I stopped at Boeing Field to make a couple of calls and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Boeing T-38 chase jet was not far out. I was able to get the camera out in good time for it to arrive and, even better, while there was plenty of cloud around, the sun popped out to allow me to get a reasonable shot. I then went back to dealing with my calls. I had noticed a USAF T-38 further east in the state but had assumed it was not coming my way. However, I was wrong. A short while later, it called up on approach. The sun was less cooperative which was a shame for a gloom black painted jet but it was still good to shoot. From expecting nothing to getting two T-38s in short order was a nice surprise.
After a very lean start, I have done a lot better in recent times with getting shots of the Boeing chase T-38s at Boeing Field. I have shot them airborne and in good light so nothing to be unhappy about. However, the one thing that I haven’t had in the past is a good close up shot of them while on the ground. They have either been landing when on a northerly flow or coming from the other direction and so they haven’t taxied close to me.
Finally managed to break that one not long ago. Some tankers were heading out – one appeared to be a production test flight for an Air Force example while the other was one of the Boeing development airframes. The T-38 followed it out – presumably their flights were connected but I don’t know for sure. It taxied right passed me so I got a good look at it on the ground for a change. It took off, of course, so a little extra chance to get some shots with a cluttered background!
Stopping by Boeing Field en route to somewhere else and finding that a Boeing T-38 chase jet is about to arrive is a lucky coincidence. Turned out even better as I saw a car parked in my normal spot and realized it was my friend David. A chance to chat and catch up while the T-38 made its approach was a lot of fun. Good to see both him and the T-38!
There was a call sign of an inbound flight at Boeing Field that caught my attention. It was Aspen. This is a call sign that the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB has used since the days of the SR-71. I have seen their T-38s show up at Boeing Field before so thought there was a good chance it could be another one. Sure enough, when they called up on approach, I could see a T-38 inbound. However, it was coming in at the same time as something else and it was actually aligned with the short runway.
They put the power on when crossing the airfield boundary and pulled up into the downwind for a second approach. The first approach had made the jet look pretty small in the viewfinder – I hadn’t realized that they were further away than the main runway – so I went with the 500mm when they came back. This made for a tighter shot than expected. However, I managed to get a few shots of the jet as it turned final – a long way away – and then as it was on short final. A nice treat.
I was thinking back to previous RIAT shows when I was putting together the 2006 post here. RIAT was my first encounter with the B-2. I recall it showing up to a show one year for a flyby without landing. It flew through accompanied by a pair of F-15Cs, one on each wing. Then, another year – maybe the next but I don’t recall for sure – one was actually deployed to the show. It was parked up so close to everyone on the flight line. I took quite a few pictures of it because it was so new and interesting. (A few pictures in the film days was a let less than it became in the digital days!) Even now, I think a show would consider it quite a coup to have a B-2 on the ground.
The answer to that question is clearly “not much” but it isn’t zero. We do get things flying overhead here on a regular basis. We are on the approach to SeaTac for some arrivals and we do sometimes get Boeing Field traffic too. It’s a rarity when there is something interesting and I am ready, though, so that doesn’t provide a lot. However, I did recently have a T-38 from Boeing’s chase fleet come over the house. It was a bit high but it was enough to get me out in the driveway!
We have also had helicopters fly over on occasion. An Army Chinook came past one time while and Navy Seahawk was another transient. In each case, I only heard them shortly before they arrived so grabbed the camera while at my desk and shot through the window. That is not a good plan but it was all I had available at the time. These can count as my lockdown at home aviation projects!
A Beale AFB T-38 was parked over at the FBO when I was at Boeing Field. The canopies were up which gave me optimism but you never know whether they are just doing something to the jet or maybe haven’t long arrived. When the crew walked out to the jet, I realized it was good news. They taxied to the other end of the field and I waited. A nice low departure kept them below the skyline of the hill beyond the field and I was happy with a slightly unusual visitor being photographed.
The Boeing T-38 chase jets are something I have not had much success in hunting down. I have got some shots but they were not in great conditions. I did have another chance recently when at Boeing Field but, guess what, the clouds rolled in at just the wrong time. The T-38 flew nicely down the approach and provided a great opportunity but the light was not really playing ball. Still, at least I got some shots, even if the colors are hardly popping.
While the big jets are what Boeing is known for, they have a number of other aircraft that they use for their own purposes. I haven’t got all of these by any stretch of the imagination but I have come across a few at various times. They have BBJs that they use for executive transport. They also have some Bombardier Challengers that are able to promptly get people from A to B.
If you are looking a bit more locally, there is at least one Cessna Caravan that is used for various duties. I am not sure what its role is exactly but I imagine it is a handy way of getting people around the northwest and it can probably also move parts up to a certain size if needed.
Another runabout is a Northrop T-38. This can be used for chase duties but I also suspect it is a crew hack since it seems to make regular runs between BFI and Moses Lake without crossing paths with any of the test aircraft. There are also T-33s used for chase work but, sadly, I have get close to any in action. Just a distant overflight shot. Hopefully I will see them before too long.
Some aircraft I blog about are ones that I find cool and wish I had seen in action. This is not one of those. However, it does interest me because it is so different from many of the types from the same era. This is the Northrop F-89 Scorpion. The Castle Air Museum has an example on display and I have seen a few scattered around various museums. The Scorpion is, in theory at least, a fighter. However, looking at it, you might be forgiven for not realizing this. It is a big beast of a lane with an unswept wing and a decidedly chubby appearance.
It’s role was to shoot down bombers heading to the US. It was made in an era when jet engines were famously inefficient and having long range and endurance was tricky for a fighter. In order to operate far enough out to shoot the bombers while they were still out of range of their targets, the Scorpion focused on efficiency. It was not a maneuvering fighter. Its job was to get close enough to the bombers to launch its missiles.
These missiles look a bit odd too. They are not your traditional air to air missile designed for speed and agility. They also didn’t need to be. The Genie missile had a special warhead. It was a nuclear weapon. As long as it was reasonably close to the target, it was going to take it down. No clever tracking and requirement to get close to have the required effect. Ultimately, this combination was only suitable for a relatively limited type of target and the focus moved to newer fighters and missiles (although the nuclear armed missile concept lasted a lot longer). The Scorpion went into the history books.
One other aspect of the Scorpion is of interest. It had large wing tip fuel tanks to increase endurance. Someone came up with the idea of equipping the jet with unguided rockets and these were installed in the front of the tip tanks. I’m sure it was well worked out but the idea of having rocket exhaust plumes on the front of a fuel tank seemed bizarre to me as a kid.