Red Flag 22-2 included a detachment of B-1B Lancers. The Bone is a cracking jet as it combines the size of a bomber with the shaping and engines of a fighter. It is an elegant shape whether the wings are fully swept or not. I have shot them at Nellis a few times over the years but I was still keen to get some shots of them on this trip. Unfortunately, things did not quite go to plan.
They didn’t fly on the day that I arrived. I had gone out in the evening for the night launch but they were not part of it. The following morning, they launched a lot earlier than I expected so I was still at Cheyenne when they went. My last day, they again didn’t launch. That meant the recoveries from the early launch were my only chance.
Weather was not helping too much. This was not just for the Bones. It was pretty overcast for a good chunk of the afternoon. The two jets came back in formation and broke into the pattern. Thankfully, the arrivals were using the 21s and they were allocated to the right runway. A pretty sporty pattern for a big jet combined with me having chosen a good spot by the Speedway meant that they were almost filling the frame as they turned on to final. Some nicer light would have been great but, since this was all I was getting in daylight, it would have to do.
Boeing Field has a lot of civilian traffic, but it is also a popular stop off point for military traffic. What I hadn’t anticipated was a McChord C-17 wanting to use it for some pattern work. I was sitting in the car working on a spreadsheet updating my forecasts for a project that we are working on. I guess I had heard something call up but was busy with the work and had not realized what was coming. However, the rumbling of four engines got quite loud and I looked up to see the C-17 on short final.
I did grab a couple of quick shots, but luck was on my side. They wanted to fly a few patterns so I was going to get another go at it. The left-hand patterns meant you could see them heading downwind and turning back on to final. I could get on with my spreadsheet and be ready when they came back again. The light was really nice and they seemed to fly a little higher on the approach than is normal so getting shots was not tricky.
At one point, while flying downwind, I could see another C-17 flying directly across the field. They were actually setting up for an approach to McChord and were not going to come our way but it was cool to see both in shot at once. After they completed their pattern work, they headed back north again so I am not sure what their next plans was but I was pleased to have seen them and had the chance to try and few different shots.
When the arrivals at Nellis on on the 03 runways, it means a trip to Cheyenne. This is not the greatest part of the world to visit but it is a feature of a Nellis trip. The sun angles were still quite low while I was there so I decided to try shooting from further around the road than I have done previously. For the planes coming in on the left runway, I had a reasonable sun angle on them. For planes on the right, they were coming right over my head.
I quite liked shooting like this. The planes have a surprising amount of variety in their line up angles when this far from the threshold so, while they are all coming close to you, it is not a repeat of the same shot every time. Each pilot takes a slightly different line and some variation in elevation too. You get something akin to head on shots and then it is a case of rapidly swiveling around to get a shot from behind.
There is a lot of fencing and trees along that part of the road so getting a clean shot of everything is hard to achieve. However, it is still possible to get something a little different. With the light angles being less than ideal, rather than worry about shots that aren’t going to be very usable due to either glare or shadow, why not get something a little different. It does require some quick adjustments and it can get a touch noisy but it is still fun to try something a little different.
The weather at Nellis was definitely not playing ball for the majority of my time at Red Flag 22-2. However, as the recoveries from the afternoon exercise were completing, some of the regular base traffic was getting ready to launch. Nellis is a bit like Seattle (hear me out) in that, even when the weather is a bit crappy in the afternoon, there is a good chance the light improves later on. This proved to be the case on my first full day there.
As the later jets were launching, the clouds had cleared up a bit and there was some nice low angle sun to be had on the aircraft as they headed out. I had gone up past Gate 6 at the Speedway to be in place for any Flex departures and this proved to be a good spot. Some of the jets turned a little beyond me but gave a better top side view while other turned a bit earlier and were almost heading overhead where I was. The light was better than anything I had got earlier in the day so it worked for me.
I stopped at Boeing Field to make a couple of calls and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Boeing T-38 chase jet was not far out. I was able to get the camera out in good time for it to arrive and, even better, while there was plenty of cloud around, the sun popped out to allow me to get a reasonable shot. I then went back to dealing with my calls. I had noticed a USAF T-38 further east in the state but had assumed it was not coming my way. However, I was wrong. A short while later, it called up on approach. The sun was less cooperative which was a shame for a gloom black painted jet but it was still good to shoot. From expecting nothing to getting two T-38s in short order was a nice surprise.
It was recently announced that Nellis AFB has ended operations of the F-15C/D Eagles. The Eagles have been at Nellis since the 1970s so this ends a long association. The Strike Eagles are still based there and there will, no doubt, be F-15EX jets based there in the not too distant future but this was still noteworthy within the aviation community. I have shot a bunch of based Eagles over the years including the aggressor jets. They went a while back so I won’t include them here but here are a few of the Nellis jets over the years.
A few tankers were flying test missions at Boeing Field last year when I spent a little time down there. The sun was out but heat haze was not too bad, so it was a good time to shoot. The dark paint of the KC-46 Pegasus is not ideal for shooting on a bright day (or a dark one for that matter) but you aren’t passing it up. What was more fun was having them taxi close by and getting a good look at the jets. They might still have a bunch of issues to resolve but there are now plenty in service, so they aren’t a rarity. Hopefully they will get the issues fixed soon enough.
The KC-46 Pegasus program continues to be a problem for Boeing. Delivery rates are lower than planned and articles describing the shortcomings in the jets continue to get circulated. They have a long way to go, and Boeing is going to have to spend a lot more money before they are fully capable. Meanwhile, jet do continue to be built and delivered. The earliest jets were given civil registrations because they were undergoing a civil certification program as well as a military one. Two of those jets are now back at Everett getting reworked – presumably because they will ultimately get delivered to the USAF. I shot a couple of them on the airfield while up there one sunny weekend.
While sitting at the terminal at Honolulu waiting for our flight home many moons ago, I was staring out of the window at the traffic arriving and departing. Being in a different area meant plenty of different airlines as well as the more familiar ones. I created a post a while back that included some of the more usual operators. However, the airport shares a runway with the Air Force base. When you are on final approach, you get to see some of the fighters in shelters. It also means that some military traffic might arrive.
A bunch of F-16s started appearing as they rolled out after landing. I don’t know whether Hawaii was their destination or just a good stopover as part of a Pacific crossing. They weren’t making the journey unsupervised though. A KC-10 was dragging them across the ocean and it soon showed up too. I guess the last refueling was the cue for the F-16s to put in a burst of speed to get in first with the “Gucci” following them home.
There was a call sign of an inbound flight at Boeing Field that caught my attention. It was Aspen. This is a call sign that the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB has used since the days of the SR-71. I have seen their T-38s show up at Boeing Field before so thought there was a good chance it could be another one. Sure enough, when they called up on approach, I could see a T-38 inbound. However, it was coming in at the same time as something else and it was actually aligned with the short runway.
They put the power on when crossing the airfield boundary and pulled up into the downwind for a second approach. The first approach had made the jet look pretty small in the viewfinder – I hadn’t realized that they were further away than the main runway – so I went with the 500mm when they came back. This made for a tighter shot than expected. However, I managed to get a few shots of the jet as it turned final – a long way away – and then as it was on short final. A nice treat.