Such an Amazing Plane

The Howard 500 is a pretty remarkable corporate sled that has survived for over sixty years. With only a handful built, roughly 22, two flying examples exist that are seen regularly on the airshow circuit. While they were built from the jigs of Lockheed Lodestars and Venturas, the Howard 500 was designed as a new plane not just a modified version of the bombers. With a top speed of over 400mph and a cruise speed of 360mph this big corporate sled can really book it. It’s sleek exterior makes it one pretty plane to admire.

As a photographic challenge when it comes to working a grey and blue plane on a foggy morning at sunrise what do you do for settings? Especially white balance? Do you leave it at auto to bring out more of the blues of the plane and show off the cool air above the ground fog? Do you go to cloudy and really bring out the yellows and oranges? It’s a tough call. It all comes down to the story you are trying to tell and what elements in that story are most important to you. Seeing the dramatic difference in the color temperature I went with cloudy and then brought back the plane in post. Simple to do in ACR.

Testing the Low Light Abilities of the D5

The D5 has some amazing abilities but the one that I’ve spent as much time testing is shooting in the dark. At EAA Airventure they do night performances which are always spectacular. Over the years I have come to desire to the great plane with the firework shot to which I have never gotten the exact one. On the last night I was behind the Howard 500 shooting the fireworks. When it comes to Osh you tend to carry a lot, especially when you are camping, so I didn’t have a tripod with me. For stabilization I sat on the ground and shot up.


Since I wasn’t using a tripod I did have to crank up the ISO but combined with Long Exposure NR, which is a great setting to help minimize the amount of noise you get when shooting at night, I was able to get some good results. Now obviously I was using a little bit faster shutter speed since there isn’t a great blur to the fireworks. That’s okay, that wasn’t what I was going for. As I said this was having fun testing out the camera.

The Howard 500

One of my favorite aircrafts is not a fighter or a bomber but just a way cool transport. This is the Howard 500, a corporate sled built in the 1950’s and first flew in 1959. Howard Aero Inc. was taking decommissioned military surplus aircraft and turning them into corporate aircraft. After the end of WWII there was a surplus of aircraft left, much of it was put into the landfills but some were sold off for various purposes and into private hands. Lockheed Venturas and Lockheed Lodestars were some of those that were left. Some of those planes continued to serve in multiple roles throughout various air forces in the world. Venturas and Lodestars were out of service by the end of 1945 in the United States.


There has been much speculation about the Howard 500 as being modified Lodestars or Venturas while others say that only parts were taken off of the two to make the Howard. While the Howard bears resemblance to the two other planes, the entire plane is built around a new design. The only parts taken from Lockheed planes are the outer wing panels from Venturas and the undercarriage from Harpoons. Howard Aero Inc. purchased the plans and jigs as patterns for the Howard 500 but the plane was built to serve a different purpose and one of the big contributions was to make a pressurized outer system. The plane was capable of flying up to 16,000ft with a pressurized system of 46.5 kilopascals which was better then any other prop or turboprop executive airplane at the time. The Howard 500 was built to incorporate new Pratt & Whittney 2800 engines giving a max speed of 410 mph or 350 mph at cruise speed. The hubs were taken from F4U Corsairs and the spinners and four bladed props were taken from the DC-7


The Howard could travel 2,600 miles carrying 10-14 passengers. The fuel tanks on the Howard 500 were vastly improved over the PV-2 Ventura. Unfortunately the Howard 500 came into the market a little too late with many corporate entities using turboprop planes as corporate sleds. Only 22 Howard’s were built but another 8 were transformed from existing PV-2 Venturas.


Of the original Howard 500’s built only two remain in flying condition. Both are based out of Anoka County Airport in Minnesota, both are owned and operated by Tony Phillippi and can be seen in the midwest quite often. N500HP, the green and orange 500, was at one point the only flying Howard in the world at one point. In 1997 it was named Grand Champion at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. It was at Oshkosh in 2011 that I first saw the Howard 500 and it was in 2013 at Oshkosh that both Howard’s were present and gave quite a demonstration for the crowd. The planes are as beautiful as they are fast. Both inside and out the planes are just an immaculate corporate sled and more then that they are a great symbol of American ingenuity after the end of World War II.

Images captured with Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Prepping for next season

It maybe a little early to start getting ready for the Spring but in this business getting ahead of the game is important. In the winter months shooting definitely slows down a little bit which is great to catch up on images and to get ready for the next season. Going through equipment is a great place to start. All those little notes you made about what worked where and when makes it easier to figure out what is needed and what’s ready to be updated.


One of the prime lenses in my bag is the 200-400 VR. It’s the perfect lens for both wildlife work and planes but just like any other piece of equipment it requires maintenance and cleaning every now and again. What better time to do that then when things are slow. It may seem a like a little thing but often times it’s those little things that make all the difference.

vulture strap

Now’s also a good time to try out new products that didn’t work well this past airshow season. One critical piece of gear that you need to be happy with is, the strap. Everyone needs a comfortable, reliable, lightweight yet strong, camera strap. There are hundreds of different ones on the market and it comes down to which one fits your style. For me it’s a combination of the Sunsniper strap and Vulture strap. Both have their uses, Sunsiper for the 200-400 and Vulture for the camera and small lens. It’s my system and it works.


In the end you got to come up with your own system and time that so it fits your shooting schedule. Prep work is essential to get those great shots.

Flying into Heritage

One of my favorite planes is the Howard 500. I have had the chance to photograph this plane a few times now starting with Oshkosh 2011. Both this one example and another blue and white one were at Oshkosh this past August. This plane is under a lot of speculation because no one is quite sure what it is. As it landed and was parked in heritage, we discussed a little history of the plane. Although it greatly resembles a Harpoon, it’s actually it’s own separate plane. A corporate sled was it’s purpose with surplus parts from Harpoon’s and Lodestars being the main frame work. Not many were made and even fewer exist today. To get the prop blur with the slow rpm’s I had to take it down to 1/20th of a second. They be slow props.

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

One Great looking Aircraft

Although it might look like a Harpoon, Ventura, or Lodestar it certainly is not. Howard Aero Inc. started producing executive aircraft based off of military designs back in the 50’s and 60’s one of which is this aircraft, the Howard 500. Although the fuselage is a different design the outer wing panels were taken off of surplus Venturas as well as the undercarriage from Harpoons. Howard bought wings jigs from Lockheed which were modified to accommodate the Pratte & Whittney R-2800 and engine hubs were taken from F4U Corsairs. The plane could seat 10-14 passengers but due to it’s time development and cost it never made it’s away into the executive market.


You could say that this plane is very much a mismatch of parts from different planes. Of the original 17 examples of this aircaft only 2 remain flying. Both are absolutely beautiful aircraft that flew over Oshkosh this year. Having seen this aircraft once before I was dying for another chance to photograph it. They are just too darn good looking to not draw attention.

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

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