I have not seen Mako F-16s very often. Seeing one taking off from Tucson was quite a surprise and definitely a good one. It was accompanied by a jet in Texas Reserve markings to so maybe there has been a swap of some jets.
The home team at Tucson International are the Arizona ANG F-16s. The Iraqi and Dutch jets may be of interest but the local jets are still worthy of attention. I didn’t get as much time to shoot them as I would have liked but there were still a few chances to catch some of them departing and recovering so here are a few from those times.
I don’t know whether the timing was favorable or whether there is just a lot of traffic but I saw quite a few corporate jets on the move at Tucson during my short time shooting there. Corporate stuff is always a nice break from the regular airline traffic although it can be harder to shoot. The jets are usually smaller and the bigger ones are often performing well within their capabilities so get airborne really quickly and are way too high by the time they get to you.
Even so, we did okay. A couple of Hawkers were heading out and I was particularly pleased to get a Global Express. It did look a touch anonymous but maybe I can pretend that means there is an interesting story behind it.
Iraq places an order for F-16s a number of years ago. The first aircraft were not initially delivered to the country but instead went to Tucson to set up a training unit. There are still some aircraft there being used to train new Iraqi pilots. Soon the remaining jets will head to Iraq following those that have already been delivered. I hadn’t seen them before since this all happened since my last visit to Tucson. They operate from Tucson International, alongside the ANG unit and the Dutch training unit.
We had a few movements of the Iraqi jets while I was there and these were, apparently, some of the newer jets to have been delivered. They have adopted a different camouflage pattern to the normal F-16 scheme so it is easier to recognize it is them as they approach. I doubt I will be back before they leave the country so this was one of the few times I will likely see these jets.
Boneyards can be interesting place to explore. Old stuff and things from odd locations abound. On one side of Tucson International Airport is a place filled with old airliners. Some are being worked on and will fly again. Others are being stripped for the useful parts that they have. I didn’t get to go inside but instead wandered along the fence line seeing what was going on. Interestingly, having seen one of the last flights of the Texas 737 for Southwest, I was surprised to find it here a few days later. It was being broken down already. Other 737s were looking short of key parts and a few MD-80s were looking unlikely to move any time soon. A couple of A320s were there and they did look like they might be on the move at some point. One was being repainted which I imagine means it has a future.
On my previous visit to Tucson, I saw the Rolls Royce owned Boeing 747 engine testbed. This was converted for the Boeing 787 Trent engine development program (hence the registration N787RR). The Number Two engine was removed and replaced with the test engine. The other three Rolls RB211s are unchanged. At various times the testbed has been reported to be without an engine in the test location but there was something there when I was last here – it’s just they didn’t fly. This time was different.
I saw the testbed when I left the airport after my flight landed. The following morning, I headed out to see what F-16 traffic there was and saw online that a flight plan had been filed for the testbed. I only had a certain amount of time before I was due to be at Hawgsmoke but it was supposed to fly long before that. Of course, test flying is not usually something that happens to a tight schedule and the takeoff time came and went. We were beginning to think we might miss it when the sound of some large engines spooling up reached us. A while later, out she came.
Engine testbeds require some careful control. Since one engine is significantly different in thrust from the others, there is a balancing act required to keep the thrust differential within the ability of the control surfaces to overcome. That means the max thrust is not always going to be used. Consequently, they use a good portion of the runway for takeoff rotating just passed our location. That meant I didn’t get the front quarter rotation shot I had in mind.
No matter, I still got to see it fly. The return was about six hours later and I was busy elsewhere at that time. I figured that was it for this trip. I was wrong. The morning of my departure, I had a little time to spare so went back to see what was happening. Amazingly, the testbed was already being crewed as I drove up. We got a repeat of the previous day and some similar shots. I guess I was compensating for not seeing it fly last time!