Category Archives: aircraft

I Guess More Harriers Were in My Future

During the trip with Mark, we made the excursion to El Centro to catch the Harriers.  As I wrote in the post about those airframes, I thought it might be the last time I got to photograph Harriers.  Turns out, I was a bit premature.  With an exercise planned up in Alaska, the Marines were planning on taking ten jets to participate.  Their routing staged through Boeing Field.  The plan was for two sets of five jets to come across.

The moves were not entirely smooth.  Bad weather in our area was not ideal, tanker support was not working to plan and then you get the occasional jet that breaks.  However, we did get most of the jets showing up.  The first bunch showed up at Boeing Field from the north.  They were strung out on the approach but, from certain angles, you could see all of them stretched out over Seattle.  One by one they came in and reminded us how loud a Harrier is in STOVL mode.

There was due to be the second wave later in the day, but they ended up showing up on another day.  We had departures of the initial jets as well.  When they called up for departure, they asked the tower to line up on both runways.  This would have put them up at the north and away from where I was.  This was a bad development.  Fortunately, the tower informed them that they were too heavy for the short runway’s surface rating.

Instead, they lined up on the main runway spread out in a line.  They powered up simultaneously and released brakes at the same time.  The northern jet had no problem getting airborne in such a short space because of the STOVL capabilities of the Harrier.  The jets further back were also airborne quickly and accelerating rapidly while still over the field.  They climbed out in a loose line which meant assembling the formation would be a simple process.  What a great thing to see one more time.  Is that it for me and Harriers????

Night Shoot at Pima

One of the special parts of the trip to Arizona was that Mark and I got invited along by our friend Joe to a night shoot at the Pima Air and Space Museum.  I had seen some images from previous night shoots and the idea of photographing the many interesting airframes there in the dark intrigued me.  The museum is excellent and well worth a visit, but it can be hotter than hell there and the light can be quite harsh, so this was a great alternative to try.

When I was a student, I used to do quite a lot of night photography.  In the days of film, you played a lot more of a guessing game as to how things were working out.  Also, film suffered from what was known as reciprocity failure so you could really extend the exposure in low light without necessarily ruining things.  Digital is a lot more linear and also gives you the chance to see how things are coming out and have another go.

A lot of the attendees had done this more than once and had come equipped with a variety of tools to play with.  Lights on stands, wands of different LEDs, huge flashlights etc.  Plenty of things to work with.  I had brought some tools along but was definitely keeping it simpler.  Joe offered us some lights to work with but, since this was a new effort for me, I decided to keep it simple and try to get one approach worked out.

I had a tripod so I could leave the camera in place and then a couple of strobes to play around with.  I had to make some set up adjustments first.  Take off IS from the camera since it can wander over long exposures and make things blurry.  Second, put the strobes on manual power and experiment with how well they do illuminating things.  What I didn’t do but should have with hindsight was to go to bulb mode rather than 30 seconds on the shutter.  At some points with the larger airframes, I was very frantic in trying to get everything lit in the 30 seconds.  It proved to be rather energetic, and I was pretty pooped by the end of it.

I would open the shutter and then move around the airframe illuminating it with pops of the strobe.  I quickly learned to shield the strobe, so it didn’t illuminate me and add me in to the shot.  I also came to realize how the larger areas when I stood back a bit needed more light to compensate.  All of this is logical but not something I thought of before trying it.  More research/planning would have been a good idea.  I was also surprised how my shadow could show up in some shots when I have no idea how it would have got there.

I did photograph some of the more famous assets in the collection – how can you ignore a B-58 or a B-36 – but I did also take time for others that were just of more interest to me.  The size of the place meant you could easily not come across one of the other photographers for a while.  They were helpful in pointing out the hazards of guy wires.  Some of the larger planes have wires to stabilize them and these are basically invisible in the dark.  If you are running around popping off flashes, you could easily collide with something unyielding.  Fortunately, nothing like this for me but maybe some luck in that?

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  It was very interesting and got some nice results.  It also taught me a lot about what I wasn’t doing right and would set me up for a few ideas of how to do things differently in the future.  I think a large flashlight would be an addition I would make, and I would definitely use the cable release and bulb mode.  My thanks to Joe for taking us along and to the team for letting us join in. 

Reinforcement Around the Freight Door

While Alaska Air Cargo has been struggling to add its new 737-800BCFs to the fleet, the -7000 freighters have continued to provide service to them.  I have shot these a few different times, but I got some more recent shots of one of the jets at a time when the sun angle was such that the surface of the fuselage was illuminated in such a way to show up the textures of the construction.  The conversion to freighter involves a lot of reinforcement around the aperture for the freight door.  The light really highlighted this reinforcement well.

Son of Ares Catches Me Out (Almost)

I had made a trip early one Sunday to Boeing Field to catch a couple of departures.  One of them had left earlier than expected and was gone when I got there.  While waiting for the next one, I was sitting in the car on a Zoom call with my family.  I was parked somewhere where it was possible to make out through the fence what was the other side, but it had plastic filaments in the fencing which obscured things to some extent.

I was busy chatting away when I saw the shape of something taxiing across the runway from the FBO which looked both unusual and also familiar.  I jumped out of the car, grabbed the camera and climbed the ladder to grab a shot as the Scaled Composites 401 finished crossing the runway and turned away up the taxiway.  I last saw one of these aircraft at their home base of Mojave in California.

While I had missed the crossing shot of the runway, the flow was to the south so I knew the jet would be coming back my way when it took off.  I was bothered that I was far enough down the runway that it could well be quite high by the time it reached me.  It got to the hold point on taxiway bravo and then sat there for ages.  The tension was painful.

Finally, it lined up and started its takeoff run.  Sure enough, it was quickly off the ground, but good news was to follow.  The pilot had decided to keep it nice and low – possibly to give a good view to the people over at the FBO that were watching the departure.  That meant I got a nice landlocked image as it came by before climbing out swiftly.  What a great surprise.

Mix of F-16s in Tucson

Every once in a while, the Air Force moves airframes around between units.  One may have exhausted the limits on their airframes and they need to be retired or it could just be a balancing exercise to spread the usage types across the larger fleet.  The Arizona Air National Guard unit at Tucson has recently received a bunch of different (calling them new would be a stretch) jets that have come from various units around the country.  They will be marked up with the AZ tail code in due course but, at the time of my visit, they were still carrying markings from a bunch of other bases.  Getting a diverse range of tails before they all became the same was the challenge while there.  Here are some of the results.

The Holidays Bring Us Some A300s

The freighter fleets of the big operators like FedEx and UPS are gradually being recapitalized.  The older jets are heading to the desert and getting replaced with new airframes.  The A300-600Fs in both fleets are not going away quickly but they won’t be around for a lot longer.  The UPS A300s don’t normally show up in Seattle with 767s and MD-11s being the regulars here.  However, the holiday season results in a big increase in parcel traffic and so extra jets tend to show up.  That meant some A300s at Boeing Field.  Great to have them here and I hope we get another time when they show up reliably.

Steve Ballmer’s G650 I Think

I’ve shot this jet before but, on this occasion, I was really happy with the angles I was able to get on it.  The big bizjets have so many power that, unless they are making really long trips, they are usually off the ground in no time at all.  This time, this G650 ran a bit longer and allowed me to get some pleasing angles on it at rotation.  When I was looking through the images afterwards, I saw the logo on the inside of the winglet.  It looked like that of the LA Clippers.  A quick Google search confirmed that the Clippers are owned by Steve Ballmer and, since he is one of the Microsoft founders, it made sense it would be here in Seattle.  Quite a nice looking jet!

Intelsat’s CRJ Thwarts Me with Weather

Testbed aircraft are the sort of thing I like to see and, when Intelsat brought their CRJ to Seattle, I was hoping to catch it.  Sadly, its arrival and some initial flying were not at good times, so I didn’t get to shoot it.  Then it was due out when I was heading to SEA for a trip of my own.  However, the conditions were awful, and I could barely make it out in the gloom as it got airborne.  Cameras – even with really modern tech – struggle to focus on something that is barely visible in the mist.  I did have one last chance when it was taking off, but I was at the terminal at the time and could barely get some shots of it as it taxied and took off. After that, it left.  I was frustrated throughout its time here.  Will it return?

Malaysian Max Departure

A simple post today of a plane taking off.  Nothing too special about this one.  Just a regular Max 8 heading to Malaysia.  Since it was a delivery flight, I knew the jet would be a bit heavier and would have a longer takeoff run.  I was hopeful of rotation in a good place for me to get some shots.  It didn’t disappoint.  I do like the livery on these latest jets for Malaysian Airlines.

Status of the Stuka

When making my first visit to FHCAM after it re-opened, one of the things I was interested to know was whether the Stuka had made any further progress from when I last saw it or whether it was paused for restoration.  Things looked like they had moved on a bit since I was last there, but it didn’t look obvious that a huge amount had happened so that could have been after I was there and before they closed down.  It would be very cool to have a Stuka back in the air so we shall see if this one progresses.  If anyone knows, please comment below.  In the meantime, here are some shots of how it looks most recently.