Happy 100th Birthday to Boeing

The tittle says it all, Happy Centennial to Boeing. That truly is an impressive feat to have changed the world of aviation for one hundred years. Boeing has produced many memorable and important aircraft since 1916. One of my favorite is, you guessed it, the B-17 Flying Fortress. Probably one of the largest and most well recognized of Boeing achievements, used heavily throughout WWII, but a favorite of mine nonetheless. This particular B-17 flies down in Mesa, AZ at the CAF Arizona Airbase.

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Finishing the Old

Well it kind of goes with yesterdays post but it certainly takes up a lot of time and thus finding ways to being faster when it comes to image processing is essential. After every event I have a process of getting images edited, filed and finished so that they get out to the hands of the clients by the time they need them. The rest are finished later for my own use. Now everything I finish is done with Adobe Camera Raw and then whatever I can’t do in ACR, which isn’t much these days, is finished in Photoshop. Then of course there are the images that I set aside for a later time because they aren’t real important at the time but at some point they may be useful. On those rainy grey sky days these images often come out and get finished. Now whether or not they end up in my gallery is another blog post.

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The Day the Air Force was Created

On this day in 1947 the United States Air Force was officially created and the United States Army Air Force was officially disbanded. For decades the command structure of the Air Force was disputed over. Starting with the Army Signal Corp in 1914, then the Army Air Corp in 1926, then the GHQ in 1935 and finally the United States Army Air Force from 1941-1947 which was created for better use of funds, supplies and allocation during the war effort. Throughout WWII several people fought for independent air force to reduce restrictions that were being placed on the USAAF due to the need for planes to go to both the Navy and Army. After the war ended it took two years before a restructure of the United States Government defense took place in which the Department of the Navy, Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force was created under the Department of Defense.

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The USAAF helped bring an end to WWII with it’s vast fleet of iconic allied aircraft and tireless devotion of the pilots, mechanics, ground personnel and administrative staff. If not for the great legacy that the USAAF had during the war it is conceivable that a separate air force might not have been created. Since that day in 1947 the USAF has gone on to create thousands of jobs, engineer countless new planes and help protect our freedom.

The B-17 Flying Fortress

There is one aircraft whose silhouette when seen flying is so easily recognizable that it brings out a feeling of freedom to anyone that witnesses it. It is one of the most iconic aircraft of WWII in part because hundreds of them took to the skies during the bombing campaign in Europe and the Mediterranean. Needless to say I will not be able to write everything there is to write in a single blog post about this plane. For those that haven’t guessed yet or for those who haven’t looked ahead at the photograph, then the plane I am talking about is the B-17 Flying Fortress. Today only a handful of flying examples exist of the once 12,000 bombers built. They can be seen around the country at various museums and airshows as one of the highlights of the event. With an impressive wingspan of 103ft 9in and a length of 74ft 4in the B-17 stands alone as one of the largest bombers built during WWII.

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The B-17 was a bomber built on the call of the United States Army Air Force for a new high altitude precision bomber. Boeing initially lost the contract in the 1930’s due to the prototype crashing but because the B-17 outperformed it’s competitors and order was placed for thirteen more planes. On July 28th 1935 the first model 299, preclude to the B-17, flew and Richard Williams a reporter for the Seattle Times coined the phrase flying fortress which Boeing instinctively trademarked. The model 299 was the first aircraft in the long line of changes to be made in creating the B-17. While originally built with five 0.30 caliber machine guns, a 4,800lb bomb load, and powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-1690 “Hornet” radial engines, the model was a leap forward in heavy bomber engineering. In August 1935 it flew from Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and 3 minutes at a cruising speed of 252mph, way ahead of the competition. While the model 299 crashed due to pilot error, the USAAC was impressed and purchased more of the then known YB-17.

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The thirteen YB-17’s were upgraded with four Wright R-1820-39 Cyclone engines instead of the Pratt and Whitneys. Many other upgrades were also made including a checklist to before takeoff in order to prevent any further accidents like the ones involving model 299. The thirteen YB-17’s were delivered to various branches throughout the east coast for testing as well as several places on the west coast. One mission of three B-17’s were lead by lead navigator Lieutenant Curtis LeMay to photograph the ocean liner Rex, 610 miles off the shore in the Atlantic. It was huge success and made many papers. Opposition of the B-17B faded and it slowly was being purchased from 1937 onward. 155 were in Army service between January 1937 and November 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor everything changed and orders were being placed with rapid succession. By the end of WWII the B-17 was the most produced heavy aircraft under allied control.

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The Flying Fortress was known for many things, it’s ruggedness, it’s firepower and it’s reliability. The plane slowly evolved throughout the war in Europe but the mission never did. Everyone that went up in a crew on a B-17 knew that there mission was to bomb the enemies supplies shortening the war effort. Many howling missions were had over France, Belgium, Austria, Romania, Italy, Japan and of course Germany. Everything from ball bearing factories, to tank factories, aircraft assembly lines, railway yards, marshaling yards, oil refineries and more were bombed in an effort to shorten the length of the war. Seen here is a mustang flying cover for his big buddy while the Fortress is on route to his mission with his Little Friend cover. Over the course of the evolution of the bombing campaign, came the evolution of tactics. At first flights were held close enough to Britain that Spitfires, P-47’s and P-38 Lightnings could provide cover for the B-17’s. However, as the bombers moved inward towards Germany and the range got further and further away from home bases a new type of aircraft had to be developed to provide top cover. The Mustang was the answer. I mention this because of the significance these two planes played together. A post on the mustang will have to wait till later however.

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The B-17 went through a series of stages and like any new weapon there were disagreements on how to use it. The USAAC under General Henry Hap Arnold was determined to prove that precision daylight bombing was the only way to win. British Royal Air Force flew night time bombing campaigns and for several months early on in the war B-17’s were used in some of those missions being flown out of bases in England. After many months of experimenting and seeing little result to industrial works the USAAC decided to suspend any further night raids with the B-17. The fight for the B-17 would go on for the rest of the war between the RAF and USAAC over which use of the plane was better. The Eighth Air Force based out of England and commanded By General Ira C Eaker went from less then a hundred B-17’s to over a thousand during the course of the war. He helped to bring together the various groups, squadrons and personnel to make it what it was. During this time the 15th Air Force based in Italy and commanded by Jimmy Doolittle was established in 1943. It’s purpose was to bomb oil refineries and other industrial targets in southern occupied axis countries. In January 1944 until the end of the war Doolitle was put in command of the Eight Air Force with one goal, to attain air superiority. By this time a sizable blow had already been delivered but Doolittle’s change of orders for all fighters to go after fighters and not stick with the bombers changed many things from that point on. During the this period of transition a new structuring was made with the VIII Bomber Command, VIII Fighter Command and VIII Air Support Command along with the Ninth Air Force were brought together and formed the United States Strategic Air Force. General Carl Toey Spaatz was in command. Although this never changed the mission of the B-17 it did changes in how the plane would operate.

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The B-17 wasn’t just a plane but a home to many young men. Ten men would fly in various positions throughout the plane in extreme cold temperatures and under severe conditions. Everything from flak, to fighters to seeing other planes go down had to be endured when trying to complete a mission from England to occupied Europe. One way moral was increased was by giving an assentive for crew members that if they were to complete 25 missions they could go home. That was later upped to 30 mission as the the war was getting closer to the end. This had little effect on the men as most knew that the life expectancy in those early years was not even half the number of required missions. During the first couple of years of the bombing campaign the stakes were high and so were the mortality rates. The bravery that these men showed to climb back into the same plane over and over again was extraordinary. Many great books, films and articles have been written by the survivors of these missions. I highly recommend going out and purchasing at least one. For now this post will have to do but rest assured more is to come.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, D4, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Dream of Air to Air

This is the one area that has the most questions and the biggest draw. Air to Air photography is truly a thrill ride as there is nothing quite like being up in one aircraft and photographing another one. The work that goes into this kind of photography is more of a ballet then just a simple photo shoot. It is certainly not for everyone and most definitely has to be planned out beforehand! The key element to a successful air to air shoot is SAFETY!

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No matter what the subject is, whether it’s small or big, everything starts on the ground with a shot list and step by step procedure. Before the briefing takes place you have to know the limitations and the flying characteristics of both the subject plane and the photo platform. This information is essential! More important then that you have to know the pilots you are working with. All of this goes into the safety factor. In reality the photos are just photos, but so much can happen on an air to air flight that you have to be aware of everything that is going on.

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As far as the photography goes a couple of tips that might be useful. First make sure you have everything strapped to you and won’t get knocked out. It’s very important that nothing leaves the plane. Next, shooting with a longer lens is a very useful way to keep the planes further apart while still getting a tight shot. Creating more space between the planes just adds more safety when flying in formation. The last element is one that doesn’t always get attention to is the background. Planes live in cities but a city background doesn’t always work. Knowing the history of the plane you are working with can help by being able to choose a more dramatic and cleaner background. Little details like these are essential when telling the story. The element that still makes the biggest impact is light. Whether the plane is front lit, back lit or side lit tells a different story so it’s important to consider that when you are flying.

Getting Better at Static Aviation Photography

Since this week marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day and with the number of airshows that are happening around the country, it seemed like a good time to write a little about different areas of aviation photography and how to approach certain scenarios. A good place to start is of course with your feet on the ground. Static photography is certainly the best place to start as all parked planes are easy subjects to work around safely. Airplanes have one very special feature to them that stands out and that is the lines. Planes are made of great lines and the relationship between those surfaces and light is what makes an image come to life.

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Whether it’s working at an airshow or at a private hanger, you have to think about what the story is. There is nothing wrong with capturing the moment that exists when approaching an aircraft but if you want to really make something special you have to work at the angle and the gesture of the plane to make a statement. One of the best ways to bring out that gesture is to go in tight with a longer lens like a 70-200 VRII or even a 200-400VR. A long lens does a great job of isolating details like the prop hub, the blades, the canopy, guns, or other characteristics of planes without having to get close physically. When working around other people using a long lens helps to keep heads out of the way while still able to get a shot.

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When it comes to telling the whole story one image is never really enough. This is where going wide by using something like a 24-70 AF-S to capture in everything is just as important as going in tight to get detail shots. Just like with a good landscape image a wide shot is only going to be strong is the foreground and background are strong. Some of the se planes are really big, and not having a good sky behind the plane is not going to help. It is important to watch all the elements. One way to help overcome this obstacle is by getting down low and shooting up. This helps to blur the details in the foreground and accentuate the plane while making the plane look bigger. Even with a bald sky shooting this way can make the image more interesting.

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The last thing I want to point out is that no matter what the age the plane is, whether it’s jet powered or prop driven, the devil is in the details. Just like with any subject the light is key and where that light is highlighting the plane is a great place to focus on. One great way to help bring your eye to that point is by using a simple gradient on the top and bottom that brings down the exposure. Another simple way to accomplish the same desire is to use a vignette.

The Flying Fortress Around the World

While the B-17 Flying Fortress was one of the most iconic aircraft in the European theater, being seen later in the war as mass droves flying across the skies, they were actually used in all theaters including North Africa, Italy, China and the Pacific. Skipping forward a year, in November of 1942 the Japanese established an airstrip on New Georgia in a place called Munda. Munda was the largest settlement on the island and would be used as a stepping stone into Guadalcanal which at this point had American troops on the ground fighting for the island. American intelligence discovered planes on New Georgia on December 3rd and on December 9th the first raid of B-17’s bombarded the airfield.

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New Georgia was used for a year by Japan as an airstrip to attack targets of opportunity against Allied Aircraft, airfields and naval vessels. The Japanese believed they couldn’t hold the Solomon islands once allies held ground at Guadalcanal. They knew eventually they would attack Bougainville and Rabual and installed a ring of defensive measures throughout the islands to hold back allied advance for as long as possible. Allies came up with Operation Cartwheel to capture enemy controlled islands from Gaudalcanal to Rabual. The New Georgia Campaign lasted from June till August 1943. Once the island was captured it was rebuilt as an Allied Airfield.

The Mighty Eighth

The whole theme of this years show was solute to the Mighty Eighth. The Eighth Air Force based out of several bases throughout England were responsible for breaking German manufacturing throughout WWII. The Eighth, although not the first to commit to daylight bombing operations, were the first to make daylight bombing raids effective. The British had tried daylight bombing and found that the losses were too great for the reward. With the need to keep planes in the sky over the enemy the British switched to night time bombing raids. Many considered this to be the best way to fight for night time bombing greatly reduced the risk for the bombers as they did not have to deal with enemy fighters. However, accuracy dropped during such raids so the USAAF, through much debate, stuck to daylight bombing. The main aircraft for such roles was the B-17 Flying Fortress.

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You can’t have a solute to the Eighth without these big birds and as luck would have it two showed. The B-17G Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey out of CAF Airbase Arizona and the B-17G Flying Fortress Fuddy Duddy out of Lyon Air Museum were at the Planes of Fame for the Airshow. Both days included a time slot where planes from the European theater flew. Besides the B-17’s, P-51’s, P-47’s, a P-63, a P-40 and even a Focke Wulf were up in the sky at once. It was pretty darn impressive to see how many planes were up in the sky. In total 52 warbirds were at the show.

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All of this was shot with a handheld D4, 200-400 VR and a SunSniper Strap. One thing to really notice and watch for when photographing planes with polished aluminum fuselages is how the light changes on such a surface and where the shadows are. Both of these planes have a polished fuselage and during the panning of the plane there was a time when you could see the light not curve around the plane but streaked across it which wasn’t as pleasant. When the skies are filled with planes and you don’t want to waste an opportunity training your eyes to know when to click and when not to is can really make a difference.

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The Best Kind of Background

A rather powerful title I realize but when you hear my reason why it will make sense. The best kind of background is one that needs no finishing and tells a story so well that subject may not even be there. When it comes to work with planes thus becomes so important that Dad and I actually search more for the backgrounds than we do the planes. It’s so hard to find an airport with power lines, houses or other stuff in the background cluttering up the story.

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One of the best elements for a background is mother natural herself. Fog can be the best camouflage you can ask for when it comes to working with planes. Not only does it do the heavy lifting for you but it also can bring out some amazing colors. The only catch is you have to get up early before the ground heats up in order to catch those foggy mornings.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Playing in the puddles

I really couldn’t think of anything useful to talk about today so I thought I would just have some fun. What better way to have fun then to play in some puddles!? I did it when I was a kid, I still do. Heck even this B-17 likes to. Sure it’s a little more tucked in with tarps over its cowlings but it’s out there. Only difference is, it’s reflection turned out better then mine.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, Nikon AF-S 18-35mm, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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