Some late day departures after the Flag returns included F-15Es, F-35As, L159s and A-4s. You don’t know how long anyone is scheduled to be out but you find yourself hoping that they will all make it back before the sun sets so you can get some arrival shots in the nicest light available. Once they are gone, it is a case of watching the time and crossing your fingers. As it was, we got lucky. They came back in a steady stream with all of them showing up as the sun was at its best. Arriving over Cheyenne is not ideal from a sun angle perspective at this time of year but we still got some nice angles. Some turned tighter while others went wider so we got to try all sorts of angles out to see which picked up what light was remaining.
The A-4 Skyhawk is a great little jet and I really miss seeing the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s Scooter on a regular basis. I haven’t seen others fly for quite a while, despite one being based on Boeing Field. I had intended to go to a show at Tacoma Narrows to see it but the weather was bad so I didn’t bother. This one had taxied out at Olympia last year and then scrubbed. However, it was scheduled for Skyfair this year so I was hoping to finally have some success.
Indeed I did. Not only did I see it fly at Skyfair but I was lucky enough to be at Paine Field the evening before when it came in from Boeing Field. It was fashionably late but this only improved the light so I wasn’t complaining. The two-seater might not look quite as slick as the single but it is still a pretty neat jet. The passes it gave at Skyfair were nice and close and, despite the harsh heat haze, I was pleased to see it up and about.
My previous effort at photographing the Draken A-4s at Red Flag had not gone well. I got shots of them but the conditions were far from ideal. I had hoped for better and been a bit frustrated. When I went back for Red Flag 17-1, the Draken team had become fully integrated into the aggressor program and were launching on all of the missions we saw. I was optimistic about getting some better shots. However, while the first day was a cracking day for us. One disappointment was that the A-4s went left and away from us on recovery.
Launch was a bit better. I had some close encounters with the jets as they flexed towards us during the departures. However, launch does not give great light so, while the angles were good, the shots were t as good as I would have liked. Our second day did better on the recoveries though. Some of the A-4s came our way and we got some good angles on their turn to final approach. I was a happy boy. The light had finally been good and the angles were nice. Hurrah! The special jet or a two seater would have been even better but I am not complaining. I got both the Kiwi jets and the Israeli jets so it went well.
Over the years, many military installations have been closed down. In what form they get handed back to the local community varies. Close to us is Alameda. This was once a big base for the Navy with many ships based there and an airfield that was home to many operational aircraft. The whole thing is now closed with the runway having garnered most attention as the location for many a stunt by the Mythbusters. The layout of the base is still much as it was beforehand though. The hangars are still there now being home to local businesses.
The aviation theme shows itself in some relics of the past. Gate guardians are common at air bases and Alameda has a few. Drive into the old base along one main road and you go around a grassy circle which has an A-7 mounted on a plinth in the middle. It is loaded up and looks pretty dramatic. Another gate near the water has an A-4 Skyhawk mounted just inside. It has the name of some local dignitaries painted on the side.
Another Skyhawk is not far away. This one is not on the base itself. Instead it is mounted outside a local school. The Jet is not as dramatically painted as the others but it is still a pretty cool thing to have outside your school if you are an aviation nut like me. It actually looks like it could do with a repaint before too long. It’s good to see that they are still on guard duty, even if the thing they were guarding is no more.
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.
My buddy Pete joined me for some fun in the LA area. Pete is a commercial pilot but any form of aviation appeals to him so we have a lot in common. We had a full day available to go exploring. One part of the day was allocated to a helicopter trip but the rest was open time for us. Our first stop was Santa Monica airport.
I was introduced to this great place by another friend, Paul, who was, coincidentally, introduced to me by Pete. It is a short distance north of LAX but is the total opposite. Santa Monica accommodates everything from light sport aircraft to some pretty substantial corporate jets. What it also accommodates is visitors. A nice terrace area is laid out at the terminal building providing a great spot to watch operations with the runway only a short distance away.
The tower frequency is piped to the terrace so you know what is going on. There are vending machines and bathrooms to cover both ends of the spectrum and, in the past, I have seen the airport police officers handing out stickers to kids. The place is so welcoming you see lots of parents show up with their kids to watch the planes. As a UK based pilot, Pete found this to be an amazing improvement on his usual experiences at small airports.
I didn’t actually take my camera initially. I wasn’t sure how long we would be there. As it turned out a couple of cool jets including a nice Gulfstream came in while I was cameraless. No matter. I did get it after a while and got a few shots of traffic before our plans took us onward. Before we left, we did walk across the road to the Museum of Flying. Santa Monica was the home of Douglas Aircraft for many years. The museum was sadly closed when we were there but there was a nice DC-3 on a pole along with an A-4 and an F-86 so something nice to see.
For those of you that have hung around here for a while, hopefully there is more than one of you, you will know that I have spent a lot of time shooting with the Warbird Heritage Foundation up at Waukegan. If you saw my recent post on the T-6, you will know that I was up at Waukegan to see the A-4 fly again. The A-4 is a great little jet and one that I love to see in action.
The aircraft has some new stores fitted underwing. These are practice bomb carriers and they add to the options for displaying the aircraft. They certainly look good. The weather was great on the day I went up and Paul wanted to get up and flying as quickly as he could. He had other things to get to later in the day so getting the jet up and running was a priority. First it required an engine run and a leak check after the servicing and then it should be good to go.
The engine run went well and a couple of minor things were noted and fixed. Then it was time to fly. I decided it would be best to head across the field. The hangar is north of the runway and doesn’t have the best light angle for the aircraft taking off. Fortunately, the wind, while light, meant that the jet would be departing heading in to the light so, from a position by the other hangar (the maintenance hangar is called the Bunker) should provide a good view.
This worked out well, Paul certainly helped by keeping the jet relatively low as he transitioned the gear up. I got some nice close shots as he came by and then he pulled up into a steep climb out. Certainly great and worth the trip – the T-6 flight was a cherry on the top!
Since it is the beginning of the year from an air show perspective, it is time to get the aircraft up and ready for the new season. The winter is a great time for maintenance to be undertaken and the great team at Warbird Heritage Foundation is no exception. A couple of their aircraft were recently up and about being wrung out after winter maintenance tasks and I was lucky enough to spend some time with them while they were undertaking some test flying.
The WHF team is always very welcoming but they are not alone. Jim’s team at Waukegan airport is also really helpful when trying to get in position to get some good shots of the aircraft as they are being tested. The two aircraft at work this time were the A-4 Skyhawk and the A-1 Skyraider. Two great looking aircraft. The weather is not always going to be cooperative at this time of year – not only from a photography point of view but also from a flying perspective. However, you make the best of the chances that come along.