Red Flag 22-2 included a detachment of B-1B Lancers. The Bone is a cracking jet as it combines the size of a bomber with the shaping and engines of a fighter. It is an elegant shape whether the wings are fully swept or not. I have shot them at Nellis a few times over the years but I was still keen to get some shots of them on this trip. Unfortunately, things did not quite go to plan.
They didn’t fly on the day that I arrived. I had gone out in the evening for the night launch but they were not part of it. The following morning, they launched a lot earlier than I expected so I was still at Cheyenne when they went. My last day, they again didn’t launch. That meant the recoveries from the early launch were my only chance.
Weather was not helping too much. This was not just for the Bones. It was pretty overcast for a good chunk of the afternoon. The two jets came back in formation and broke into the pattern. Thankfully, the arrivals were using the 21s and they were allocated to the right runway. A pretty sporty pattern for a big jet combined with me having chosen a good spot by the Speedway meant that they were almost filling the frame as they turned on to final. Some nicer light would have been great but, since this was all I was getting in daylight, it would have to do.
Adobe periodically updates the processing algorithms that are used by Lightroom and Photoshop. Each update provides some improvements in how raw files are processed and it can be good to go back to older shots and to see how the newer process versions handle the images. I find this particularly useful for images shot in low light and with high ISO.
I have some standard process settings I use but have also experimented with modified settings for use with high ISOs and the higher noise levels that come with them. I got to some night launch shots from an old Red Flag exercise and had a play with the images. The E-3 launch was actually as the light was going down but it still had some illumination so it didn’t need much work.
The KC-135 and B-1B shots were a different story and were at high ISOs and with very little light. I was able to update the process version and apply some new settings I had worked out since the original processing and it resulted in some pretty reasonable outputs considering how little light there was to work with.
The B-1B Lancer (or Bone to almost everyone who cares) is an impressive piece of hardware. It might have some performance limitations resulting from the redesign it underwent from the original canceled B-1A to the B-1B – changes that might not look that obvious but run quite deep – but it is still a very capable jet. The blended airframe shaping really appeals to an aero guy like me while the swing wing is now a concept that is disappearing as other types retire so it is becoming the last of the line. Add to that four afterburning engines and you get something that makes an impression.
It used to be a regular performer at air shows but these days you don’t see them as much. However, it can still turn heads when it makes fast passes and plugs in the burners. A bit of vapor can also be pulled as they get the speed and load on. Seeing them launch from close to the runway is always worthwhile. They are such an imposing jet. Sadly, their limitations and the cost of supporting them will probably mean they get retired long before the B-52s that they were once considered to replace. Here are some shots of my Bone encounters.
A USAF Boeing B-1B Lancer turns on to final approach at Nellis AFB NV.
A USAF Boeing B-1B Lancer on final approach to Nellis AFB NV.
A Boeing B-1B Lancer of the USAF touches down at RAF Fairford, UK.
RIAT proved to be a lot of fun with such a variety of types to see. The shooting conditions were less than ideal but that shouldn’t take away from what was there and the effort that went in to organizing it all – I’m looking at you Tom if you are reading this. Your team did a great job. One of the stars of the show was actually a rather aged type. Romania brought a pair of MiG-21 LanceR jets. The last time I shot an active MiG-21 was at Rockford many years ago and that was privately owned. These were very definitely active.
Their arrival on the Thursday certainly got everyone excited and the display itself was great. The jet is from an era when the current levels of maneuverability had not been achieved but the jet can still put on quite a show. The speed is something to behold, particularly on final approach when it fairly screams in to land. I got to shoot it from a couple of locations including being at the departure end on the Sunday of the show and getting slightly closer to the jet as it taxied out. I understand that they will disappear before too long to be replaced with something more generic – F-16s I think – so it was time to enjoy something old school for perhaps the last time.
Two Romanian Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 LanceRs take off in formation from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Romanian Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 LanceR climbs out of RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
I’ve already shown the B-1s at Red Flag some love but here is a bit more about them because, well, why not? The four afterburning engines produce a lot of noise, light and, I guess, thrust. For a few of the departures, I focused the camera on the back end to try and show that energetic output. Daylight is not the best time to show up the afterburner plume – night works well for that as does being more directly behind the jet – but it still is possible to see the jet against the dark airframe. This is just something so impressive to see.
When the B-1s show up at Red Flag, everyone is pretty pleased. A big bomber with four afterburning engines is like a giant fighter to photograph. It is a good looking jet. It also has a nice feature at night. The majority of the fighters that take off in burner are back to military power shortly after getting airborne. The B-1 is a different story. It stays in burner for a ridiculous amount of time. Not having flown one, I don’t know whether they pull back the power from full burner at some point but they do stay plugged in for ages. Long into the climb you can still see the glow.
I have shot the B-1s from a location out in the area on the extended centerline before. Go back to some old posts here and here and you will see the sort of shots I am talking about. Paul has also shot from out there so we agreed to try something different. We headed closer to the rotation point. The jets get airborne pretty smartly and, the closer in they are, the further away they are from the highway. However, something that had more of a side on feel was what I was after and so we tried a different spot.
Of course, you never know what time the launch will start and when the B-1s will be scheduled for so there is a lot of sitting around and waiting – in the dark. During the day it is easy to hang about and wait for something to move. At night things seem to take longer and you feel a bit more exposed. However, they did eventually launch and these shots are the result. I have learned some new things about the behavior of the camera at night which will be useful next time so, while the shots aren’t perfect, it was certainly worthwhile.
Paul and my second full day at Red Flag was also the one where we both had to fly home. We knew that the timing would mean leaving before the last of the big aircraft came home but we should get most of the recovery. We set a time and started packing up. We had done well so no complaints. We hopped in the car and drove towards the turn to take us out to the freeway. Just as we got there, a pair of B-1s came running in to the break in formation. Surely we couldn’t let them go. A rapid stop at the side of the road, grab cameras from the trunk and start shooting.
They flew by in formation and broke downwind. Each of them turned in reasonably tight for their approach and it was possible to get some nice topside views as the curved around to final. We could have been a bit closer and probably would have chosen different lenses if we had been able to choose but we got the shots. Then it was time to repack the bags and get going. We only lost about five minutes and everything worked out fin getting back so it was totally worth it. There was no waiting for whatever followed them though.
The B-1B Lancer is a cracking aircraft. The combination of size and power makes it look epic when it is in action. A B-1 departure is not something that you will forget in a hurry. Four large afterburning turbofans will get your attention and it has a very elegant shape to boot. The variable sweep wings add a little interest too. At minimum sweep for takeoff and landing, they look a little ungainly given how long the span is. Put them all the way back and pour on the coals and the jet can really get moving. Sadly, airshow appearances are few and far between these days so the chance to see vapor clouds forming around the jet are limited. (I recently went through some old negatives from a UK airshow at which a B-1 made a fast pass in damp conditions. The shots aren’t great but the effect is cool.)
A couple of B-1s would launch each day as part of the Red Flag 16-1 exercises. I was lucky enough to have a couple of good opportunities to see then. When we were out between the runways, the B-1s launched off the right side. Not ideal for lighting but you aren’t going to complain. Because they are a large jet, you have to make some choices with lenses as to what you are aiming to get. A quick swap of bodies can really help. A long lens is not much use when they are level with you but the cool shot from behind as they climb out benefits from the big glass.
On my first day there, the jets returned at the end of the mission as a pair. Sadly, the clouds had moved in and the conditions were not great for getting a shot. However, you aren’t going to ignore them. On the second day when I was at the EOR, we got a good view of the two jets taxiing out and taking off. The heat haze is a bit of a problem but not so much as to make it something you can avoid shooting. Operating as a pair, they look more menacing.
Often the B-1s are at the end of the recovery phase. However, on this day, they came back relatively early. I was still at the EOR when they broke into the pattern. They did land on the opposite runway from the one we were at but they are big enough for this to not be a big deal. A nice bit of mountain in the background certainly helps enhance the shot a little. What a great looking jet. I don’t know anyone who isn’t excited when they see one in action.
A USAF B-1B Lancer on final approach to Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada as part of a Red Flag mission.
A USAF B-1B Lancer on final approach to Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada as part of a Red Flag mission.
A USAF B-1B Lancer overflies Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada prior to breaking into the pattern to land after a Red Flag mission.
Two USAF B-1B Lancers approach the break at Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada after a Red Flag mission.
A Boeing B-1B Lancer of the USAF takes off from Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada on a Red Flag Mission.
The evening launch at Red Flag is something I have had a go at on a number of occasions. Consequently, regular readers that pay close attention may feel that this post is a bit repetitive and they would be correct. I was a bit better prepared for the night launch than on previous occasions. I had brought a cable release and a Gorillapod to allow me to have a bit better a set up for the time lapse video of the launch. Meanwhile, I was shooting handheld with the second body.
Sadly, a couple of things were not working in my favor. First, it was pretty windy and, while I had the camera set up on the hood of the car, it was a bit vulnerable to movement as the car moved in the wind and the camera vibrated on the pod. Consequently, some of the video is less than ideal. However, conditions did seem to settle down a bit and the later part of the video seems to steady up a bit.
Second was that there was no moon. It was very dark and cold out there. I managed to get some shots of the B-1B launches but the only illumination was from the burners. No ambient light at all so they didn’t look as good as on previous attempts. I did try to stay for the whole launch and not to get the time lapse showing things in full swing when it ends but there is a limit to how long you want to hang out in the cold when everyone else has gone. I got most of the launch but I did see a bunch of jets head out as I passed the speedway. I probably should have tried getting some shots from there as they were still in burner at that point.