How to Get Great Static Shots This Weekend

This coming weekend is the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino, CA. I have gone to this two-day event for many years and since I started going it was always the highlight of that year. They cram a lot of planes and a lot of flying into those two days. Each year has a different theme which generally entails different aircraft showing up. Two of my most favorite years was in honor of the P-38 and P-47 Thunderbolt. You’ll see more of the Thunderbolt in another post.

Now many of you might be wondering how to make the most of those two days and get the best shots that you can. Well for starters get the sunrise photo pass. Some of the best warbird statics that I’ve gotten have been from that early day pass. I know it’s another cost to justify but it is worth it! At PoF they have two static ramps that you can get some amazing down the line shots that you just can’t get at other places. You can get detail shots, plane portraits, group shots, you name it. As you can see there is a yellow rope that prevents you from walking around the plane but honestly, I’ve never found that to be a problem in the past. The Northeast static ramp is open early and throughout part of the day. It’s a great place to walk around and work with different planes. My preferred setup is the D5 with the 24-70 or 70-200 but that hasn’t stopped me in the past from using the 200-400 either.

The Aleutian Campaign From Adak

The battle of the Aleutians was a war that was forgotten in part due to the fear that would arouse if the public knew that the enemy had taken some of the islands in the Aleutian Chain. Kiska and Attu were taken and held for almost a year with a strong garrison on each island, an air force and naval forces. Throughout the campaign the naval and air forces were brutally fought back to the point where the islands were virtually cut off from all but submarines but even they were eventually stopped. Many men on both sides died but the main enemy throughout the entire campaign for both sides was the weather and terrain of the Aleutians.

There are many firsts in the war in the Aleutians partly because it was the first time many new military concepts were attempted, including amphibious assaults, high altitude and low altitude bombing, specific weather designed gear and many others. For the US it was as much a testing ground as it was a battle. Part of that was the idea of island hopping. Since weather was such an issue in the Aleutians it was paramount to get supplies, men and aircraft closer to the front. This also put more distance safely defended behind the front and the mainland. Adak was one of those islands. Seventy Five years ago the first zero altitude strike, combined fighters and bombers, was carried out from Adak against Kiska. The anti aircraft defenses had become exceptionally good and with low level clouds, attacking at zero altitude proved to be the most effective way to strike the island. The B-24, P-38 and P-39 were the primary aircraft in the Aleutians with some P-40 units and B-17’s. Getting top of the line supplies wasn’t easy for this campaign since many didn’t believe it a real threat. History proved otherwise. Not much is out there about the Aleutian War but one good source is The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield.

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 P38 Lightning

Since yesterday marked the first flight of the P-38 Lightning, I figured today would be a good time to include the P-38 in my aviation weekly post. The P-38 is one of my favorite planes, not for its rarity in todays world but for the planes vast history that stretches across the whole world. The P-38 was developed in 1937 and was introduced into service in July of 1941. It spans not only America’s involvement during WWII but the P-38 fought in every theater and was part of Operation Bolero with Britain. The plane flew around the world and still flies today.

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In 1937 an Army Air Corps directive was sent out for a high altitude interceptor with specific performance goals including a maximum airspeed of at least 360pmh at altitude and a climb to 20,000ft within six minutes. These were the toughest Army Air Corps specifications made up to this point. Hall Hibbard and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson lead the Lockheed team in designing the twin engine, twin tail boom and single seat nacelle aircraft designated the XP-38. The design was made to not only meet the Army specifications but hold a heavy armament, turbo superchargers, and tricycle landing gear, as well as other features. Equipped with the 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engines and counter rotating props, the prototype first flew on January 27th, 1939. It was the first fighter to fly over 400mph. On February 11th, 1939 a speed race was proposed to move the XP-38 to Wright Field and while it was on its way to break the record from California to New York, the plane wrecked just short of Mitchel Field, NY due to carburetor icing. However, seeing the potential the Army bought 13 YP-38’s, Y being for prototype.

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Over the next two years progress was slow building the YP-38’s due to the multitude of planes being built on the assembly lines. By November of 1941 progress was back on schedule and Lockheed engineers were able to focus their attention on solving control surface freezing issues in the tail when in a dive. Several changes were made to the P-38 but initial planes were already in the hands of the USAAF, RAF and the Free French Air Force Operating from England. Over time designs continued to be modified in multiple versions and part kits were sent out to units already equipped with P-38’s so that field modifications could be made.

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The first unit to receive the P-38 was the 8th Photographic Squadron out of Australia on 4 April 1942. The P-38E, F-4 version, in which the guns were replaced with four cameras for photo reconnaissance. One of the great virtues of the design of this aircraft was its ability to be used for many purposes including photo reconnaissance. In May of 1942, 25 P-38’s were sent to Alaska where the planes long range made it optimal for protecting the Aleutian Islands. This was the beginning of the expansion of the P-38’s role in WWII, and after the Battle of Midway, the P-38 would be flying over the skies of England and then later in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India Theater. It was the Pacific Theater that the P-38 was it’s most beneficial. Leading American aces Richard Bong (40 victories), Thomas McGuire (38 victories) and Charles H. MacDonald (36 victories) all served in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. One of the most well known dogfights was when two P-38’s shot down a Betty Bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto over the Solomon Islands.

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In 2013 the Planes of Fame Airshow held a special event to honor the P-38 Lightning with five of the worlds flying P-38’s. A sixth P-38 from Yanks Air Museum was on display but was not flying. It was a photo reconnaissance version with the cameras still mounted in the nose. The distinct shape of the P-38 certainly stood out even on the gloomiest of days as the planes flew overhead. The history of the P-38 is long and distinct, from fighting in the hands of America pilots, allied pilots of other nations, spanning multiple continents, postwar saw service in other countries, aerial photography and of course air racing. While the P-38 became obsolete in the jet age it is still a plane that is revered by its fans. Of the aircraft that I can’t write a single post about, the P-38 is on that list.

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

First Flight of the P-38

Today marks the first flight of one of my favorite airplanes that came out of WWII, the P-38 Lightning. While technically it was developed in 1937 for a call made by the USAAC, it was January 27th 1939 that it first flew and it was the only fighter to be have been in production for America’s entire involvement during WWII. It was introduced in July of 1941 and saw action in both the European and Pacific Theaters. It was had greater success in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theater of Operations where top aces were made at the hands of the P-38. It was called many things but among its adversaries was the “fork tailed devil” and “two planes, one pilot.”

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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.

Working with the subject as it Flies by

Only half of the fun is spent on the ground, but the real thrill comes when that plane comes roaring overhead going hundreds of miles an hour and are gone as fast as they are seen. This is the time when you have to have good panning technique because those planes move by way to fast and you don’t always get a second chance. Even at an airshow when the planes schedules are often the same on multiple days, the skies are not always same. Besides the image being sharp the most important element after that is the background. When planes are flying they have to be seen as going fast because they are. There has to be something in the image to show off that momentum. Clouds in the background are a great place to start.

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Clouds are a great place to start because they are everywhere. You just have to be panning when the plane is going by an area that has clouds to get that nice shot. In some instances the plane can be made to look like it’s going by even faster by having something behind that had more structure. If the plane is flying low enough or if you are standing up high enough something like a mountain can be compressed with a long lens and look like a blur behind the plane. This adds the speed and depth to the image.

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With prop planes there is one essential element that has to be shown moving and that is the propeller. If the prop is frozen then the plane looks like it is a model on a string and not moving. The only way to get that blur is with a slower shutter speed. There is a ratio of the number of blades, to how fast the prop is turning equals how slow a shutter speed. This can be as slow as 1/30 of a second to get a full 360 degree disk. If you don’t have good panning technique then the image won’t be sharp. Practice is essential to making it all work properly.

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One other really key element to ground to air photography is paying attention to what comes next. You have to be planning on what planes are coming next, how many are coming, what direction and where is the best light coming from. You have to be constantly scanning the skies. If you’re not scanning the skies then by the time that plane is overhead and you’re not ready, you’ll probably miss the shot.

The reality of Operation Bolero

Before the US got involved in WWII we were delivering supplies and arms to help the allies. In 1942 a plan was created to help the British push back the Germans for a mid 1943 invasion, which never happened. Operation Bolero as it was called laid the groundwork for operation overlord which was the allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. The plan called for vital supplies to brought over to the UK, including aircraft. It was a dangerous route in which several planes were lost. It required a hop to Canada, Greenland, Iceland and finally England. The weather was a major factor in the trans-Atlantic journey and it caused several problems.

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On July 15th 1942, eight planes went down between Greenland and Iceland. The weather had closed in making visibility almost nill. With low cloud cover over the snowy landscape and fuel running low, two B-17’s of the 97th Bomb Group and six P-38’s of 94th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group, had to emergency land on the Greenland Ice Cap. One P-38 tried to land wheels down but cart nosed over and landed upside down. The rest of the planes safely bellied landed. All crew members and pilots survived the crashed. The boys were all picked up a few days later and continued on their wartime journey. The planes however remained there for decades. In 1980 a salvage operation was lead for the B-17 “Big Stoop” but it took till 1988 to find the metal signatures in the ice of the eight aircraft. In 1990 they were able to melt down enough ice to reach the wing of Big Stoop, one of the B-17’s, only to find the plane mangled beyond repair. It was then theorized that a P-38 might be better preserved due to it’s armor plating. In 1992 they returned once again and after several weeks of ice removal were able to bring up the P-38 known today as Glacier Girl. Today it is one of the prime examples of the P-38 Lightning. Owned by Rod Lewis this magnificent can be seen across the skies through out the year.

The P38-Lightning’s Blackest day

It’s great leaning new things. Never knowing everything makes life more interesting. For instance this post is actually a day late but I didn’t know yesterday about the blackest day for the P-38 Lightning. June 10th 1944, an attack was launched on the oil fields of Ploesti with forty six P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd FG of the 95th, 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons and forty eight P-38Js 1st fighter groups of the 27th, 71st and 94th fighter squadrons. The forty six fighters were carrying 1,000 lb bombs under one wing and a 310 gallon fuel tank on the other wing. The fighters of the 1st fighter groups were providing top cover for the fighter bombers of the 82nd. They were to make a low level run across Yugoslavia and into Romania to destroy the oil fields of Ploesti. However the Germans air radar picked them up over Yugoslavia before they entered Romania.

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Due to the low level flying, aerial maneuvers were quite impossible for the lightnings as the already aware enemy had the advantage. The battle lasted only a few minutes between the lightnings, in which the two groups never made the rendezvous, the IAC 80’s and the BF-109’s, at an altitude of only a couple hundred feet. Among the BF-109 pilots that took part in the fight aces included I/JG 53 Gruppenkommandeur Knight’s Cross holder Maj. Jurgen Harder with 64 victories, Lt. Rupert Weninger, Lt. Erich Gehring and Uffz. IAR 80 ace Capitan Dan Vizante with 15 kills, leader of Grupul 6, lifted off of from Popesti-Leordeni airfield for his debut in the fight. 23 P-38’s failed to return to their bases around Foggia, Italy. Only 14 Romanian loses occurred while 10 of those were actual fighters. It would go down as the blackest day for the combat history of the P-38 lightning with a 30% loss rate. It represented the worst loss rate during a single mission of any American Fighters during WWII. The 15th Air Force would go on to destroy the fields and air bases around Ploesti later on in 1944 and 1945.

First Airshow of the Season

If you’ve been following my blog lately then you know it’s back to working with planes. The airshow season has more then begun and this coming weekend is the Planes of Fame airshow. Last year I went down for the two day show and it was a ton of fun. Last year’s theme was Lightning Strikes in honor of the P-38 Lightning. It was a great theme and we had seven P-38’s in attendance. This year is the solute to the mighty Eighth Air Force. The Eighth Air Force flew out of England and comprised the majority of the bombing offensive against Europe. B-17’s and B-24’s along with P-51’s and P-47’s filled the sky to break the German war effort. How many of these planes will show up this year? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out.

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