows. My colleague, Chris, was on that side so did get some shots for the feature.
The following day I saw them launch. Early shots at Nellis from the speedway are not the best. They are quite heavily backlit so getting a good shot is not really practical. They also launch the B-2 from the far runway so it is a bit further away as well. When they were coming back, I had an idea. There is a location a lot further out which is quite good at night for looking over the field. You are in line with the runways so I thought it might be a good spot as the B-2 recovered. They would be relatively low since they were landing and the great evening light would be right on the nose.
As the recoveries wound up, I packed my gear and left the rest of the guys on the speedway and drove off. I was getting quite close to the time I needed to leave for the airport so I was ready to get going as soon as they came in. First I got the tankers coming back. They did a bit of pattern work which was a bit disappointing but not the end of the world. I could see the crews de-rigging the cables since the B-2 and Sentinel cannot trample the wires. Then the Sentinel came into view. The runway still wasn’t clear so I wasn’t surprised when it broke off the approach and flew a pattern. Again, a bit disappointing but not too bad.
Finally the B-2s came into view. Time was now passed when I really should be gone but I had waited this long so I wasn’t going to quit now. The jet came down the approach and right over me as planned. It looked great. It was being followed by the other which then broke off its approach. I figured I had tried my luck enough and started to pack up. Then the first jet flew a go around and went into the pattern. I can only imagine how good the shots were that the guys at the speedway got as it flew around in the lovely evening light. I hope they were good. I was pleased with what I got so all was well. A dash to the airport went well and I made the flight without too much trouble.
I was back at Nellis AFB recently for another Red Flag exercise for Global Aviation Resource. Chris Wood and I were there to cover it and the piece we put together can be found at this link. After the last visit to Red Flag when a security issue resulted in all of the media being escorted off base just before the launch, I was hoping for better luck this time. Fortunately, we did pretty well. The launch went well and, while the light was a bit poor for the departures, it got better as the day went on.
Standing between the runways as the aircraft go off each side is pretty cool. We had a lot of USAF assets this time but also some Navy Growlers and RAF Typhoons. An RAF Sentinel was a nice addition – particularly as it was the aircraft with the squadron markings. One unfortunate element was that the launch was earlier than had been scheduled for our visit and the early aircraft off included the B-2s. We were still on the bus when they launched. I managed to get a shot with my phone out of the window but that was it. I do actually quite like the shot so all is not lost.