75th D-Day Anniversary

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. One of the biggest allied operations or WWII which lead to the downfall of Germany’s Occupation of Europe. Thousands of men, aircraft, machines, supplies, and more went into making the operation a success. Today you can watch as a special memorial is taking place over the skies of France as over a dozen C-47’s are taking part in a flight over Normandy.

 

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.

Oshkosh is Around the Corner

One of the premier aviation events in the world is EAA Airventure better known as Oshkosh, due to it being held in Oshkosh, Wi. Every year thousands of planes and people arrive to see what’s new and what’s still going. I’ve had the pleasure of going in past years and the photography has always been amazing. At Oshkosh you never known what will show up and getting there to see all the different, or in this case similar, planes arrive is a ton of fun. If you’re an aviation enthusiast then July means Oshkosh.

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Happy First Flight of the DC-3

Today marks the first fight of the Douglas DC-3. This is one of the most iconic aircraft made during the 1930’s and saw major service during WWII as it was converted to fulfill many other roles under the designations of C-47 and C-53. The DC-3 was always the commercial version made for Airlines like TWA but later grew to many others. While it’s first flight was in 1935, it has been flying around the world under multiple owners, governments, and airlines, to the present day. The history of this one aircraft can not be summed up in a single post. It extends just too far.

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The Douglas DC-3

This week I thought I would talk about one of the most well used aircraft in the last seventy years. The Douglas DC-3, or C-47 Skytrain as it was designated by the US Military and known as the Dakota in the UK, has been in service since its first flight in 1935. It has been used as a cargo plane, troop transport, jump platform for airborne infantry, a civilian airliner and in more recent years as an aircraft for smugglers. The DC-3 has had many names, none more affectionate then the Gooney Bird. During WWII the marines in the Pacific noticed lots of Gooney Birds on the islands. When a Gooney Bird would take off it would run along the ground, flapping it’s long wings trying to get its fat body in the air. When the C-47’s were loaded the tail wheel would bounce on the ground, like the birds, and so the name stuck. The Gooney Bird.

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Whatever name that it went by, it was a mainstay for the army; however, this plane didn’t start with the army. In 1933 TWA asked Donald Douglas, Douglas Commercial or DC, to design an aircraft to compete against United Airlines Boeing 247. It started with the DC-1 in 1933 and then the DC-2 in 1934, however American Airlines wanted a replacement to the Curtiss Condor II and asked Douglas to create a bigger DC-2 with sleeping berths. The new aircraft designated the DST, Douglas Sleeper Transport, first flew December 1935. The prototype was fitted with 21 seats and became the DC-3. Originally powered by its two Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s engines, later models including most military versions were equipped with Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, The DC-3 was able to travel eastbound across the country in 15hrs, westbound 17 1/2 hours, with three refueling stops. This was a huge improvement in airline travel compared to previous aircraft.

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In all 16,079 DC-3 variants were built. In this total are 4,937 built by the Soviet Union, known as the Lisunov Li-2, and 487 built by Japan, known as the L2D Type 0 transport. American Airlines had the first inaugural flight in 1936 and almost overnight it became the most popular way to travel. Over 400 DC-3’s were ordered by various airlines which rapidly replaced the favored method of travel by trains. These airlines, American, TWA, Eastern and United, along with the DC-3 paved the way for commercial travel as we know it today. But it didn’t stop in the US. The DC-3 was so popular that planes starting flying all over the globe, including one of the longest routes at the time, Amsterdam to Sydney.

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During WWII over 10,000 DC-3’s were built for the army and were licensed to several allied countries. The C-47 was the standard cargo plane with a larger two door entry system and lifting arm. The C-53 is the paratrooper model with bench seating on either side of the plane and a single, detachable rear door. Because of the ruggedness of the aircraft design and the ease of maintenance, thousands of these planes were still flying after the war and the demand for such planes has remained in existence to this day. This particular example belongs to a couple of brothers down in Mesa, AZ home of the CAF Airbase. It’s painted in a desert camouflage as would have been seen if the plane was flying out of North Africa.

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Speaking of flying, since this is a multiengine plane it has, like most multiengine planes do, a pilot and copilot seat. Flying the Texas Flying Legends Museums, C-53 Skytrooper, is Casey Odegaard and with him Mark Murphy. Having had the chance to fly and talk with Casey about the C-53, I can honestly say that it is a comfortable plane to fly in and according to Casey a rather simple multiengine plane to fly. As with most warbirds, one of the greatest challenges is being able to see when taxiing, especially with a wingspan of 95ft. Despite any such challenges, the DC-3 still remains as one of the most reliable aircraft ever built. A common saying has been engrained with the aircraft, “the only replacement for the DC-3 is another DC-3.” While not many DC-3’s still fly for the airlines, many are seen at airshows. Another of the most common warbirds to frequent the airshow circuit, the C-47 is often used as a platform for sky jumpers and like most airshows where the air is hot and the sun is bright, its great wings provide shade for the masses.

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After the fame the aircraft brought to the airlines, it made an even greater impact on historical events as it took part in several famous WWII battles. Two of the most noteworthy were of course the Invasion of Normandy and Operation Market Garden. Both of these operations have become so well known in todays generation in part because of series like Band of Brothers. The C-53, army designation, supplied the transport of paratroopers that dropped behind enemy lines in both operations. At one time the sky was filled with hundreds of these planes and thousands of men were jumping out of them.

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Prior to the invasion of Normandy, every aircraft that was going to take place over the French coastline, was painted with black and white stripes so that ground personnel would be able to distinguish between enemy aircraft and friendlies. However due to the secrecy of the mission planes were not painted until the night before the invasion. In a handful of hours, every ground crew, pilot and officer grabbed brushes and mops to paint on the stripes to every aircraft. These included not just C-47’s but P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts, to name just a few.

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At EAA Airventure, Oshkosh in 2013, the Texas Flying Legends took their freshly painted C-53 and with the help of over a dozen reenactors, painted the invasion stripes on the wings and the fuselage. In under thirty minutes they were able to paint, “The Duchess of Dakota” (above), with all the markings needed. While at a distance the stripes look perfect, close up they show the crookedness of the brushes, the dirt, bugs, and bristles of the brushes. In all it was pretty amazing to behold and to think about how many other planes that same treatment had to be applied to. The end result was a sky filled with aircraft like this C-47, “Whats Up Doc” from Palm Springs Museum (right), being seen below from guys on the ground.

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The Gooney Bird has remained a fan favorite of the aviation community ever since it’s conception. It can be seen across the country at various museums and remains an attraction to all.

Images captured with Nikon D3, D4, 14-24 f/2.8 AF-S, 24-70 AF-s f/2.8, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR II

Using the Sun as the Background

If there is one thing that I have learned shooting airplanes is that the sun while able to create some of the most beautiful light, can also be one of the best backgrounds. Everyone has seen an image with a starburst in it. It was a very popular trend for a while, then it died away and no it was come back. That little pop of light peaking through some corner of the image usually behind some object. Well between the shots of the light hitting the subjects and the starbursts, come the backlit subjects in which the sun is just a glow. With the power of programs like Adobe Camera Raw, being able to photograph a subject that is silhouetted against the sun, can easily have the shadows brought up to see all the details. These three images, all shot with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, are great examples of backlit subjects with the fuselages brought out with just one slider. Easy finishing technique to make a big impact.

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In Honor of the 70th Anniversary of DDay

Seventy years ago today, one of the greatest and deadliest military feats of WWII occurred which shaped the rest of the war as we knew it. Over four hundred thousand men took part of the Normandy invasion as part of Operation Overlord. This was the first major offensive that the United States took part in for the liberation of Europe. It was a massive endeavor that required months of training, planning and victories in order to pull off. The biggest was having air superiority over Europe. At the time of the landings the Allies had complete air superiority over the skies to the point where no German fighters appeared over the skies during the invasion. It took years to accomplish this feat and many lives were lost in the process.

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The dropping of allied airborne infantry was a major part of the invasion as thousands of men were dropped into occupied territory over miles of landscape. The skies were filled with C-53’s as the chutes opened below. The invasion led the way for every major offensive in the European theatre. Many brave men died in this offensive and many more went on to fight from France to Germany.

The Veteran

One of the new acquirement’s made by Kermit at Fantasy of Flight is this C-47 Skytrain. This plane has been called many different things over it’s years in service; Gooney Bird, Dakota, Skytrain, C-53 which is the cargo version and of course the DC-3 which was used as an airliner. This particular C-47 is a true veteran having flown during the invasion of Normandy and dropped paratroopers in France. It also dropped troops in during Market Garden. We were lucky to have this beautiful aircraft out on the grass for us to photograph. The clouds behaved perfectly creating that look of 1940 England; grass strips and cloudy skies.

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At one point a Stearman that was selling rides flew overhead and punched a couple more holes in the clouds for us.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Belated D-Day

I realize this is a bit belated but it’s amazing the things you remember and the things you don’t. Although I am getting better about important historical dates, there are times when ones escape my little brain. In this case, yesterday was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the US Allied invasion of Normandy. For some it was the long anticipated day after months of training. For all it was a day that changed thousands of lives. A lot of the brave boys that went that day, jumped out of planes like this one. This is a C-53 Skytrain a modified C-47 for more cargo space and easier access. Hard to imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. We honor their bravery.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRI, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Clouds Make a Difference

Since this past Sunday we have had nothing but grey skies. Normally that’s not bad a thing because it is usually followed with lots of snow. Some days that was true others not so much. However, snow or not, grey skies get can get old real fast. Although nothing forced me to get out the camera, I did get me thinking.

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Not the most radical of ideas but the necessity of clouds is instrumental. Take for instance working with any plane in a blue sky, without the clouds it’s just boring as sin. Both of these planes, the top a Tigermoth and the bottom a C-53 Skytrain, have a much more interesting story due to the clouds around them. What that story is depends on how far your imagination goes.

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In the Camera Bag
Nikon D3, 200-400 AF-S VRI, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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