The Royal Canadian Air Force will soon be getting new tanker transport aircraft. They are going to buy some Airbus A330 MRTTs to replace their CC-150 Polaris jets. These are based on the A310 and I have never seen one before. Fortunately, there was one on static display at Abbotsford for the air show. It was in the grey scheme rather than the brightly painted version but that was fine by me. I was just glad to get one before they are replaced. It would be good to see one flying but I suspect the chances of that are diminishing. You never know, though.
When the Singaporean Air Force wanted to add tanker capabilities a few years ago, they bought some surplus KC-135Rs from the US to operate. More recently, they acquired some A330 tankers from Airbus and the KC-135s were, again, surplus. This time they were picked up by a company called Meta Aerospace that bid on refueling work for the US Navy. I think Meta has changed its name to Metrea – presumably to avoid being confused with the Facebook parent.
Whatever the name, they brought one of the aircraft to Seattle for a little over a week for work that was being undertaken over the Pacific off the coast of Washington. They have their tankers painted in a rather nice livery with the company logos and I was hoping to catch one. As it happened, one was up one afternoon and there was a chance of getting there after work to get it. I headed down thinking I had some time in hand. I was wrong. They came back a little earlier than expected, the airport changed runways which meant I had to go further and traffic on that extra section was backed up. I got to the fence just as it was coming over the threshold and I managed a few weak shots with sections of barbed wire cutting through the airframe in most.
I wondered whether I had missed my only good opportunity but, thankfully, they were around for longer than expected and one of the flights again gave me a chance to get there after work. This time I was there with a bit more time in hand and was able to get some shots without the added benefit of wire foregrounds! The plane was on the ground at other times but, at this time of year, the heat haze at Boeing Field is pretty bad. Only on a crummy Saturday when my friend Chris was in town, was it possible to get a reasonably clear shot of it parked up. I wonder if we will see it back here at some point in the future.
The Guemes Island ferry was busy operating across the strait between the mainland and the island while I was there. Just as it was readying to depart for another crossing, a tanker was making its way up the strait towards Anacortes. I was wondering whether the ferry would make a quick dash across before it got there but they decided the discretion was better than valor and instead headed up the strait to turn and cross behind the tanker.
The closer that they got to the tanker, the more apparent the difference in scale between the two vessels became. When you see large ships at a distance, it is easy to lose track of just how large they are. Put something you can appreciate the scale of close to them, though, and you rapidly see that they are really big. This isn’t even a big tanker by the scale of tankers. The biggest vessels are truly enormous. I remember as a kid that one of the largest tankers was berthed in Southampton for a few years when it wasn’t in demand. That thing was massive!
The KC-46 will end up being a big selling tanker because the USAF will buy loads and a few export customers will follow suit. However, where open competitions have been held, the Airbus A330 MRTT has been most successful. It is developing a wide customer base and one of those customer is the Royal Australian Air Force. They have brought their tankers, known as KC30, to the US on exercises but I had not seen one in person until I got to the Antelope Valley Air Show at Edwards AFB. The tanker was sitting on the ramp in the static area. It was looking particularly clean for a military jet and was configured with both the boom and the underwing pods for probe and rogue refueling. Fitting in a big jet in a busy ramp is tricky so a pano can help out making a shot possible. Now I just need to see one actually airborne!
Every once in a while, I really test the high ISO capability of the cameras I have. The R3 got an early test when I was at Red Flag, I went out on two evenings to shoot some night departures and experimented with the ability of the camera to perform in those conditions. The high ISO capability of cameras has not moved on too much to be honest. The max ISO I used on my 1DXII was 51,200 and the R3 is still the same. It does appear to be a bit cleaner but they have possibly hit a bit of a limit. What I had not tried out before was an electronic viewfinder in such conditions.
The first night, I went out into the dunes to be ready for the B-1 departures. As it turned out, they didn’t launch that night. I did get some fighters coming out my way for a while before I concluded that this was a bust and I was heading back to the hotel. I tried shooting a few of the jets but I discovered the limitations of the camera pretty rapidly. When there is no light, the electronic viewfinder really struggles. The frame rate of the viewfinder drops like a stone and tracking a subject becomes pretty problematic. The frames per second drop too so the chances of a result are slim. With an optical viewfinder, this is not an issue but the chances of a good shot are also slim.
I returned to the hotel feeling pretty dispirited by this result. I wondered whether this was a real problem for adopting the R3. The following night, I went out again with the B-1s again being my main target. This time I had some tankers heading out before the B-1s launched. It was a very different evening. Sure, the lack of light still makes the chances of getting a good shot pretty low but the camera seemed to have no problem tracking the subjects and keeping the viewfinder frame rate up to a perfectly acceptable level. If I had only gone from the previous night, I would have concluded that it was unusable.
The embedded images in the RAW files looked pretty good but the Lightroom edits required a lot more work. DPP might be the answer or DxO PrimeRAW could do a good job. However, that is not the issue. Will the camera allow me to shoot at night with very dark subjects. Apparently, the answer is yes. It can handle it. However, it can’t track an almost black subject with a couple of navigation lights like an optical viewfinder can. That is a limitation that I may have to live with.
A few tankers were flying test missions at Boeing Field last year when I spent a little time down there. The sun was out but heat haze was not too bad, so it was a good time to shoot. The dark paint of the KC-46 Pegasus is not ideal for shooting on a bright day (or a dark one for that matter) but you aren’t passing it up. What was more fun was having them taxi close by and getting a good look at the jets. They might still have a bunch of issues to resolve but there are now plenty in service, so they aren’t a rarity. Hopefully they will get the issues fixed soon enough.
The KC-46 Pegasus program continues to be a problem for Boeing. Delivery rates are lower than planned and articles describing the shortcomings in the jets continue to get circulated. They have a long way to go, and Boeing is going to have to spend a lot more money before they are fully capable. Meanwhile, jet do continue to be built and delivered. The earliest jets were given civil registrations because they were undergoing a civil certification program as well as a military one. Two of those jets are now back at Everett getting reworked – presumably because they will ultimately get delivered to the USAF. I shot a couple of them on the airfield while up there one sunny weekend.
While sitting at the terminal at Honolulu waiting for our flight home many moons ago, I was staring out of the window at the traffic arriving and departing. Being in a different area meant plenty of different airlines as well as the more familiar ones. I created a post a while back that included some of the more usual operators. However, the airport shares a runway with the Air Force base. When you are on final approach, you get to see some of the fighters in shelters. It also means that some military traffic might arrive.
A bunch of F-16s started appearing as they rolled out after landing. I don’t know whether Hawaii was their destination or just a good stopover as part of a Pacific crossing. They weren’t making the journey unsupervised though. A KC-10 was dragging them across the ocean and it soon showed up too. I guess the last refueling was the cue for the F-16s to put in a burst of speed to get in first with the “Gucci” following them home.
Seeing a KC-46 at Boeing Field is not necessarily such a surprise. However, seeing one parked up at the FBO was more unusual. I am not sure whether the aircraft had been accepted and was ready for delivery or had actually come across country for a visit. Either way, a USAF crew was about to fly it back across the country. The size of the taxiways meant that it had to cross the runway to taxi up to the departure end where it could line up and head off on its way east. Was it a delivery? Who knows?
From my new spot, you have a good view of the main civil ramp at Boeing as well as a slightly more distant view of the military ramp. The civil ramp was full of Max jets waiting to get delivered now that customers can start accepting the jets again. Not all agencies have cleared the Max so I guess Boeing was focusing on those that have and aiming to get as much cash as they could in before year end. You could also see the stored jets on part of the ramp as well as those in the parking lot across Marginal Way.
There were three 777X development airframes parked while the second jet was out on a test flight. I was hoping to get it returning but it was out over the Pacific off the Oregon coast and I rightly guessed that, despite the online forecast, it wouldn’t be back before sunset. The military ramp was a little quieter than I expected with a couple of KC-46s and some P-8s including the next one for the Royal Air Force. There were also two KC-46s up on the civilian flight test ramp. Plenty to see and it would have been better in morning light.