Tag Archives: testbed

Son of Ares Catches Me Out (Almost)

I had made a trip early one Sunday to Boeing Field to catch a couple of departures.  One of them had left earlier than expected and was gone when I got there.  While waiting for the next one, I was sitting in the car on a Zoom call with my family.  I was parked somewhere where it was possible to make out through the fence what was the other side, but it had plastic filaments in the fencing which obscured things to some extent.

I was busy chatting away when I saw the shape of something taxiing across the runway from the FBO which looked both unusual and also familiar.  I jumped out of the car, grabbed the camera and climbed the ladder to grab a shot as the Scaled Composites 401 finished crossing the runway and turned away up the taxiway.  I last saw one of these aircraft at their home base of Mojave in California.

While I had missed the crossing shot of the runway, the flow was to the south so I knew the jet would be coming back my way when it took off.  I was bothered that I was far enough down the runway that it could well be quite high by the time it reached me.  It got to the hold point on taxiway bravo and then sat there for ages.  The tension was painful.

Finally, it lined up and started its takeoff run.  Sure enough, it was quickly off the ground, but good news was to follow.  The pilot had decided to keep it nice and low – possibly to give a good view to the people over at the FBO that were watching the departure.  That meant I got a nice landlocked image as it came by before climbing out swiftly.  What a great surprise.

Intelsat’s CRJ Thwarts Me with Weather

Testbed aircraft are the sort of thing I like to see and, when Intelsat brought their CRJ to Seattle, I was hoping to catch it.  Sadly, its arrival and some initial flying were not at good times, so I didn’t get to shoot it.  Then it was due out when I was heading to SEA for a trip of my own.  However, the conditions were awful, and I could barely make it out in the gloom as it got airborne.  Cameras – even with really modern tech – struggle to focus on something that is barely visible in the mist.  I did have one last chance when it was taking off, but I was at the terminal at the time and could barely get some shots of it as it taxied and took off. After that, it left.  I was frustrated throughout its time here.  Will it return?

Calspan’s GIII Makes a Brief Visit to the PNW

The arrival of a Gulfstream III would be a good reason to head out in any circumstances but, when that GIII is one operated by Calspan, it definitely is worth a look.  It was due to come to Paine Field but only for a very brief stop before heading back across the country.  Why it was there I have no idea.  It was due in early in the day so I was actually hoping for overcast weather since I would be on the wrong side for the sun.  Of course, the sun burst through just as it lined up for approach.  Nevertheless, it was still possible to get a reasonable shot of it.

I then headed off to the departure end to be ready for it to go.  I did stop by the terminal to shoot it on the ramp but, when I saw one of the crew remove a chock, I didn’t hang around and got the departure end.  The sun did last a little, so I had some nice light on it as it got airborne.  The wind was very strong that day, so they were off pretty rapidly and climbing steeply.  Of course, the sun was obscured as they got closer to me but what can you do?

EcoDemonstrator Returns in the Gloom So Video It Is!

Boeing flew the EcoDemonstrator 777 from Paine Field for a while last year.  I managed to be up there for the return late in the day, but the conditions were not that great.  Having shot the plane at other times, I decided that the stills option was probably not the right one to take.  They would not look that interesting.  Instead, I decided to shoot some video of its return.  Since going mirrorless, video shooting is so much easier because I can continue to hold the camera up to my eye as I would if shooting stills.  It makes for a (slightly) more stable platform so a little less camera shake.

Sampling the Air in Detail

The time that the NASA DC-8 spent up in the Pacific Northwest was a ton of fun for the aviation enthusiasts.  Since I did get to shoot the jet a few times, I got some closer shots of the airframe to show the various sensors that cover the jet and are used for the sampling work that has been its specialization.  There are plenty of them on the top, sides and bottom of the airframe.  Here are some shots.  I wonder what will replace the jet and whether it will have a similar array of probes?

Finally, I Catch the NASA DC-8

I have not done well in my previous efforts to photograph NASA’s DC-8 environmental sampling aircraft.  I had taken some distant overhead images when I was down at Star Wars Canyon and had hoped to see it fly at the air show at Edwards AFB last year.  Sadly, that didn’t happen as it was down for some maintenance issues.  With it due for retirement soon, I figured that might have been it.  However, I was chatting to some friends a while back and they informed me that it was due to come up to Everett for about ten days of flying in November.

This proved to be the case.  A program with Boeing as part of their EcoDemonstrator program had a new 737-10 that is ultimately destined for United (if the Max 10 ever gets certificated) flying with sustainable aviation fuel and the DC-8 flying behind it to sample the air, identify the emissions particles and measure the types of contrails formed but the different elements of the fuels.  The Max 10 was painted in a special livery which included the EcoDemonstrator Explorer program name.

The DC-8 was operating from Paine Field for the trials.  I was not able to get it arriving, but it was there long enough that I didn’t miss out.  These shots are from the first time I was able to see it getting ready to fly and heading out.  Over the course of the time it was here, I had further encounters and some of those are worthy of their own posts.  Consequently, there will be more to share of this fantastic relic of a bygone era in passenger aviation.

Sabreliner Duo Passing Through

The large exercise that was taking place in Alaska attracted a lot of unusual types and I have posted about the Hunters and the Northrop Grumman testbed heading up there already.  They weren’t the only ones, though.  Paine Field had a couple of transients too with a pair of Sabreliner jets heading north.  This vintage bizjet is a pretty agile type and Clay Lacy used to display one on the air show circuit.  These two had an interesting pod mounted under the front fuselage – presumably for some sort of electronic warfare role.  I was able to head up to Paine Field that weekend to get them as they arrived.  I didn’t have the time to get them departing although they weren’t around for long – just getting some fuel and then heading onwards.

They did route back through Paine Field when the exercise was done so I was able to get a second go at shooting them then but the conditions were much as before, so the shots are not too different.  I did take a bit of a chance with my shots by dropping the shutter speed down pretty low to try and get some good motion blur – always a risk when shooting something new!

Lucky Encounters With NG’s Testbed

This is a continuation of my string of good luck.  I was back at Boeing Field awaiting the G700 movements.  I had headed down to the south end of the field and was glancing at FlightRadar24 when I saw a CRJ700 on the display making a track that looked like it was coming to BFI.  Normally, aircraft like that show up with a call sign/flight number rather than just as a CRJ.  For some reason, I thought this might be an unusual CRJ and my mind jumped to the Northrop Grumman testbeds.

I had missed them once at BFI before when one took off while I was over at the museum.  Having seen the BAC-111 testbed many years ago, I wanted to catch this one.  I decided to try and get to the other end to see what it was just in case.  The road along the airfield is not well suited to swift travel but I was patient as I figured there was just enough time.  I made it to the other end and grabbed the camera quickly.  Barely any time passed and then there it was.  It was indeed one of the NG testbeds.  Result!

I hung out for a while before deciding to head back to the other end.  Nothing interesting was due in so I figured I’d see what was departing.  When I got back, I pulled up FR24 just to see what was moving on the field and, lo and behold, the CRJ was up at the hold, ready to go.  Rapidly out of the car, grab camera and, just as I am ready, here it comes.  This was a continuation of my string of good luck.  It’s all going well.  Then I see that some Sabreliners are heading north.  The streak continues!

Century Circle

I got to the gate for Antelope Valley Air Show 2022 early in the morning.  We were lined up outside the security gate for Edwards AFB waiting for the time things opened up.  I was on the phone so was happy to sit in the car for a while chatting.  When I finished my call, I could see that I was a short distance away from Century Circle – a display of various aircraft associated with Edwards.  Nothing was moving so I figured I would walk up and have a look around.  I had got most of the way there when it looked like cars were starting to move. I rapidly retraced my steps to the car and we drove on to the base.

At the end of the show, I was coming back out the same gate so decided to see if it was possible to pull in and see the aircraft on display.  Indeed, there were no barriers and Iw as able to park up and have a walk around the various exhibits.  The name, Century Circle, is a reference to how many of the jets are Century Series fighters.  There is going to be a museum for the Air Force flight test center and the base for the building was not far from the aircraft.  I will be interesting to see what the museum is like when it is finished and how many of the other interesting aircraft that are currently on base will be included.

Of the jets on display, my favorites are the F-106, the F-105 and the F-104.  Nicely sequential now I think about it.  There is an F-102 which I have never been so keen on and this one is a two seater which takes a place that didn’t look that great and makes it worse.  Still, vintage jets on display is a good thing and I shouldn’t be critical of what is on offer.

The one plane that is a bit of an oddball is the McDonnell Douglas YC-15.  This was a program the USAF ran for a new jet transport to replace the C-130.  Boeing and McDonnell Douglas both built demonstrators for the program but neither was taken to production.  However, there are a lot of features from the YC-15 that will be familiar to observers of the C-17.  Having a transport jet alongside the sleek fighters is a little unusual but it is a rare beast and worthy of preservation.  Thankfully, the dry desert atmosphere is a place that will allow the airframe to survive for many years.

Scaled Composites 401

The day after I went to the Edwards show, I was hanging around the area and headed up to Mojave to see whether Stratolaunch was going to move.  It didn’t, which was disappointing but the time up there was not wasted.  I got to shoot some stuff around the airport that I hadn’t previously and I went to the north end to look down the runway in case anything was moving.  I saw that a Western Global 747 was coming in and decided to head to the south end to get it arriving.  As I left, an L39 took off to the north.  I should have paid more attention to it.

I short while later – once I was well away, it was followed by a more interesting plane that it was acting as chase for.  A Scaled Composite 401 known by a variety of names including Son of Ares.  To miss that climbing out past me was bad.  It got worse when I realized the 747 had approached from the north so I missed it anyway.  I wasn’t going to make the same mistake when the 401 returned.

I did have to wait for quite a while.  They were undertaking flights at altitude and running racetrack patterns.  I could get the occasional distant shot as they went overhead.  Eventually the L39 returned and I figured it wound’s be too long before the 401 was back.  I had picked a spot on Google Maps that looked promising for the approach.  As I waited, I realized some other photographers were on the other side of the road and closer to the centerline.  I wondered about moving but also didn’t want to miss it while I did so.  I stayed where I was.  A bit distant but still worth it for an unusual type.  It has been seen at Boeing Field but not by me!