I am catching up on some things that happened quite a while ago. The visit of the Patrouille de France to Mather for a display as part of their US Tour was a combination of fun and frustration. I was covering the visit for GAR and had arranged to be there for the arrival, the practice and the show itself. They were supposed to show up relatively early but they had some serviceability issues and, when they finally showed up, the sun was setting.
There was still some light when the first jets flew into the pattern. As they taxied in, the light on them was rather nice. By the time the last jets (of the day) showed up, it was dark. The crews were very cheerful despite their difficult day and they spent a lot of time with some local kids for a French school. They didn’t all make it though. Two jets had diverted with problems and they would show up until late the following day. The A400M didn’t arrive until after I had left and it headed straight out the following morning to go and fix the two stragglers. The second day practice and flyby over the Golden Gate were scrubbed as a result with the flyby being achieved after the display rather than before.
It was a few days with a mix of good flying and disappointment but such is the way with aviation.
The A400M Atlas is now in service with a number of air forces. My encounters with them, though, have only involved the development airframes displayed by Airbus. That changed in Sacramento when The Patrouille de France arrived as part of their North American tour. They brought an A400M as he support plane. I was rather disappointed that it arrived late in the evening, after I had gone home and disappeared early the following morning to recover some delayed jets.
It was back for the day of the display though. It started up at a remote location but then proceeded to give a short flying display. It then taxied back to the crowd line where it shut down and was opened up for visitors. The people were lined up to get inside it for ages. The plane still looked pretty clean so I guess it had not been in service too long. I was glad to get a close up look around the outside as well as to see the crowds inside and the flying display itself. Not a dramatic performance like the test crews have put on but still good to see.
One end of the railroad museum in Sacramento is a roundhouse. It is accessible still from the line outside and I was there for a modern locomotive that was being unveiled. Access comes via a turntable which sits right next to the path along the river. I figured I would put together a panorama of the scene. However, I only had my phone (albeit able to shoot raw). I had never tried shooting a pano sequence with it before having only used its internal pano function.
I wasn’t controlling the exposure (although there is a manual function in the app I use) but I had noticed that the Lightroom pano function seemed quite adept at dealing with small exposure variation. I took the sequence and there was not a big difference across them. When I got home, I added them to Lightroom and had a go at the stitching function. It worked better than I had expected. Some small distortions were there but it actually was rather good. I had not been happy about the reduced size of the pano function of the phone so this has provided a better option to use in the future.
I made a visit to the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento for a press unveiling of a new locomotive for Caltrans. After the event was over, I headed outside to make some calls and walk along the river. The museum doesn’t just have vehicles inside. Outside are a pair of steam locomotives too. They are beefy looking things too. Finished in black, they make for a difficult thing to photograph on a sunny day and the iPhone camera handled it surprisingly well.
I was quite taken with the texture around the boiler area where the outside of the loco includes a large array of rivets. I don’t know whether they were recently restored or just are well looked after but they were an impressive sight and attracted a large number of people having their pictures taken.
Some of the news clips I have seen recently were showing the firefighting activities underway in South America at the moment. With their summer in full swing, wildfires have been springing up and they have brought in a variety of aircraft to fight them. One of these is the Global Supertanker, a converted Boeing 747-400. I saw this aircraft at the aerial firefighting conference that was held last year in Sacramento. It was very close to approval at that time and we were allowed to check it out.
The systems had previously been used on a 747-100 airframe but they had been migrated to the 400 series jet. The airframe was an ex-JAL aircraft that had undergone the freighter conversion program and seen some further service before being acquired for the firefighting role. The tanks and piping had been installed and we got to see a bit of the interior during the event. Unlike the 100 series prototype, this one had been given a nice new paint job and it looked great being straight out of the paint shop.
It dwarfed everything else on the flightline and ended up being the backdrop for the group photo of the conference attendees. I don’t get to appear in that shot since I was taking it. I can live without having my presence recorded I guess. Now it is in operation, there are some rather more dramatic images being captured. For the time-being, I will have to make do with these shots.
When I went up to McClellan for the firefighting conference, I got to see the HC-27J airframes that had been transferred to the Coast Guard. They will replace the C-130 airframes that they have been using. I posted about that airframe in this post. I was recently staying back up in the area so decided to see what was happening at the field. The Coast Guard has now started repainting the airframes so now they are showing up in their own colors rather than being in the grayness which they were transferred. There was also a C-130 parked up. It didn’t look too active. I assume it will be heading off for firefighting conversion soon.
I wrote about the arrival of the C-27J Spartan in Coast Guard service. This means that the C-130s are going to be heading out. One the same day I saw a Spartan flying, one of the current C-130s took off. It was a nice illustration of what is now and what will be. I have seen the Coast Guard 130s around on a number of occasions but I guess they will soon be gone. Maybe I shall see them fighting fires somewhere.
Defense acquisition programs are not renowned for being the most efficient and sensible programs. Selection of products and suppliers is heavily influenced by politics and locations along with the technical capabilities. Some programs have momentum due to their joint use nature. This doesn’t always mean that the departments involved actually like them. Such is the case of the Alenia C-27J Spartan. Based on the older G222 airframe but updated with the same engines as the C-130J, the aircraft was selected for the Joint Cargo Aircraft program between the USAF and the Army.
Eventually, control of the program was moved from the Army to an Air Force only program. Meanwhile, the Air Force was not showing a lot of love for the aircraft. They had other programs they were more interested in. The result was that aircraft started getting delivered to storage and the Air Force was looking for a way out. That way is the Coast Guard. These aircraft will replace some old C-130s in Coast Guard service and the displaced aircraft will go for firefighting duties. The Coast Guard station at Sacramento has received its first aircraft. I saw one of them head out on a training flight while another could be seen in the hangar. Apparently, they will soon be repainted in Coast Guard colors and the 130s will start to head off to their new life. It will probably be unusual in due course to have a C-27J in Coast Guard markings but in the gray color scheme.
Every other year the Aerial Firefighting conference comes to North America. This year it was held at McLellan Field near Sacramento. A tow day conference, I originally was going to attend on both days. Unfortunately, I had a work conflict and had to miss the first day. Fortunately I was able to be there on the second day which was the day that included a demonstration session on the airfield. An internal exhibition of products and services was open for the entire time but the demonstration included a wide number of airframes – far too large to fit indoors.
There was a wide variety of types on display. Helicopters are a big part of aerial firefighting and there was a number on display. Airbus Helicopters had brought their H215 demonstrator along as the conclusion of their North American tour. This version of the Super Puma is a derivative of the AS332 (and indeed this airframe had a data plate that listed it as an AS332) and is designed to be a simplified and cheaper version providing a more affordable utility type. It was alongside a new Bell 412 and some refurbished airframes including a Bell 205 and a freshly refurbished UH-60 Black Hawk.
Fixed wing types came in all shapes and sizes too. Air Tractor AT802s were on display in both wheeled and amphibious configurations and these two aircraft put on a number of water drop demonstrations. A Pilatus PC-12 provided a demonstration of management of a fire with down linked information. Calfire had a Bronco and a Tracker on the ramp while a bunch of Broncos were busy in a flying program to get ready for the season. MAFFS had a P-3 on the ramp while another took off early in the program. A Bombardier CL415 shared ramp space with a Neptune conversion of the BAE Systems RJ85.
However, the ramp was dominated by one aircraft. Global Supertanker had brought their converted Boeing 747-400 to show off. They have taken the system from the 747-100 airframe previously in use and added it to a more modern version of the airframe. Fresh from the paint shop and shortly to receive approval of the STC, they were keen to show off the aircraft. I am not sure how well it will fit in with the needs of firefighting agencies around the world but it certainly is an impressive beast.
I didn’t get to take as many stills as I had planned. The organizers asked me to shoot some video for the, which I did. Hayman was working with me so he made sure we had the necessary shots for the GAR feature. After a few passes, I was able to switch and get some stills anyway. I also got roped in to taking the group photo for the conference attendees. If I had known that was required, I would have made some arrangements to get a better vantage point. Still, it was a good day out and the conference sessions I saw were similarly informative. Next year it is in France. Perhaps we shall have to go!
A US Army Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk taxis in at McClellan Field in Sacramento CA.
The California National Guard has a selection of Black Hawks that are based at Mather. Paul and I drove around to see them parked up. They seem to have varying configurations of the type on the ramp so I assume they have multiple roles that are assigned to the unit and the different configs to suit the roles. The fencing by the ramp was a little tricky for photography purposed and it was easier to get the Huey on display using the phone to get the pictures since it has such a small aperture, it isn’t affected by fencing. It looks like an interesting unit and possibly one that might be worth covering in the future.