Enter the Bearcat

One big engine in a small plane. The F8F Bearcat never saw combat in WWII but one could imagine what would’ve happened had this 455mph fighter/interceptor entered service. Powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the Bearcat was designed to be operated off of escort carriers, which were smaller and lighter, with a high rate of climb, maneuverability and speed. The first operational squadron was ready May 21st 1945 but with the war over in Europe, production orders were vastly reduced and eventually only 1265 were built. The Bearcat first saw combat in the French/Indochina war and then again in Vietnam.

The Bearcat’s true fame came from the Navy’s choice for the famed Blue Angels squadron, then being raced for decades at the Reno Championship Air Races and for setting the 3km World Speed Record as well a the time to climb record. The speed record was of course broken later on.

Still this marvelous aircraft graces the skies of North America at various airshows throughout the season. It’s short wings, short fuselage and high profile make it hard to miss among the other aircraft on the ramp. In the skies, the sound of that R-2800 is unmistakable as it thunders overhead.

In Honor of VE Day 73 Years Later

Certainly an anniversary that needs to be honored every year. VE and VJ Day were two very significant days in world history. VE Day stands for Victory Europe when the war in Germany came to an end on May 5th 1945. WWII affected millions of lives and when the conflict ended life didn’t just resume as normal. It took time. Time to remember.

Three years ago I had the great fortune to be at the 70th Anniversary of VE Day as part of the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover in Washington DC. Over thirty thousand people attended the ceremony and over 800 veterans were present at the Reflection Pond. Every head was looking up as the 52 aircraft flew overhead in honor of the different services that participated throughout the war.

You can see what happened through the eyes of the Texas Flying Legends Museum and their fleet of aircraft as they flew over the memorial here.

Another Year has past since the Doolittle Raid

It kind of amazes me that another year has past and here I am again writing about the Doolittle Raid that happened seventy six years ago. We recognize today in honor of those brave men of the crews of the sixteen B-25 Mitchell Bombers that took off on a bombing run for Tokyo, Japan and there inability due to a lack of fuel to make a safe landing in China. Many made it home some were not so lucky. It was a mission of high risk and high reward if it were successful. It was.

I was fortunate many years ago to attend the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Reunion when there was twenty B-25’s present and more importantly four of the original Raiders still with us. Today only one, Dick Cole, is left to carry-on the memory of the others. Thankfully with the help of many volunteers and passionate aviation enthusiasts, these planes, these veterans, these stories will always have a home and be recognized.

Sun N Fun Shooting

Yesterday kicked off Sun N Fun International Fly-in & Expo in Lakeland, Fl which happens to be one of the largest gatherings in the airshow circuit. Each Spring is marked by the event and while each year thousands of spectators attend the event, I personally never have. After all of these years working with aircraft, Sun N Fun is still one of those venues I haven’t been to. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pass on some useful trivia from other events.

One of the biggest things I hear from other photographers is how do you get that shot with so many other people around? Well often times I try and include the people because they are as much apart of the event as the planes are. But to get those shots that aren’t as busy you have to spend a bit of time watching the flow of people around the aircraft. There are times throughout the day that are busier and slower and finding the slower ones will help with those shots. Another useful tool is quite honestly post processing. If you really want that clean static shot then going a step further in your post processing will help you get it.

Now whether it’s Sun N Fun or any other aviation event always remember to be looking for those shots that are different from everyone else’s. Go at different times, try different angles, use a different approach to make something unique happen. Why? Because planes travel a lot and are seen at a lot of places throughout the years. To make your images stand above the rest you got think a little outside of the box.

Pretty Cool Discovery

By now most of you had probably heard about the discovery of the USS Lexington in the Coral Sea by Paul Allen and his crew. Paul Allen being the co founder of Microsoft and besides multiple businesses is also the owner of the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum. His research crew have made many important discoveries over the years including the Japanese battleship Musashi, the USS Indianapolis and now the USS Lexington. Thanks to some aviation experts one of the aircraft discovered on the Lexington was flown by none other the LtCMD. Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare.

Butch O’Hare was the US Navy’s first flying ace shooting down multiple Japanese bombers on February 20th 1942. He was the first US Navy recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was also unfortunately shot down on November 26th 1943 and was never discovered. A US Destroyer was named after him as well as the famous Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The aircraft O’Hare flew while on board the Lexington was a F4F Wildcat.

The above image was taken a few years back of Goodyear built FM-2 Wildcat of the Texas Flying Legends Museum. The FM-2 was the license built version of the F4F.

Spitfires on Malta

The Spitfire has a long history throughout WWII as it was used on so many fronts. Since the first time it flew in 1936 to its introduction into service in 1938, the Spitfire went through many changes and variants as its capabilities and potential were continually pushed until production stopped in 1948. To many the Spitfire is the epitome of aviation spirit due to its design and its legacy. For those that flew the plane, they loved it because it got them home safe.

One of the fronts where the Spitfires was used and isn’t talked about as much was in the Mediterranean at a place called Malta. Malta was a 97 sq mi island which operated as a forward base between Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besides being a British Colony it had a surprisingly large population of natives with a combined total population of 250K as recorded by a census in 1937. The strategic importance of the island was great as allied planes and naval vessels could attack vital supply lines of the Axis powers going into Egypt. Rommel desperately needed the supplies to keep up his desert offensive. Thus a tremendous amount of ships, aircraft and personnel were diverted from other fronts between 1940 and 1942 to fight the defenders of the island. Despite victory almost in hand, the fortress was never captured but the losses that Germany took were significant.

On March 7th 1942 the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V made its debut on the island with 16 aircraft being flown off of the carrier HMS Eagle. Throughout 1942 more and more aircraft were flown into Malta by HMS Eagle and USS Wasp. The island had a unique compliment of Swordfish Biplanes, Bristol Blenheims, Bristol Beaufighters, Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires. No one aircraft can be contributed with the defense of the island but like all battles it was the combined effort of all that made it possible.

The above image was taken a couple years back at Planes of Fame Airshow of Robert Defords home built Spitfire Mk V.

Image Captured with Nikon D4s, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Hurricane with the Hurricane

It was never as fast as the Spitfire, not quite as slick looking nor did it acquire the provenance like the Spitfire but the Hurricane was the RAF’s first single seat monoplane fighter. It gained fame during the Battle of Britain when it was responsible for 60% of the aircraft shot down. The Hurricane was exported to countries around the world for use by the allies. It was tough, rugged and reliable which made pilots fall in love with it.

In todays world, without the environment in which made this plane famous, how do you show the world in which it flew in? In this case it was a little bit of luck. While in Britain I learned that most people love having clear sky days but that’s never what we want as a photographer. On the last evening with the Hurricane the wind blew in one heck of a storm cloud and the light that caught it was amazing. It’s oh so rare to get the exact weather that captures the essence of the plane itself.

What’s Next With Your Photography?!

This is an important question that we must be constantly asking ourselves in order to grow. Now is a great time if you haven’t already since it’s a new year. If you don’t know yet what the next step is, then that’s okay. You’re not alone. Every photographer goes through it. But the challenge is how do you get past it?

The first step is to take stalk of what you have already done and accomplished. Look back at 2017, really study the successes and the failures, especially the FAILURES! No one likes to admit those failures but we have to. That’s how you grow. It sounds like child like logic but it’s true. If you want to figure out what’s next with your photography then start by turning your failures into successes and then applying those lessons to your next project. By doing so new avenues and new projects are bound to come up because now you are looking for those avenues that have yielded a success. The sky can be the limit if you just take the first step.

First Combat in a Long Legacy

The American Volunteer Group is one of the most studied and talked about combatants from WWII. Their legacy is a mix of lore and legends most of which are still debated. The veterans that are part of the group have slowly faded away to the point where only a handful remain. The one point that has never been argued and never will be is how much they contributed to the defense of China during the early parts of the war.

Seventy Six years ago was the first combat mission that the volunteers faced over China. Flying from their base at Toungoo, the First and Second Squadrons flew to Kunming on the 18th to fight over the Yunnan Province. The pilots at the helm of the P-40’s shot down nine of ten Japanese bombers with a loss of one fighter. Three days later the Third Squadron along with RAF Fighters shot down six bombers and four fighters. The RAF lost five aircraft and the AVG lost four. For the units first week in action it was a busy one and it would lead to a series of other engagements leading to an impressive record, one that is well remembered to this day.

Last year at Peachtree Airport in Atlanta at the 75th anniversary of the AVG, five P-40 Warhawks and two AVG veterans showed up to honor the other members both living and deceased. Their contribution to protecting our freedom will never be forgotten.

Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Planes in Snow

Snow is finally coming down in Bozeman which is great since it’s been such a warm and wet Fall. Every year it seems different and I still say Bozeman is the one place where it can be raining, snowing, and sunny at the same time in the same place. Often that means it can be rather depressing with grey skies and similar photo subjects all the time so finding that little bit of pop can be really rewarding.

Now most people wouldn’t think about planes in snow because most plane owners don’t like bringing out their planes in snow but the photographs that can be made are often worth it. It all comes down to how you approach the mission. Snow is water and water and planes don’t mix. So if you are planning an outdoor shoot go for a day that’s going to be clear and if not stick around after and help wipe down the aircraft. Next keep it short. It’s cold and wet and while we have to stick it out to get the shots we need everyone else is usually there out of the generosity of there hearts. These shoots can and do happen up here in the mountains you just have to be respectful.

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