NOLF Coupeville was scheduled for FCLP training and strong winds from the Southeast were forecast which suggested the right runway would be in use. I also had a day off scheduled. While the rest of the weather was potentially not ideal, I figured I would make the trip. Why. Not? They were due to be flying from late morning but, as seems to be usual, it was just after noon by the time things started to look active.
I was worried about the low cloud base but it was actually not a problem. The wind was really strong gusting 20-30 kts. This was giving them some interesting flying. Early on, there was a hint of sun sometimes which really helped the photos. As they climbed out after each touchdown, the skies behind made from interesting backgrounds and showed off the heat haze from the exhausts as well as the streaming tip vortices courtesy of the damp conditions.
After a while, I got a visit from the Navy Police. The young lad informed me I wasn’t allowed to photograph the jets. I pointed out I could be he was most insistent that I couldn’t. Rather than have trouble I decided the stop shooting. As it happened, the conditions got a bit worse anyway so I had got the best of what was on offer. I just watched the rest of the flying which included quite a few bolsters and some sketchy touchdowns as the wind got stronger.
The Growlers weren’t the only things flying at Coupeville while I was there. A bunch of bald eagles were also flying in the vicinity. They were crossing the approach path for the FCLP training which had me a little concerned. I thought they would get lost when the jets showed up but they clearly weren’t very concerned and were used the the jets. They might have got close but they seemed to stay just far enough away to avoid any conflict. A bird strike with a bald eagle would probably be messy for all concerned.
My trip to Coupeville to shoot Growlers undertaking FCLP worked out well as described in this post. What I didn’t emphasize in that post is just how close the road is to the north end of the runway. While southerly flow is not normal, when that is happening, you are very close to the action. The pano at the top of the post is the view you get of the runway from the road and plenty of people will show up to watch the jets bouncing.
The fields around the runway need to be looked after. There was a tractor cutting the grass while the jets were bouncing and you can see what a good view the driver probably had of the jets. I assume he had good hearing protection on while he was working in those fields. I also include a shot of a jet coming low over the field. Hopefully that shows just ow close everything is to the road.
One of the fun things about shooting the FCLP proactive at Coupeville when they are on a southerly flow is that you can stand on the centerline a shot distance from the threshold. The jets are passing very low over the road as they head for the runway so you get a very up close and personal feeling. Hearing protection is definitely worth having.
I experimented with a variety of shots. Looking head on at the jets as they turn on to final is good. They come right over you so you can get a very close up shot head on or, if you want, go to a wider angle lens and have the view right up as they come over you.
You also get to look down the runway once the jets have passed over you. You do have loads of heat distortion as a result of the jetwash behind the jets but that is a small price to pay. You don’t get anything sharp from that angle but it is an interesting view and the jelly air gives a hint to what it is like being behind the jets as they pass overhead.
I’ve made a few trips to Coupeville to watch the Growlers undertaking FCLP training on the field there. My first trip was lucky with the flow to the south and good light. Sadly, I didn’t get to see much activity. More recent trips have had plenty of traffic but they were flying to the north which doesn’t work so well for photography. However, with a forecast for nice weather and a southerly wind so, having been stuck at home for ages, I was keen to get out and shoot some planes while staying a safe distance from everyone.
I got there a little early because I needed to take a work call before things were supposed to get moving. The lighting was at the other end of the field so I was a little concerned that I might be out of luck but shortly after getting there, a pickup truck hooked up to the light trailer and pulled it to the north end of the field. Result!
The jets showed up relatively soon thereafter and really didn’t go away for the next three hours. There were jets arriving and leaving throughout this time but it was rare to not have a jet in the pattern at some point. This gave me plenty of opportunity to walk along the road to try out different angles. I also had enough opportunity to try shooting a bunch of video too. That will show up in another post. There was a fair bit of cloud initially but things cleared up to be very sunny as the afternoon wore on. Here are a bunch of shots of the jets bouncing around the pattern.
The sun was forecast, I had some time to spare and there was even suggestion of southerly winds so I took a day off and headed to Whidbey Island. Coupeville was planned for some FCLP training for the Growlers from Ault Field so I went up to see what I could see. With winter light, the sun is way to the south. It cross the centerline of the runway by late morning and, unfortunately, the first flight to arrive came after this time. They only had one meatball on the field and it was set up at the south end. The wind was southerly but not strong so they clearly decided a small tailwind was easier than dragging the lights to the other end and aligning them. Crap!
I spent some time on the sunny side which is far from the touchdown zone. I shot some stills and some video. The jets only get close when they are well airborne but it was possible to get a few shots that were okay. When they had finished the practice you knew it was the case because the jets cleaned up and powered away. I headed down to the water to have some lunch.
It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of jets again. I saw a couple of them turning over the bay and descending to the field so headed back up. While the light was on the wrong side, I figured I would just try something new since the alternative was just more of what I already had shot. It even was the same jets as the earlier session. I shot some backlit landings near the touchdown zone (and I was not alone – plenty of people stopped their cars to watch). With a bunch of shots and video done, I figured it was time to head home.
How many times in this blog have I commented on the nice light at the end of the day being the provider of my best shots. It isn’t just about the shot though. Stuff just looks better (hence the better shots) when the sun is low. Mark and I had spent a good day at Coupeville and then at Ault Field but, as the evening was beginning to draw in, we knew a few jets had launched earlier and were due back. As a result, we anticipated some nice arrivals. Mark had also scoped out a better spot for the final turn the jets would be making.
It wasn’t long before we heard some calls on the approach frequency and so we headed to the new location. Our first trade was not the jets we had expected though. Some maritime patrol training was done and a couple of aircraft were making straight in approaches. A P-8 and a P-3 were welcome additions. They may not have been flying particularly interesting approaches but we would have taken them at any time and in this light all was good.
Then the Growlers showed up. The flew some nice curving approaches around us and the evening light was illuminating their topsides in a great way. Clearly these were going to be the shots of the day that we were most happy with. Not only that but they did the decent thing and didn’t land straight away. Instead, a couple of patterns meant we got a good chance to get some shots of them. Once they were down, the radio was quiet and we both had drives home to make so we called it a day. (Sadly, as I got on to I-5 to head south, a C-5 flew over me heading in what appeared to be the direction of Whidbey. That would have arrived in gorgeous light as it looked really nice as it passed over me!)
My buddy Mark let me know that some more FCLP training was scheduled for Coupeville on a day with a good weather forecast. Sadly, the wind suggested they would be operating in the opposite direction to that of my last visit (as discussed here and here) but there was the possibility of some morning flying which might mean the sun was on the right side for a while, even if a bit on the tail of the jets. Unfortunately, the unit didn’t get the memo and they showed up in the middle of the day for the first round of flying so, while the conditions were okay, they were working against us.
Still, there are a lot worse things to do than watch Growlers bouncing through FCLP training. You can move along the fence line at Coupeville to try and vary the angle, so Mark and I were zipping to and fro in order to try and find something different. There are some bushes on the field that can be a touch inconvenient when looking to capture the moment of touchdown but a little experimentation and you could get a good result.
The jets appear to come through a tunnel in the trees as they are on final approach and the trees provide a nice backdrop for touchdown. As they power up and away again, the light angles are most favorable so you can get a few good shots. However, they end up pretty samey pretty quickly.
We expected a second batch of jets in the early afternoon so headed to the other side. Here you are a lot further from the runway so the jets on the ground are rather distant and heat haze is a bit of a problem. We got a few movements and then headed back to a nearby park where the jets tend to turn over the top of you as they enter the downwind. The light is a bit better here but, again, the shots are pretty repetitive. The only change is when the jet is done and it climbs straight out cleaning up as it goes.
With a decent amount of shots made, we decided it was time to try our luck elsewhere. The Growlers would get back to Ault Field pretty quickly but we were going by car so it was a little longer for us. However, there was much to justify the trip and that will be apparent in some upcoming posts.