The Kingcobra

I wanted to post this yesterday but since yesterday was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor it seemed only fitting to push this back a day. The P-63 Kingcobra was somewhat of an unsung hero of WWII with most of the planes being sent to Russia under the Lend Lease Act. But with over 3,300 built they certainly saw their share of combat. December 7th was actually the 75th anniversary of the aircrafts first flight.

The P-63 was the “big brother” if you will of the P-39 Airacobra, both of which were built by Bell Aircraft. The P-63 was based off of the design of the P-39 while at the same time trying to improve on the P-39’s deficiencies. The P-63 was never accepted by the USAAF as a combat plane but did serve in training and target practice services.

While certainly not as glamorized as the Mustang or the Spitfire, the Supercobra and the Airacobra did their duties. Today only a handful are left flying. Thankfully with the help of volunteers and private collectors more and more are being returned to the sky. If ever at an airshow I highly recommend stopping and looking closely at a Cobra because their design is truly unique.

A Day Not to Be Forgotten

Every year I talk about this day because it is one that must be remembered. Seventy Six years ago Pearl Harbor was attacked and in those few hours the fate for many was decided. It set this country on a course that could not be altered and for four years we fought for freedom. Today is a special day to honor and remember what happened on December 7th.

Of all the historic events from WWII this certainly is one that must people recall. The photographs from that day are erie to look at now especially if you’ve ever visited the islands and seen what it’s like today. A few years back I had that opportunity and it felt even erie’r.

The rusted mast of one of the USS Arizona’s stacks is all that can be seen above water. It’s a far cry different then the image seen of the ship taken on that fateful day. Under the water surface still lies the remains of the crew submerged inside the ship, another reminder of what’s not to be forgotten. Hopefully this post isn’t to depressing but it’s important to cherish what we have in this world as it came at a price.

One Bad@#$ Cat

The Grumman F7F Tigercat was one mean plane. It’s fast, it’s strong and looks really awesome! Developed by Grumman during WWII the Tigercat never got to see action during WWII but would go on to see combat during the Korean War as a night fighter and attack fighter for the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. Only 364 were built and only a handful remain flying today.

Why is thus important? Well if you follow my blog and like bringing up anniversaries and todays is the 74th anniversary of the first flight of the F7F Tigercat. It’s a pretty cool and pretty darn big fighter plane that I’ve been fortunate to get to photograph a few times over the years. If you’re at an airshow I suggest you spend some time with this plane because there really aren’t many flying anymore.

The Tiger Moth

The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth is one the most recognizable biplanes in the world partly due to almost 9 thousand having been built. It was the primary trainer for all Commonwealth Fighter pilots and all of Britain’s top WWII Ace’s once flew the Tiger Moth. The Tiger Moth was Geoffrey de Havillands answer to his own question, how do I make a better plane? His first two were not up to his own expectations and so work began leading to the Gypsy Moth and the monoplane prototype Tiger Moth in which ideas from both led to the true Tiger Moth we know of today.

Among the many changes was the moving forward of the wings with the wings slanted back and down to maximize lift. The addition of a more powerful engine, folding doors for both pilot seats and many other changes were adapted into the new design. This lead to the DH.82 becoming one of the principal tail dragger trainers of its day. On October 26th 1931 the first Tiger Moth flew its initial flight. In February 1932 it entered service with the RAF Central Flying School. Geoffrey de Havilland wanted to make sure that the plane was good enough not only for the RAF but for civilian markets as well. He succeeded with Tiger Moth’s being flown in countries around the world as a trainer, a show piece, a crowd pleaser and an all around good flight.

While at Duxford this past August working with a Spitfire MkVb and a Hawker Hurricane, we had the luxury of looking across the field at 3 Tiger Moth’s that were busy flying people back and forth across the English countryside. While most of these flights were rides having been sold to further support the museum, one can’t help but wonder how many of those passengers were flying in honor of relatives that might have trained in that same aircraft.

Images Captured with Nikon D5, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Lodestar

The Lodestar was Lockheeds answer for a passenger airliner to compete against Douglas’s DC-3 which was already in widespread use. The Model 14 Super Electra was too expensive to keep up passenger service. The Model 18 Lodestar was based off of the Super Electra design but with an additional 5ft 6in in length which allowed for two extra rows of seats. The prototype with the new design first flew on this day 78 years ago.

Two more prototypes were built the first one flying on February 2nd 1940. The new models received their type certificate on March 30th 1940. The modifications were successful. The added seats made the Lodestar economically on par with the DC-3 while still retaining the flight performances. The Mid-Continent Airlines out of Kansas City, MI, was the first customer of the new aircraft. Eventually 31 would be sold to US airlines with another 29 going to foreign airlines. Despite the improvements, too many airlines were already using the DC-3. Most of the Lodestars built and the majority of the 625 built new from the assembly line were converted to military use as C-56’s, C-60, and R50 depending on which branch had them employed.

CAF Houston’s “Goodtime Gal” is a C-60A built in 1943. It saw service delivering domestic transport in the US and never went overseas. On January 6th 1945 it was sold to Skyways International Trading and Transport where it was used as a cargo plane. It was then sold to Nicaragua where it was used by the national airline Lanica. It returned to the US in the 1950’s where it was converted into an executive sled for corporations like General Dynamics and US Steel. In the 1970’s it was used for atmospheric and weather research. In 1992 it was turned into a parachute plane and flown up to Alaska. In 2002 it was bought by the CAF and was first flown in August 2011. It can be seen nowadays at the CAF Houston Wing.

The Aleutian Campaign From Adak

The battle of the Aleutians was a war that was forgotten in part due to the fear that would arouse if the public knew that the enemy had taken some of the islands in the Aleutian Chain. Kiska and Attu were taken and held for almost a year with a strong garrison on each island, an air force and naval forces. Throughout the campaign the naval and air forces were brutally fought back to the point where the islands were virtually cut off from all but submarines but even they were eventually stopped. Many men on both sides died but the main enemy throughout the entire campaign for both sides was the weather and terrain of the Aleutians.

There are many firsts in the war in the Aleutians partly because it was the first time many new military concepts were attempted, including amphibious assaults, high altitude and low altitude bombing, specific weather designed gear and many others. For the US it was as much a testing ground as it was a battle. Part of that was the idea of island hopping. Since weather was such an issue in the Aleutians it was paramount to get supplies, men and aircraft closer to the front. This also put more distance safely defended behind the front and the mainland. Adak was one of those islands. Seventy Five years ago the first zero altitude strike, combined fighters and bombers, was carried out from Adak against Kiska. The anti aircraft defenses had become exceptionally good and with low level clouds, attacking at zero altitude proved to be the most effective way to strike the island. The B-24, P-38 and P-39 were the primary aircraft in the Aleutians with some P-40 units and B-17’s. Getting top of the line supplies wasn’t easy for this campaign since many didn’t believe it a real threat. History proved otherwise. Not much is out there about the Aleutian War but one good source is The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield.

Reno From the Ground

As more and more planes start rolling into Stead the opportunities become even better. Each year varies with a different showing of planes in attendance each year. This makes for an ever changing atmosphere to work in. The one nice thing is the background, where the natural light hits, the halogen lights, the access, all of that remains the same so planning out those shots can be challenging and rewarding.

Now this year starts off differently because the Texas Flying Legends Museum brought down some of their planes including their Spitfire Mk.IXc. One aircraft is all that’s needed to make a good day great for a photographer. When it comes to static planes two big elements to control is background and angle. The background at Stead never changes so you can only do so much there but by getting down low, with good light and clouds you can make that “boring airplane at an airport” shot look great. A few years back CAF Camarillo brought up their A6M3 Zero and under the exact same conditions with a little change of angle and morning light, that desert background can look great. With so many great planes and so many shots already taken at Stead it’s challenging and rewarding to come up with new images.

Reno in Flight

This coming weekend marks the 54th National Championship Air Races. Lots of great planes, great people and great fun which has already started with planes arriving last week getting qualifying done and practice in on the course. For aviation photographers the Air Races provides a unique set of opportunities.

The best part of the races, like most aviation events, is the chance to see your favorite planes flying by multiple times. But how do you go about getting those great shots of your favorite planes? The big one to start with is try to keep your gear clean. It’s really hard to do in the dry environment at Stead Airport combined with all the wind but you’ll thank yourself later if you clean it every night. Dealing with those dust spots in post can drive you crazy. Now this plays true with prop planes more the jets since you need that slow shutter speed to get a prop blur. Slower shutter means greater depth of field, hence more spots. Next is panning. Good panning is crucial but practice helps. The best way to practice here is to photograph the different aircraft classes that might not be as exciting to you so that when the ones that are exciting come up you’re ready to go.

Reliving the Battle of Britain

For those that lived in England during WWII, the early years of the war were some of the darkest and scariest. The enemy had already conquered so much in so little time that it seemed they couldn’t be stopped. The Battle of Britain was one of the most crucial battles that happened throughout WWII and while it only lasted a short time in 1940 the damage done on both sides was severe.

September 7th actually marks an important day in the history of the battle. After weeks of attacking radar stations, aerodromes and manufacturing facilities, the Luftwaffe switched to bombing major cities, specifically on this day was London. The RAF had been doing night bombing raids against German cities including Berlin before this happened. The attack against London was as much a retaliatory attack as it was strategic. While on the September 7th it was successful, future attacks were not due to the sudden lack of pressure on RAF fighters. Hurricanes and Spitfires met the enemy on September 15th which cost the Luftwaffe dearly over London. Standing in Duxford looking at these magnificent machines one could hardly imagine what it would have been like seventy seven years ago.

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

How do you Level a Plane?

This seems to be one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to static aircraft. How do you level the plane when composing? Do you use the wheels, the wings, the ground, the background or the horizon line? There are a number of different ways but what it really comes down to is how you want to tell the story.

The general rule of them is that the horizon line has to be straight when the horizon line is visible. But if you’re on a hill it wouldn’t be level. If you’re on a grass runway then the ground will not be completely level. Therefore there will be a slant in the photo showing that there is a hill. Well I tend to go by the wheels most often when it comes to leveling because that’s where I know the balance comes in between the plane and the earth itself. In this case with the Sopwith Pup, part of the Shuttleworth Collection in England, the land is not level but the wheels are. If you tried to level out the wings this image would look really kind of odd. So it is a matter of your own perspective and with that comes the degree of believability to a viewer. You have to make the decision when taking the photo because trying to fix it in post, while possible, doesn’t always lead to great results.

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

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