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.

Pesky Fences

The hardest part about photography is getting past the mental and physical fences that block our creativity. No matter how hard you try they always seem to be there. The other kind that tend to always be in the way are the ones that are always seen behind an airplane. I don’t know about the rest of you but I have many images where there is a fence in the background. Sometimes there is no way around it and other times you can remove it in post. Out of those two options, I mostly recommend removing them. Why? Because those barriers give the wrong feeling when it comes to aviation.

Aviation is all about freedom of flight and having any sort of mental barrier come about from having an actual barrier in the photograph ruins that mental picture. I put up this image specifically to make that point. I couldn’t remove it here and the image feels grounded as a result. It’s a little thing but those little things do matter.

Five More Years Have Gone By

While the post is early, this weekend at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio along with Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio will be honoring the men of the famous Doolittle Raid which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Tuesday the 18th.

Seventy five years ago a daring and bold plan was conceived that would have a profound affect for the rest of WWII. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. After he had he then asked his advisers to come up with a plan to attack Japan to show that they are vulnerable and that the Pacific was not just theirs. Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare, who reported to Admiral Ernest King, came up with the idea to use US Navy carriers and US Army Air Corps Bombers to attack Tokyo and other industrial capitols on the Japanese home island of Honshu. The mission was approved and Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle was selected to train and lead the men of the raid. On April 18th, 1942 sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers took off of the USS Hornet towards Tokyo. The mission was later called the Doolittle Raid.

After the disaster at Pearl Harbor, America needed a serious morale boost and the idea of bombing Tokyo was believed to achieve that need. Not only would it help the American public but it would also put doubt into the minds of the Japanese who were told by their leaders that they were invulnerable. The Doolittle Raid or Tokyo Raid achieved both of these goals and helped to force Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s, commander-in-chief of the combined fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, to attack Midway later that year in order to gain a strategic stepping stone towards America’s west coast as well as a stronger defense for their home islands which were now proven to be vulnerable. Many variables helped to turn the Battle of Midway in America’s favor including the breaking of the Japanese naval code. Midway turned into a dismal defeat for the Imperial Navy and brought much needed time for the US Navy to build up its strength.

In preparation for the mission many issues had to be solved. The first was deciding which medium bomber would be used. Many planes including the Martin B-26 Marauder, Douglas B-18 Bolo, Douglas B-23 Dragon, and the North American B-25B Mitchell were consider under the qualifications that it had a range of 2,400 nautical miles and a bomb load of 2,000lbs. The B-26 had takeoff characteristics not suitable for a carrier and the B-18 and B-23 had a much longer wingspan raising concerns about damaging the ships main island. Also the greater wingspan meant less planes available for the raid. The B-25B Mitchell Bomber was selected with a crew of five. The mission called for the planes to land in friendly territories after making their bomb runs, no return to the carrier or fighter protection was available for the bombers. Originally the plan called for landings in Vladivostok but Russia had a neutrality pack with Japan and thus was not an option. However, Capt. Edward York and his crew (eighth off—AC #40-2242) had to land in Russia after engine problems and low fuel levels. The crew was interned for fifteen months and eventually escaped into Persia where they returned home in May of 1943.

On February 3rd, 1943 a test of 2 B-25’s flew off of the USS Hornet in Norfolk Virginia and was approved for the mission. The 17th Bomb Group was chosen with the most experience with B-25’s and a call went out for volunteers for the mission. Even up to the very last minute of the operation, every crew member was given the option to drop out. Doolittle wanted this to be entirely optional not knowing if any would make it back at all. 24 crews flew to Eglin Field in Florida and trained for three weeks in March. At the same time the 24 planes were being adjusted for the weight restrictions and fuel needed for the long trip at Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On March 25, 1942 twenty two B-25’s flew to McClellan Air Field in California where sixteen were then flown to NAS Alameda, California for loading on March 31st.

The USS Hornet and Task Force 18 left port on April 2nd and rendezvoused with Task Force 16. Task Force 16 consisted of the USS Lexington which housed the only available fighter cover as the Hornet’s fighters were below deck to make room for the B-25s. Up to the point of launch the crews of both Task Forces were at total readiness. An order was placed that if at any point they came under attack of enemy fighters the B-25’s would be pushed overboard, this included at the point of launch if there was any trouble or delay, the plane would be removed. With a combined strength of only two carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers and two fleet oilers, no extra chances could be taken. The entire mission was held under secrecy all the way until they were out at sea.

On the morning of April 18th, still 650 nautical miles away from Japan, the Task Force was discovered by the Japanese picket boat No. 23 Nittō Maru, a 70-ton patrol craft, which radioed their position back to Japanese headquarters. The Nittō Maru was sunk minutes later by the USS Nashville. Doolittle and Hornet skipper Captain Marc Mitscher decided to launch 10 hours early and 170 miles further away then planned. As a last minute decision due to the surprise of being spotted, Doolittle included the sixteenth aircraft even though it was never meant to be part of the bomb run. All sixteen aircraft managed to get off of the flight deck in the 467ft available with Doolittle in the lead plane. Each crew had targets throughout the island of Honshu, not all bound for Tokyo. Strict orders were given to not bomb civilians or the Imperial Palace. The targets were to remain industrial complexes only. Due to the nature of precision bombing, even at low altitude, civilians would be killed no matter what.

All sixteen bombers had successful bombs runs and flew onto their intended landing zones. Due to bad weather and darkness fast approaching, the crews had a hard time finding their intended landing areas in the Zhejiang province. The plan had been to land, refuel and head to Chongqing, where the planes would then be used in land based operations. Fifteen of the Sixteen aircraft either crashed or bailed out over China. York’s plane, low on fuel, landed in Russia where the plane and crew were interned. The rest of the crews had a perilous journey ahead of them.

Of the 80 men who took part of the raid, sixty nine were able to escape capture or death. Three men were killed in action, KIA, due to the crashing of the plane except for Corporal Leland D. Faktor, flight engineer/gunner, who died during bailout over China. Eight men were captured by the Japanese and whose fates were unknown until 1946. During the war crime trials held in Shanghai, four Japanese officers were charged with the mistreatment of the eight men. On 28 August 1942, pilot Hallmark, pilot Farrow, and gunner Spatz were charged with war crimes of strafing civilians and were executed. In April of 1943 the five remaining men were moved to Nanking, Lieutenant Robert J. Meder died in December of that year, and the rest remained there until they were freed in August of 1945 by American troops. The sixty nine crew members that did survive capture fought there way to freedom with the help from the Chinese people who ended up paying severely for helping the Americans. After the raid the Japanese started the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign where they took over all eastern coastal provinces in order for no more raids to be carried out against their home islands. As result many Chinese people were killed during this campaign.

The last thing that Doolittle said to his men before departing the Hornet was that he would throw a party in Chongqing when everyone was back together. It took several years before he could hold true on that promise as many would not return until after the war. However, a celebration was had once the sixty nine made it back to the states and ever since that inaugural party one has been held in honor of the raiders. That reunion has been going on for over seventy years when in November of 1943, with only four members remaining they held their final celebration. They opened the bottle of brandy that had been left for the last man and toasted their fellow comrades in their memorial silver goblets, one for each crewmen. Today only one man, Colonel Richard E Cole, is left of the original eighty raiders. He lives on, as will the memories of his companions as a monument to the bravery of their mission. This Tuesday marks the 75th anniversary of the raid and their contribution to changing the outcome of WWII.

Images in this post came from the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Reunion held in Dayton, Ohio in 2012.

So Many Planes So Hard To Do Air To Air

The two times that I have come to EAA Airventure, Oshkosh I have been fortunate enough to do an air to air photo mission. You would think with the surplus amount of planes that come to the Airshow that it would be easy to do more but in reality it is very difficult to do. First off finding the subject plane is easy. In reality it’s not hard to start talking with a pilot, make a friend, and then want to go flying. Finding a photo platform isn’t that hard either. Since so many people fly in to camp under the wings of their planes, finding the right GA plane like a Bonanza isn’t too hard. The challenges start after that.

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The first major one is getting into the sky. The air space around Oshkosh is very busy with traffic making it difficult to do a scheduled early morning or late evening shoot. Then there is the background. Most of the area is surrounded by houses or towns so getting a clean background without spending lots of time in post is also tough. Now none of this means that it isn’t possible. Every year many articles are published with images taken at Oshkosh. My best advice for doing an air to air at Oshkosh is talk to the pilots. They know more about the ins and outs of what is happening then anyone else. Also study the maps. While most go over the lake that isn’t far from Osh, really know they area nearby so you can plan out your trip thoroughly. Also talk to the tower beforehand. Make sure they know what you are planning so that you can get the go ahead. At the end of the day bear in mind that it’s just a photograph. If you don’t get it the world will keep spinning.

The Afternoon Session

This is something that I see a lot of people struggle. It’s the middle of the afternoon, the light isn’t great, you paid all that money to be out there shooting so you do but you aren’t happy with the results. This is happens a lot. It’s real easy to have happen with planes because the planes are usually always out during the middle of the day but with the bright light and reflective surfaces it’s hard to get a good shot. The answer, go in tight!

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Detail shots are very important but are often overlooked. When you have lines of planes side by side parked on the grass, why do in tight? I can’t blame you on that. But in the middle of the afternoon with all that light you can’t get a great result that way. Especially if there are bald skies. Depending on your style, you may use a longer lens or a wider lens. With a longer lens you can stay further away, control the depth of field better and thus have a better background. The 200-400 VR works great for this. That being said something more versatile like the 24-70 f/2.8 is also a good choice. My personal preference is the D5 and the 70-200 VRII. This is the perfect medium distance that allows me to get the shots I need while staying far enough away that I don’t get in other people’s way. I always try to think about the other photographers being courteous to them as well.

Look To The Skies!

I truly find this to be the hardest area to get good shots of at EAA Airventure, Oshkosh. The great thing about this airshow is that they are lots of performances going on at all times. The downside it is not always easy to get good shots. Between finding a good place to stand, having bald skies or my favorite the row of brown national guard vehicles. Yep we all have those shots with the vehicles in the background, it’s just part of Oshkosh.

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There are a couple of things that you can do to capture better ground to air images. First off, be shooting with a long lens. My personal favorite is the D5 and the 200-400 VR. It’s a good stable platform with a good range depending on whether one plane or multiple planes are flying. The Texas Flying Legends Museum are a perfect example of needing this range because they fly in a six ship and then they break off into dual ship and lastly, single ship formations.

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Next use high speed crop if you’re a Nikon shooter. If you’re using the D5 or even the D4 then the file size is large enough that when you switch to the smaller sensor size you will still have a quality image.

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Then of course there is the background. If you have bald skies and only one cloud find a spot where you can exploit that one cloud. Sometimes one cloud is all it takes.Lastly, get to the fence line early. If you know there is something that you want to shoot show up a little bit early so that you can get a better position. Keep in mind where show center is because that can make a big difference also. These are just a few basic tips that can hopefully help your shooting.

Oshkosh is Here!

Today is the first official day of EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, WI! For many people this airhsow started much earlier as planes arrive early as do the people. When I tell people about Oshkosh, the informal nickname of the airshow, it’s fair to say that it is like no other event. In many ways it is one giant party. Lots of people, lots of events, shops, movies, lectures, speaking engagements, performances and of course planes. It’s just a week of fun afterward you need a vacation.

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This year I am very fortunate to be back with the Texas Flying Legends Museum who have been brought their squadron to Oshkosh for years. This year they return with six aircraft that will be displayed in Warbird Alley. Since this is Oshkosh week it seemed only fitting to talk a little about aviation photography technique especially in regards to what can be found at Oshkosh.

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To start things rather simple, Oshkosh is overwhelming! There are planes everywhere and your senses are easily overloaded as you take it all in. If you have been there before then you know, if you haven’t then here’s a brief taste. Now there are a few ways to stay at Osh, the best way that I have found is to camp at Scholler. The downside is it is a ways away from Warbird Alley which makes it hard to get up for sunrise. But it is so worth it! Since everyday I am out walking I keep gear light. This is year it will be the D5, 18-35 f/3.5, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR and a flash. This is all on my back so that I can do static and ground to air with ease. It’s tough but walking back and forth is even harder. Now at Oshkosh there is either bald skies or great skies and the general rules apply either way. Get low, shoot up, look for clean backgrounds which can be tough, and make unique captures. Often times there are a lot of the same model aircraft at Oshkosh, like the B-25, so take advantage of that. That sort of stack up doesn’t happen all the time. Keep in mind that lots of people photograph these planes so try and to think out of the box to make a nice capture and then finish in post.

The Hard Lessons

Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way in order for them to stick. It’s part of being human that no one can escape. Eventually we all end up learning something through that same process. What’s important is that we learn not to do it again. Being a photographer every second counts. We don’t always get a second shot when we are out in the field. Thankfully this time it was an easy fix.

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Last week I met another pilot that I had previously worked with and didn’t even know it. Not only did he fly at the Reno Air Races for years but he also flew this beautiful B-25J “Old Glory” at the 2012 Doolittle Reunion. After talking a little bit I knew I had to send images but low and behold I hadn’t even finished those ones yet. This is one of the greatest crutch’s when it comes to Aviation Photography, the time it takes to finish all those images. It really is important because you never know when you have to send some out. Luckily I knew exactly where the images were and with the help of ACR they were done in no time. Now if this had been a potential image sale for an editor I might have lost out on it because I wasn’t quick enough. You just never know. That’s why it pays to plan ahead and have it all done.

A Different Morning Static

Over the years I have spent a lot of time shooting statics of aircraft and the one thing that I have learned is that you need to be creative and find different shots. Sure it’s great to get the standard head on portraits and tail shots, then there are the side views and detail shots but most of the time they have similar backgrounds. Finding a static image with something a little more unusual is a challenge. Thankfully, mother nature can help with that.

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The one plane that I have certainly spent my fair share of time around is the B-25 Mitchell Bomber. I just love this plane. It has great history and a great look that even when sitting on the ground it looks mean. Well this particular one is the B-25J Betty’s Dream, owned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum and is one that I have photographed numerous times in the past. Well this morning in North Dakota marked a first and that was the smoke filled sky was so thick that the sun was just a red dot all through sunrise. To be fair we were all a little stumped that morning as to what made the best image as the plane really didn’t light up that much and neither did the clouds. One thing that I played with was the exposure compensation. It was one of the ways you could add drama into the scene in the camera. By underexposing -3.0 I was able to get this image with a little help finishing in ACR. The only other technique that helps add more drama was getting down low and shooting up at the plane making the plane seem smaller.

A Day to Remember and Give Thanks

Today we honor those that participated in the Doolittle Raid. 73 years ago eighty men, flying sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers took off of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bombed major industrial cities, including Tokyo, on Honshu Island in the heart of Japan. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, which launched America into WWII, the country was in need of a morale boost. The mission was a success in creating that boost while demoralizing our enemy.

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Today a memorial, one of many, stands at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio in honor of the Doolittle Raid. In 2012 I was at the 70th reunion of the raiders and had the privilege of meeting some of them. What they did at a time when the mission was conceived as being impossible, is truly remarkable.

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These sterling silver gauntlets were given to the Raiders by the people of Tuscon, AZ. Each one has the name of a crew member engraved both upside down and right side up. When one passes away, the goblet is turned upside down but the name is still legible. In 2013 three of the four remaining raiders opened the bottle of brandy kept with the goblets in a toast to their comrades. As I am writing this only two members of the original eighty are still with us. Today we honor those that survived and those that didn’t.

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