At the main entrance to the airport at Mojave is an area with some preserved aircraft from test programs. While Mojave is not particularly welcoming to visiting photographers on most of their land, this location seems to be just fine. The dominant aircraft is an ex-NASA Convair CV990. It was used for Space Shuttle landing gear trials amongst many other things. It is joined by an ex-USAF F-4 Phantom and a SAAB 35 Draken that had a second life at Mojave after retirement from the Royal Danish Air Force.
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Edwards Plane On A Pole
Heading into the show at Edwards took you past a lot of planes that had been preserved outside the base buildings. The parking areas around these buildings had been coned off given that there were thousands of vehicles making their way along the roads so stopping to grab shots looked like it might be frowned upon. However, we weren’t always moving so it was possible to grab shots out of the window. I would like to have got more and have seen the shots of others that I missed but I did get a P-59 Airacomet on one of the poles which is a relatively rare beast.
Edwards AFB might be the home of the USAF flight test center but it is also home for NASA’s Armstrong test center. Consequently, NASA was included in the flying display. They put up a three ship formation that mad a series of passes. The formation was led by a Gulfstream with an F-15 and an F/A-18 on the wing tips. The Eagle is one that has been with NASA for years and is painted in a white scheme. The Hornet was still in Strike Test colors from Pax River but I have no idea how long it has been with NASA.
The two jets also did some demonstrations of sonic booms as they maneuvered high above the crowd with the booms reaching the ground at different times depending on how high they had been created. The sound was also modified by the maneuvering of the jet. Formations like this don’t appear regularly at air shows so this was a welcome addition to the flying program.
Joe Davis Airpark
I have been through Palmdale a few times but none of those previous trips coincided with a time when the Joe Davis Airpark was open. I got to look through the fence at the aircraft on display but couldn’t go in. This time, I was better prepared and was able to check the place out at my leisure (if you ignore having to do a Teams call halfway through while trying to find some shade and avoid noisy kids). As it happened, they were planning on closing earlier than scheduled that day so I could have had another miss if I had waited until later in the day!
The park has a wide variety of aircraft types scattered around. Photography is okay as things are not right on top of each other but the desert sun is still pretty harsh and so doesn’t make for the best results. Still, I’m not going to stop shooting images just for that reason. There are a couple of more unusual types on display and at least one of those is going to get its own post. There are plenty of fighters and trainers. An F-14 is always a welcome jet on display but an A-7 is also going to go down well with me as will an F-101. The C-140 was a nice surprise as I do like a JetStar.
The larger aircraft start with a C-46 which was a bit close to the fence so made for a more busy background. It is a small exhibit compared to the two largest items on display. B-52s are well represented in museums around the US. They were certainly built in large quantities. This one has a Hound Dog missile alongside. Next to it, though, is the most special asset. A 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Retired by NASA at the end of the Shuttle program, it now resides in the sun a short distance from its old home at Edwards.
D558-II Skyrocket On Campus
The NASA high speed research program was underway in parallel with the USAF’s X Plane program. While NASA was less focused on record setting, they did have one blast of glory when they were the first to hit Mach 2. The aircraft that they used was the D558-II Skyrocket. Three of the airframes were built and they all still survive. Originally designed to have a jet engine for take off and landing and a rocket for high speed flight, the later aircraft did not have the jet and were air dropped for their missions.
One of the early airframes is now on display in the City of Lancaster on the campus of Antelope Valley college. Since I was staying nearby, I decided to swing by on the Sunday morning to see the plane. The campus was nearly deserted and it felt like I was doing something I shouldn’t but there was no problem walking around the campus. The plane is mounted on a pole in a dynamic pose towards the sky as seems appropriate. I had chosen a good time because the light on the plane was pretty good.
The Skyrocket is a sleek airframe as you would expect for something that first broke Mach 2. Being painted white also helps it look slightly futuristic. I spent a bit of time wandering around and trying different angles on the subject to make it look as cool as possible. I had just about finished when my buddy Chris showed up so I spent more time trying to get in the way of his shots!
Wake Patterns in Clouds Over Edwards
During the air show at Edwards AFB, there was a lot of maneuvering of aircraft high above the crowds. There was a little cloud at higher levels – not enough to stop it being almost uncomfortably hot, but enough to be visible – and the planes that flew through this level left their wakes through the cloud layers breaking them up and forming patterns where they had been. I thought this looked really cool and, because the show was backlit, the sun was coming through these patterns and the shadows made them appear more conspicuous. A C-17 flew across at one point which gives you some idea of the scale of these interesting patterns in the sky.
Argosy Still Hanging On
I bumped into a guy I had met before while at Fox Field outside Lancaster CA. He had just arranged a ride out on to the ramp with one of the airport staff and invited me to come along. One of the old airframes stored at Fox Field, near the air tanker ramp, is an old Armstrong Whitworth Argosy. I have no idea of the history of this airframe and how it ended up here but here it is. We were free to wander around and get some shots of it.
I understand it has been at Fox Field for a long time. It isn’t going anywhere in a hurry but, courtesy of the dry climate, it is only decaying slowly. I have no idea how long it will be before it becomes unsafe to have around any longer but I imagine it will be a while. Definitely an unusual aircraft to get to shoot these days.
Lancaster Jets On Sticks
My friend, Paul, had advised me that Lancaster CA had a couple of aircraft on poles that were worth a look. One is a retired Air Force test F-4 that sits at a busy intersection next to a rail station. The other is a NASA F/A-18A that is at the entrance to a baseball stadium. I decided to try and photograph both one evening when the light would be most favorable.
The guys hanging out near the F-4 looked a little perplexed as I drove up and started photographing this plane on a pole. I think they didn’t see the interest in it that I did. I think I attracted a few strange glances and I grabbed some shots and then headed back to the car. The Hornet at the baseball stadium was a different story. Not too many people around at that time so I took some shots and then headed off. There was one more target of interest but that would have to wait for a morning visit.
There are many ways in which the largest aircraft in the world might be defined. It cam be dimensional and it can be by weight. Depending on which you choose to use, the Stratolaunch aircraft can probably qualify for one of them. A project that was started under the oversight of Paul Allen and, for which the future suddenly looked bleak when he died. However, it has continued and now seems to have a possible future.
I was hoping that it might make a flight for the Edwards show. On the Friday, the jet was out taxiing at Mojave. I missed it being out on the runway but I could see it moving as I drove north. Consequently, I made a quick detour to see what I could see. It was being brought back to their ramp when I got there. The airport security were kind but firm about not hanging around so when they arrived shortly after I did, I left as requested. Fortunately, I had already had a brief opportunity to take some photos of it. I understand it flew a few days later carrying the launch vehicle (probably a mass and aero simulator) on a test flight. We shall see if it progresses to launches before too long.
Scaled Composites 401
The day after I went to the Edwards show, I was hanging around the area and headed up to Mojave to see whether Stratolaunch was going to move. It didn’t, which was disappointing but the time up there was not wasted. I got to shoot some stuff around the airport that I hadn’t previously and I went to the north end to look down the runway in case anything was moving. I saw that a Western Global 747 was coming in and decided to head to the south end to get it arriving. As I left, an L39 took off to the north. I should have paid more attention to it.
I short while later – once I was well away, it was followed by a more interesting plane that it was acting as chase for. A Scaled Composite 401 known by a variety of names including Son of Ares. To miss that climbing out past me was bad. It got worse when I realized the 747 had approached from the north so I missed it anyway. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake when the 401 returned.
I did have to wait for quite a while. They were undertaking flights at altitude and running racetrack patterns. I could get the occasional distant shot as they went overhead. Eventually the L39 returned and I figured it wound’s be too long before the 401 was back. I had picked a spot on Google Maps that looked promising for the approach. As I waited, I realized some other photographers were on the other side of the road and closer to the centerline. I wondered about moving but also didn’t want to miss it while I did so. I stayed where I was. A bit distant but still worth it for an unusual type. It has been seen at Boeing Field but not by me!