B25’s Up North

I probably won’t get to see this year but for the last year, I had the privilege of the B-25 Maid in the Shade come up to visit as part of the Three Forks Flyin. Big bombers are a rare sight in Montana these days but back during WWII, they were quite common as Montana had a couple of training bases.

76th Anniversary of D-Day

Today marks a very important anniversary, the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which were the allied invasion of Europe in 1944. This invasion gave the allies a foothold in France that allowed them to push back against German-occupied Europe. Beach heads, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah were the designated landing spots and were heavily fortified by the Germans. Omaha Beach was the deadliest with the high cliffs and heavy fortifications. The original plan for the allies was to link up the beaches by the end of the first day but due to heavy resistance, it wasn’t until 8 days later that they were secure. Many brave men from multiple nations helped secure this victory without which the war would’ve been much different.

The C-47 or C-53 based on its use were used to drop paratroopers behind enemy lines and push the Germans out of the beach areas and nearby towns and villages. It was the largest airborne drop in history. The planes were marked with the black and white stripes so that they wouldn’t be shot by friendly ground fire.

 

The Bearcat makes it into Combat!

This was one powerful plane! The F8F Bearcat was Grumman’s answer to the climb to rate ratio that at the time was deficient. After the Battle of Midway, Grumman pilots in the field were demanding aircraft with better performance. At the time, Grumman was introducing the F6F Hellcat, which was a large step up from the F4F Wildcat but still didn’t meet the demands the pilots were looking for. This was 1942, with the release of the Hellcat in 1943. Grumman used the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine for the Hellcat, which was the most powerful American made engine at that time with 2,000 horsepower. Thus it also was used for the Bearcat.

Modifications to the fuselage length, wingspan, vertical stabilizer, amount of fuselage behind the pilot’s head, canopy, landing gear, prop, and many other factors helped bring the weight down to 7,650lbs when empty. The result of all these modifications was a max speed of over 400mph and a rate of climb of 4,465 ft/min. However; due to the length of time to design, test, and produce the Bearcat, it never saw combat in WWII. The Bearcat had operational status with Fighter Squadron (VF) 19 on this day seventy-five years ago but the Cat never was able to make its mark. That being said, the Bearcat was believed to be one of Grumman’s best planes as it has been used for years as a racing plane, breaking speed records for piston-powered aircraft and even was the plane of choice for the Blue Angels at one point.

75th Anniversary of VE Day

Today is a very important day and I hope that it gets recognized this year with everything else that is going on. Today marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, Victory Europe when Germany surrounded in 1945 bringing to an end the ground war of WWII. WWII wasn’t officially over until Japan surrendered in August of 1945 but for many a large part of the destruction was over. Many brave soldiers lost their lives in this bloody conflict and many more civilians lost their lives needlessly.

Five years ago, a massive tribute was held over the national mall when 52 WWII planes flew over the State Capitol in honor of this tremendous day. Over seven hundred veterans and thirty thousand people showed up to view this once in a lifetime event.

 

When you’re a photographer you get to be a part of many great moments that most people don’t even know about. I’ve been fortunate in my young career as a photographer to have been a part of some of these moments. Of all the ones I have been a part of, none have been more impactful on me then this one. Seeing a B-29 fly is pretty amazing in todays world but seeing one fly over the National Mall is epic.

Content Aware Fill and Clone Stamp are your Friends

Every aviation enthusiast has probably seen the great photos of the lineups of airplanes parked along the ramp at an airport. There are a couple of things needed in order to make this a truly great photo. All the planes have to be lined up so the spacing is even, the foreground has to be clean, the background has to be clean, the first plane has to be interesting and most of all you need to have lots of planes in the lineup! Again this was one of the great things about the Planes of Fame Airshow and while it is a bummer that it was canceled, you can always prepare for next year.

The amazing ground crew and the event itself solves a number of the above problems. The other photo elements have to be solved by yourself. Background, foreground, and an interesting subject up front are easy enough to solve. However, what you see above is typical, a long rope keeping people away from the planes. This is where Photoshop comes in handy. Content-Aware Fill and Clone Stamp tool are your friends because you can easily deal with this clutter. By doing so you create a more visually pleasing and less busy photo. It may take some time but it’s worth it.

Cleaning up Planes of Fame Images

In past years this would be the week where I would be cleaning up and finishing the photographs that I took at the Planes of Fame Airshow. Unfortunately due to recent events, the Airshow was canceled this past weekend. While this was a major bummer for the aviation and especially warbird enthusiast, like previous events and other photographers, there are plenty of images in the files that can still be worked on.

One of the biggest issues when working with airplanes is the amount of dust that gets kicked up and inevitably lands on the camera sensor. This leads to those lovely little black dust spots on the photography which have to be removed. As you can see form a previous Planes of Fame Airshow, I’ve had to deal with that in the past. Adobe Camera Raw makes it really easy to deal with that with the spot remover tool. You can highlight a spot, change the size of the spot, the location where it pulls from, and even apply those settings onto other photographs that have the same issue. It’s a handy quick way to fix that troublesome issue.

Honoring the 78th Doolittle Reunion

Today is the 78th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. 16 B-25 bombers took off from the carrier USS Hornet on this day to bomb Japan in the first strike after Pearl Harbor. While the mission had minimal strategic value, the moral effect of the mission was everlasting.

April 18th is a big day in aviation. It represents the resolve that we as a nation were willing to carry out in a time when it was needed the most. The eighty men that made the trek to Japan did something that had never been done before and thanks to hard-working volunteers it will never be forgotten.

The iconic Spitfire’s First Flight

March fifth marks the 84th Anniversary of the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire is not only an iconic aircraft from WWII but it is also one of the most revered fighters to have come out of WWII. Enthusiasts and historians alike have a passion for the Spitfires. From the first conception to the epic battles over Great Britain in 1940, to Africa, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and of course the epic dogfights over occupied Europe. The history of the multiple variants of the Spitfire goes on and on and lives on today with numerous examples being flown around the world. Needless to say that this is merely going to be an INTRO post as there is no possible way for me to write about the whole legacy of this plane.

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The Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell and his team at Supermarine Aviation Works, a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong, to meet Air Ministry requirement F7/30. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224, an open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear and a 600hp engine. It was a disappointment so the team “cleaned” up the design and created the Gloster Gladiator Biplane which was accepted into service. Mitchell then designed Type 300, an improvement on the Gladiator, but wasn’t enough of an improvement and was turned down. Mitchell went back and redesigned the Type 300 with a single thinner wing, breathing apparatus, closed cockpit, and a more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the “Merlin” engine. In December of 1934, Mitchell got the backing by Vickers-Armstrong to go ahead with the improved Type 300 and in December of 1934, the Air Ministry provided the capitol and contract to produce the improved F7/30. On January 3rd, 1935 Air Ministry approved the contract and designated it F10/35.

In April of 1935, the armament was changed from two .303 Vickers Machine guns to four .303 Browning machine guns. Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers took the controls of the prototype (K5054) for the first time on March 5th, 1936 for its maiden eight-minute flight. He was later quoted as saying, “Don’t touch a thing.” The flight of the Spitfire came four months after the first flight of the Hawker Hurricane. Over the next several months the K5054 was flown by several squadron leaders adding in their two cents on various performance issues and possible ways of improvement. Multiple propellers were used to increase maximum speed up to 348mph. While later models would go faster than this. Changes were made to the rudder, a new engine, and an undercarriage position indicator. The Spitfire gradually became more and more refined. On June 3rd, 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires before a formal report was issued by the A&AEE.

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Many features made the Spitfire a unique aircraft, one of the most distinctive was the elliptical wing design. In 1934 the design staff had to solve the need for a thin wing as well as one that was strong enough to house the undercarriage as well as the armament and ammunition. The elliptical design was the most efficient aerodynamic plan for an untwisted wing. Needless to say that I am not an expert on the aerodynamics of drag on wings so in this case, I would recommend looking up the engineering and flight characteristic of how an elliptical wing is better than a straight edge or swept wing design. As the Spitfire evolved to handle multiple roles so were the refinements of flight characteristics. The history of the Spitfire is partly due to the history of the multiple engines, wing, armament, airframe, cockpit, and other characteristic changes. There is in fact too many to write out everyone here.

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This particular Spitfire, NH759, is one of 957 MkXIV’s built. It was built in late 1944 at the Aldermaston factory in Berkshire, England. It went to the 215 MU on 20th May 1945 and having missed the European War went to India in July of 1945 and then to South East Asia Command in August of 1945. However, it missed the war against Japan as well, as NH749 arrived on August 9th. It went into storage until it was sold to the Indian Air Force in December 1947. That history is unknown. In 1979 the Hayden Bailey Brothers brought it back to England. It was restored by Craig Charleston, sold to Keith Wickenden, then to David Price’s Museum of Flying and then in 2005, it was sold to the Commemorative Air Force. It now resides with the CAF SoCal Wing in Camarillo. Note the distinct five-bladed prop on the Spitfire.

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I have only had the pleasure of photographing two Spitfires, the one mentioned above, and the formerly Texas Flying Legends Museum Spitfire MkIX. MK959 was built in March 1944 at the Vickers-Armstrong plant at Castle Bromwich. Its first flight was in April, then assigned to the 38th MU at RAF Colerne. In May of 1944, it was assigned to the 302 Polish Squadron at Chailey England where it did fighter escort roles, providing medium bombers with cover over France before the Normandy Invasion. Nine days after DDAy it was assigned to the 329 Free French RAF Squadron out of Merston. It went on to fly nineteen mission over the D-Day Beachhead. By August of 1944, it was transferred again to 165 Squadron out of Detling. It flew 41 combat operations including Market Garden. MK959 went on to have many more owners in other nations before eventually being restored by Raybourne Thompson who painted MK959 in honor of Andre Rose, the only living pilot who once flew the Spitfire, and the Free French Unit, their mascot being the Half Stork. Thompson went on to sell MK959 to Tom Duffy of Claire Aviation in Millville, NJ and then Duffy eventually sold it to Bruce Eames of the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

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The Spitfire, all variants including the Naval version Seafire, has had a long history of operations throughout many countries. It has produced several of Britain’s top aces including Robert Stanford Tuck who became an inspiration for many pilots after his book Fly For You Life was published in 1956. The Spitfire has a certain quality about it that many pilots lust after. It’s one of the few aircraft that many dreams to fly. In 2016 at Wings Over Houston, the P-51D Mustang Dakota Kid II and MK959 Spitfire took to the skies with Collings Foundation’s ME262. In perhaps the first time in decades, two of the German Luftwaffe’s most iconic enemies met with what was considered one of Germany’s many “wonder weapons.” Bringing this kind of history to life helps to keep the memories and lessons we learned during WWII alive today. If not for the help of the dedicated few, these beautiful machines would be with us today.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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