A Few More Birds

One of the great things that I love about Aviation is the community. It is such a communal place that everyone wants to help out everyone else. The Los Angeles County Airshow, which was featured at Fox Field in Lancaster, CA, like many small airports and new airshows lacks certain fundamentals. It’s part of the growing pain process of starting a new event. Thankfully the location to this airshow is not far from the meca of southern California aviation. One of the big warbird hotspots in the area is of course Planes of Fame in Chino, CA.

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Among the featured performances was the aircraft of Planes of Fame. There P-38 Lightning, P-40N Warhawk and F86 Sabre all made appearance to the delight of the crowd. These classic warbirds presented an opportunity to see more of everyones heritage as the pilots put the planes through the maneuvers that made these planes famous.

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Now I have spent a lot of time in the past photographing both of these types of aircraft and in fact I have photographed both of these planes before. They are just great subjects because they are both so unique. Photographically one of the big differences is needing to shoot in shutter priority in order to get prop blur on the P-38, and being in aperture priority to photograph the F-86. Slow shutter speeds are needed to blur the props on a prop driven plane while a jet having no props, doesn’t need to have a slow shutter speed. This is one of the reasons I love working at airshows around multiple types of planes because each one presents something different.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The F-86 Sabre

Well I don’t normally write about jets in this category, mostly because my knowledge on the jet age is a little bit more lacking then with antiques and warbirds, but this particular one has always caught my attention and it just seemed like it was worth adding to the selection. The F-86 Sabre, also known as the Sabrejet, was one of America’s most widely acclaimed fighters to have ever been built. The Sabre first flew in October 1947 and was not the first jet aircraft built in America after WWII. That honor goes to the P-59 and P-80. However, F-86 was the front line jet fighter to be used in the Korean War.

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The F-86 Sabre was America’s first swept wing, transonic jet fighter. It was developed by North American Aviation for the USAAF during 1944. North American had previously proposed to the U.S. Navy the FJ-1 Fury. The FJ-1 Fury had the same straight wing as the P-51 Mustang but for the USAAF requirements modifications had to be made. The plans for the FJ-1 Fury were used as a blueprint, with modifications made to performance and weight, to create the XP-86. The original prototypes were slower then the 600 mph mark and thus North American were afraid they would loose the contract to rival companies. North American then had a huge breakthrough being one of the first aviation companies after WWII to use German aviation science in swept wing design. Going back as early as 1940, German aviation companies started experimenting with swept wing technology to gain greater speed. One example of this German technology was the Me 262 jet fighter. This data was then used to help design the F-86.

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The first F-86 rolled off of production on August 8th, 1947 and the maiden flight was October 1st, 1947 at the hands of George Welch. 9,860 were built between 1947 and 1994, when it was retired with the Bolivian Air Force. The F-86 was built in a series of variants to fill multiple roles including as a fighter, interceptor and a fighter/bomber. They were equipped with a combination of six 12.7mm M3 Browning Machine guns, four 20mm cannons, 2,000lbs of bombs, napalm tanks and external fuel tanks. Rockets also were used during Korea. As the role switched the type of armament each plane would carry changed.

One of the F-86’s major advantages was it’s speed due to the 35 degree swept wing design. On 1st October 1947, many believe that George Welch broke the sound barrier on its maiden flight in a dive. The first official record was set in September 1948 at 670mph in a F-86A. However it was Chuck Yeager who officially set the record in October 1947 with the Bell X-1. Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier on 18 May 1953 in a Canadair built F-86 Mk 3.

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The F-86 gained much of its fame during the Korean War where it was the United Nations primary front line fighter against the Soviet MiG 15. The two planes were very equal in performance, with the early F-86A’s being inferior in many ways but by 1953 the F-86F’s were more on par. The main difference was in diving capabilities and past super sonic speeds where the MiG had disadvantages. Another crucial factor was the pilot. American pilots flying F-86’s mostly flew in WWII and had stayed in the Air Force after the war. The North Korean and Chinese pilots had a lack of experience in top of the line fighters. However, early in the war many Soviet MiG’s were being flown by WWII pilots as well. Both sides had several aces by the end of the Korean war, with 792 MiG’s being credited shot down and much dispute over of the number of Sabre’s shot down. While the original number claimed was 78, giving a kill ratio of 10:1, recent studies have shown that more then 600 Sabre’s were shot down providing a more accurate ratio of 1.8:1. Exact figures are impossible to prove.

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The F-86 went on to serve with the U.S. Air Force throughout the early years of the Cold War. As new fighters became available the F-86 was transferred to the Air National Guard of Allied Nations until 1970. The F-86 also entered the hands of numerous Air Forces throughout the world before retirement in 1994.

Today the F-86 is a highly regarded and collectible Warbird. They can be seen all over the country while the most prominent displays being shown by the Bremont Horsemen Aerobatic Team, the worlds only P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, F4U Corsair, F8F Bearcat, and F-86 Sabre formation aerobatic team. The three group F-86 Sabre shots seen here are all of the Horsemen as they performed there routine at the Planes of Fame Airshow two years ago.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, D4, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Watching History Fly

Back in July I got a call about this particular F-86 Sabre going up for test flights for the first time in 3.5 years. You can read the story of how that all came about here. Well this past week I got another call about the plane going back up for some more test flights. Well naturally I got the camera and headed down to the airport to go see this plane fly. It’s only the second time in years and if you’ve ever seen a Sabre fly then you know it’s worth the wait.

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I get there and start talking with Bob and Stu, owner and pilot, about the Sabre and what not. That’s the great thing about working with planes, everybody is just so nice. After a little, Stu starts up the Sabre and slowly rolls down the taxiway. By this point a crowd had gathered around after hearing that the Sabre would fly that day. We all loaded up the cars and drove down to the end of the field where we waited and watched the Sabre takeoff.

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Now the point of these test flights are to takeoff, fly for a while at various altitudes and make sure everything is running smooth. It usually takes about 30-40minutes and then the plane comes back. Well that’s pretty much what happened. After the F-86 took off we stood around talking before Stu came back around and landed. Now if you’ve ever read my blog then you know I love clouds. Well we didn’t have any clouds that afternoon so the sky is a little boring and if look closely you can actually see the heat shimmer coming off the ground as the Sabre taxi’s by, needless to say it was hot.

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Shooting with the D4 and 200-400 VR, my basic setup for ground to air photography, makes it real easy to work with a moving subject. Of course when you’re out at the end of a runway with that lens you get a few looks. After touching back down Stu was quite happy with the flight.

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As for myself I was happy to get another chance to photograph this plane. Not only is the F-86 just a huge part of our Aviation heritage but this particular example is such a great photographic subject because it constantly is changing with the light. That all polished aluminum and candy apple paint job is just magnificent. It’s days like that one that me glad to be a photographer.

Panos and Planes

Ever since the merge to pano option was introduced into Adobe Camera Raw, I have been using that technique to bring out more in my visual story telling. It still amazes me how good of a job the computer does with stitching the photos together especially when it comes to aircraft. There are so many lines with planes that I keep thinking that somewhere some part will be out of alignment but it never is.

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Click Image to Enlarge

This is the F-86 Sabre that I photographed here in town back in July and I lucked out because they had a ladder I could use. While I was shooting I was smart enough to do a pano. With the KC-135, GA aircraft, and Bridger Mountains in the background it was a nice story telling where this plane lived. Now I know a few people are going to say it’s not centered. Well when I took the images for this I was thinking more about showing of the Bridger’s opposed to the planes and buildings. Something else I did differently with this pano is instead of using the auto crop feature in ACR when you combine the images together, because it is an option under spherical and cylindrical, I instead opened up the image in Photoshop CC and used content aware fill to fill in the areas around the edges. Not only did this make for a larger pano and not narrower but it also left the landing gear in the frame because the auto crop would have removed that information. So the next time you are working on a Pano really watch all the elements and realize how you are going to finish the image.

Images captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

I Love My Job!

Well the tittle pretty well sums it all up! Yesterday morning I was drinking my coffee working on the computer and I got a call from a pilot friend here in town and he asked if I wanted to come out and watch a F-86E Sabre do a test flight for the first time in 3.5yrs? I said heck yea! I knew about this particular plane already and I had fallen in love with it when I saw it parked in the hangar. With that stunning paint scheme who couldn’t fall in love with this Sabre. Well the morning flight had already happened but I went out for the afternoon flight which sadly got called off. It didn’t matter to me I was having fun just seeing this beauty parked outside. The best part was, I wasn’t the only one! Everyone on the tarmac came over including the folks over at the Jet center. It drew in all the crowds.

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I’m just learning about the history of the plane but as far as the paint scheme goes I know a little bit more about that. Instead of going with the more “traditional” look of how the Sabre would have flown in the Korean War, instead the owner decided to paint it in honor of the Colorado Air National Guard, Minute Men Flying Team. The team flew between 1953-1959 with 1953-56 being unofficial years. The team flew in 47 states in front of millions of people in over 100 airshows. The team even flew in five foreign countries in Central America. The Team was disbanded in 1959 after fiscal problems. The Minute Men Flying Team were pioneers for future flying groups and are said to be one of the greatest influences in Aviation for the State of Colorado.

This particular F-86 is painted in honor of Capt. John T. Ferrier who sadly died due to mechanical issues with his plane and crashed outside of Dayton, Oh. No one else was hurt in the accident. His name and those of his fellow teammates are painted on the starboard side of the aircraft. Ferrier’s tail number is on the tail. It is the only F-86 in the world painted in these colors.

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It always surprises how much is here in my neck of the woods and if a F-86E Sabre wasn’t enough for the afternoon this KC-150 that showed up made for a little more excitement on that ramp. The crew was coming down for fire bombing training but as soon as they saw the Sabre they immediately B lined to the plane. They later asked if they could do all of their training in the Sabre instead.

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The F-86 Sabre was very much a combination of technologies and ideas. When looking at the plane from the tail some of those charastistics pop out. The speed breaks for instance. The drop tanks with fins. The tail section narrows almost like the Me 262 did. Of course the massive bubble canopy and rather narrow body also are distinct. The center point of the wings are actually quite level with the tops and bottom sloping back and down. This plane was designed not only for performance at high altitude but as a fighter jet. In the Korean War it certainly did just that.

The Bremont Horsemen

The best part of being a photographer is that you always get to photograph something different every time you pick up a camera. Sometimes it’s something dramatic and sometimes it’s a little less so. As long as its fun that’s all that matters. Well while down in Chino I got the chance to photograph the Bremont Horsemen Aerobatic Team which was quite a thrill to see. It’s not everyday that three Mustangs and then three F86 Sabres fly together in such a tight formation. The group has gone through a series of other aircraft to perfect their routine to what it is today. Although it may seem more simplistic without all the flips and tumbles as some other aerobatic performers do, it’s actually an incredibly skilled performance with such a tight formation throughout the whole routine. It was fun to watch.

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Working that Rainbow Background

If you follow my blog or my Dad’s, then you’ve no doubt heard about how much we like clouds in the background of our plane shots or landscape shots or really any shot that has sky in the background. It really does make a big impact on the overall image. Well this is a bit more than we usually ask for especially since we were in Chino and this particular day it was almost 100 degrees out but there happened to be some ice crystals in the air which formed a rainbow affect in the clouds and they just so happened to stick around for quite a while. As the planes were going by occasionally they flew close enough to get some color in the background.

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Dad and I made a little game of this and every time a plane looked like it would go by that one tiny stretch of color we just let the shutters rip! Everyone around us in the media pit looked our way, always with the same expression, “what are they taking so many shots of?”

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Well it was these planes going by in these certain spots. Using a D4 and 200-400 VR, I waited for that right moment. The A-2 Skyraider had the most consistency as it flew higher than most others. The Mig 15 and F86 Sabre were next best as they too were flying high at times.

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The true winner was the P-47 Thunderbolt. The four ship went right over the spot and then as they did their break a ways and single passes, old Snafu here, a P-47 bought from the museum in Duckshire, flew the best line through the best section and gave us that brief moment of joy.

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