The All-Star baseball game was in Seattle this year. Baseball is not my thing so I wasn’t paying too much attention although I did have a meeting near the stadium and discovered just how much a parking garage will charge on the day of the All-Star game! However, they did have some USAF F-35As in town for the flyover proceedings. I was south of the city later in the day and started to head north close to the time when the game was due to start. I had been hoping that I might get up to Boeing Field for their launch but, as I drove north, I could see the jets pulling off their run over the stadium.
I figured they would recover quickly but headed for the approach end of Boeing Field just in case. Fortunately, they had taken the scenic route and had been touring around Puget Sound. I was there in plenty of time for their landings. One thing that I had not really noticed before about the F-35A is the approach angle of attack that the jet adopts. The planes seem to have quite a nose high attitude when on approach. The radome is short so the field of view is probably not a problem, but I was surprised I had not spotted this previously.
I got the jets all landing but they were really a series of repetitive shots of similar looking jets. Nothing too special but still nice to have a different jet here for a while.
The F-35’s appearance at Seafair has resulted in a few posts of departures and arrivals at Boeing Field on this blog. However, I don’t think I have actually shared any shots of the display itself. I quite enjoyed the demo routine that the USAF had last year. Unfortunately, the display axis for Seafair is a long way from the shore so the shots were a bit distant. I also didn’t know the routine and was caught out when flares were dispensed and so didn’t get shots of those that I am happy with. However, there were a few times when the jet came in close to the shore and I got some closer views. I do want to see the display at a more conventional location at some point.
Over the course of the Seafair weekend, I got to see the demo F-35A arrive and depart a few times. The demo pilot would get airborne and keep the jet on the deck in full burner building up a decent amount of speed. Then, she would pull to a steep climb just as she got to the perimeter of the field. This looked pretty impressive from the side but it was even more impressive from head on.
The return to land after the display was a lot more sedate. It was a pretty standard pattern and approach but there were plenty of people at the south end to enjoy the last moments of the flight. I headed down there a couple of times. You could easily do both departure and approach since you had the whole time that the display was underway to re-position. I did all go to Ruby Chow Park from one departure and shot video rather than stills. Seeing the F-35 come right at us and then pull hard was impressive. The noise was intense and the wake threw dust and debris into the air around us. It made an impression!
Speedway departures can be a mixed bag at Nellis. Flex departures with a pull over the Speedway are the best but it does depend on how high planes have got. Some climb out quite steeply and are way too high for a good shot by the time that they reach you. On my most recent Nellis trip, though, we were treated to a few departures by the locals that broke the mold. They got airborne and kept it nice and low as they accelerated towards us before breaking in to the flex departure routing.
The evening light combined with the great angles made for some good shots. It didn’t hurt that I had a lower shutter speed than usual so got some nice blur of the mountains behind the planes courtesy of them being nice and low. The Strike Eagles also gave it a go which was nice.
A USAF Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II flexes on departure from Nellis AFB NV.
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.
A USAF Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II turns on to final approach at Nellis AFB NV.
Two USAF Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs run in to the break for landing at Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles turns on to final approach at Nellis AFB NV.
If you ask Nancy about a name that I think has good comic potential, it is Dave. It is not that the name Dave is strange in any way but, if you asked me to name something, my first choice would be Dave. It has something that just works for being offbeat. Apparently, I am not alone in this (which will come as a great disappointment to Nancy who will now know I am not alone and will never stop). The online forum for aerospace, PPRUNE, has apparently decided to call the F-35 Lightning II the Dave. Tornados are Tonkas, F-16s are Vipers and now F-35s are Daves. I love it!
Red Flag 17-1 was the first of the Red Flag exercises to which the USAF brought the F-35A. The Marine Corps had brought the F-35B previously but they tended to go out in pairs. This time the Air Force took the jets out in significant numbers. Consequently, I was able to get lots of shots of the jets. Whether it was groups returning as four ships, individual jets departing or odd Daves in formation with other jets, there were plenty of options. They also turned in really nicely on approach for the spot I had chosen so some nice close top sides were also possible.
I won’t yet say that I have grown to like the look of the jet but I am certainly starting to thaw. Since they are all new and spotlessly clean, the colors (is that right given how variations of gray are what we are talking about) really come out nicely in the low light. There are some nice lines to the jet. It may be a bit chunky but it doesn’t have the same problems as the F-22 with angles at which it looks positively uncomfortable. Hopefully, the time will come when the operators are able to move away from the purely gray and adopt some nice colors on the jets. We shall see.
The local Nellis traffic gets a bit restricted by the exercise traffic when Red Flag is underway. Get a mission in during the morning or wait for the gap between the afternoon and the evening evolutions to get airborne. For those of us outside, they provide some additional aircraft to shoot. They may also give some variety in types (although given how few types there are these days, not a lot). Before the F-35 becomes ubiquitous in service and replaces the multiple F-16 units that currently participate, it is something a bit different.
The Weapons School has a bunch of F-35A jets now. The first ones to arrive at Nellis were OT jets for operational test and evaluation. Now the Weapons School is using them to develop tactics and employment. The lines of the jets are a bit different from the Marine Corp F-35Bs that I shot at a previous exercise. Without the lift fan, the back of the airframe is smoother while the canopy is blended into the spine in a different way that enhances visibility and fits with the different profile. The jets were pretty active while I was there so I managed to get a few shots. I had seen them during previous visits but, when on base we had been barred from shooting them and, while off base, I had always managed to be in the wrong place to get them. While I am currently pleased to have got some shots, I will soon be used to seeing them around all over the place.