A sunny weekend day at this time of year is not to be wasted so I took a bike ride across to Seattle. I was heading for Discovery Park and one of the trails that made up my route took me passed a lot of the local shipyards. As I approached one of them, I saw what looked like a funnel. Then I realized it was a mock up of a whole ship. It even had a helicopter on a pad. One my return journey, I stopped to take a look. I realized that there was a lot of piping underneath the structure and it had a notice about a fire training facility. I guess they can simulate fires in different parts of the vessel and crews can be trained to handle them. I wonder what it is like on the trail when the training is underway.
I have driven past the Seahawks training facility on I-405 more times than I can think of. I have also ridden by a couple of times on my bike when doing the loop around Lake Washington. I was doing another ride but, this time, I wasn’t bothered about keeping my average speed up and so was willing to make stops along the way if there was something worthy of a look. I figured this would be one such thing.
It is called the Virginia Mason Campus and is located alongside the lake. There are outdoors facilities but there appears to be a large indoor training space. A huge twelfth man flag is on the side of the structure. I took a quick look around and grabbed some photos with my phone. I thought I had taken a couple more but the app I use has been misbehaving recently and some of the shots were not saved. As I made my way out, I passed the entry sign which appears more welcoming than the fences and guard houses suggest when you get closer.
The sun was forecast, I had some time to spare and there was even suggestion of southerly winds so I took a day off and headed to Whidbey Island. Coupeville was planned for some FCLP training for the Growlers from Ault Field so I went up to see what I could see. With winter light, the sun is way to the south. It cross the centerline of the runway by late morning and, unfortunately, the first flight to arrive came after this time. They only had one meatball on the field and it was set up at the south end. The wind was southerly but not strong so they clearly decided a small tailwind was easier than dragging the lights to the other end and aligning them. Crap!
I spent some time on the sunny side which is far from the touchdown zone. I shot some stills and some video. The jets only get close when they are well airborne but it was possible to get a few shots that were okay. When they had finished the practice you knew it was the case because the jets cleaned up and powered away. I headed down to the water to have some lunch.
It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of jets again. I saw a couple of them turning over the bay and descending to the field so headed back up. While the light was on the wrong side, I figured I would just try something new since the alternative was just more of what I already had shot. It even was the same jets as the earlier session. I shot some backlit landings near the touchdown zone (and I was not alone – plenty of people stopped their cars to watch). With a bunch of shots and video done, I figured it was time to head home.
My buddy Mark let me know that some more FCLP training was scheduled for Coupeville on a day with a good weather forecast. Sadly, the wind suggested they would be operating in the opposite direction to that of my last visit (as discussed here and here) but there was the possibility of some morning flying which might mean the sun was on the right side for a while, even if a bit on the tail of the jets. Unfortunately, the unit didn’t get the memo and they showed up in the middle of the day for the first round of flying so, while the conditions were okay, they were working against us.
Still, there are a lot worse things to do than watch Growlers bouncing through FCLP training. You can move along the fence line at Coupeville to try and vary the angle, so Mark and I were zipping to and fro in order to try and find something different. There are some bushes on the field that can be a touch inconvenient when looking to capture the moment of touchdown but a little experimentation and you could get a good result.
The jets appear to come through a tunnel in the trees as they are on final approach and the trees provide a nice backdrop for touchdown. As they power up and away again, the light angles are most favorable so you can get a few good shots. However, they end up pretty samey pretty quickly.
We expected a second batch of jets in the early afternoon so headed to the other side. Here you are a lot further from the runway so the jets on the ground are rather distant and heat haze is a bit of a problem. We got a few movements and then headed back to a nearby park where the jets tend to turn over the top of you as they enter the downwind. The light is a bit better here but, again, the shots are pretty repetitive. The only change is when the jet is done and it climbs straight out cleaning up as it goes.
With a decent amount of shots made, we decided it was time to try our luck elsewhere. The Growlers would get back to Ault Field pretty quickly but we were going by car so it was a little longer for us. However, there was much to justify the trip and that will be apparent in some upcoming posts.
I miss the amount of helicopter shooting I used to do. Every once in a while I come across a help in action and I feel like it is a little victory. One time it was the local sheriff’s department practicing line work and that showed up here. On this occasion, I was coming away from an interview I had done for a GAR feature. I was at Yolo County airport in California. As I drove down the road, an MD500 was hovering over the field next to the road.
I pulled off a short distance away to see what was going on. PG&E is a local power company and they appeared to be running a training program for they power line teams. They were hooking up transmission components and moving them a short distance to another team that then unhooked them. This process continued as they moved items from place to place giving the ground teams practice with the various items.
There was a strong breeze and a bit of gustiness so the pilot was working quite hard but, since everything was at ground level, I suspect it was a lot easier than if this was at the top of a pylon. He wasn’t the one getting the training, though, by the look of it. I watched for a while and from a couple of different angles and then left them to it. I hope the class was successful.
Draken International has been acquiring some of the best of the retired A-4 Skyhawks to add to their fleet. Their goal is the provision of tactical training services to air forces. Their jets have come from Israel and New Zealand and they have won a number of contracts. I saw them at Nellis AFB where they were providing support services to the USAF. They had a number of jets there working on Red Flag and weapons school projects.
We didn’t get the best conditions to shoot them. They were departing in the morning in conditions when they were rather backlit. For the recoveries, we were struggling to be in the right place to get them. Overall, I was not too happy with the results. I will be back at some point though. Hopefully I will get a better chance to shoot them. Having missed the media day, I didn’t get to shoot them on base which would have been a lot better. Sadly, the twin seater was lost shortly after my visit. Fortunately, the pilot banged out okay.
It is that time of year when large men start practicing to inflict pain on each other – and if you are a Bears fan – on us too! With the negotiations over, it is time for training camp. The Chicago Bears hold their camp at a university down in Bourbonnais Illinois. With some spare time now on my hands, I decided to make a trek down for one of the public sessions.
With the temperature in the 90s, this might not have seemed like the best idea but it was windy and that really made things feel a lot better – although I think some of the receivers might have been using it as an excuse! I went to the camp for the first time last year. I had checked on what camera gear they allowed and the person I had spoken too said nothing too big. That time I took a 70-200 as my biggest lens and got there to see a fair few honking pieces of glass.
This time I took what I wanted and I’m glad I did. Not only does it make shooting easier but people are amazingly accommodating when they see big lenses. While they were all fighting each other for a spot when they were shooting with their phones, as soon as I wandered up, people would drag their relatives out of my way without me ever having to say a thing. Great stuff. Don’t see that at an air show very often!
I didn’t stay for the whole session. it was a bit toasty and lugging the gear around to different spots to try different things doesn’t help to keep you cool. However, I was happy with what I saw and slightly happier in the car with the aircon cranked up! It is a great thing if you like football. The price of a ticket for Soldier Field is astronomical but this is free and you get to see a bunch of stuff. The staff were all universally welcoming and you felt good about being there. Plus, some of the shots came out quite well!