The American Volunteer Group is one of the most studied and talked about combatants from WWII. Their legacy is a mix of lore and legends most of which are still debated. The veterans that are part of the group have slowly faded away to the point where only a handful remain. The one point that has never been argued and never will be is how much they contributed to the defense of China during the early parts of the war.
Seventy Six years ago was the first combat mission that the volunteers faced over China. Flying from their base at Toungoo, the First and Second Squadrons flew to Kunming on the 18th to fight over the Yunnan Province. The pilots at the helm of the P-40’s shot down nine of ten Japanese bombers with a loss of one fighter. Three days later the Third Squadron along with RAF Fighters shot down six bombers and four fighters. The RAF lost five aircraft and the AVG lost four. For the units first week in action it was a busy one and it would lead to a series of other engagements leading to an impressive record, one that is well remembered to this day.
Last year at Peachtree Airport in Atlanta at the 75th anniversary of the AVG, five P-40 Warhawks and two AVG veterans showed up to honor the other members both living and deceased. Their contribution to protecting our freedom will never be forgotten.
75 years ago today marked the beginning of four years of turmoil for the United States. While the rest of the world had already gone to war the US had stayed as neutral as it could be without declaring war. On December 7th 1941 the US Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese government. The next day Roosevelt asked congress to declare war on Japan and shortly after Germany. This launched us into World War II and for many December 7th is day that will never be forgotten. Nor should it be.
The events of Pearl Harbor have been studied for seventy five years and new pieces of information are still being discovered. What happened there has for some become an obsession. It wasn’t just a military operation but a political statement that is as analyzed as any other major event. For those that haven’t studied the attack, it can be summed up much more easily, the day we went to war. The Japanese Zero, as seen above, for a long time was hated but now is treasured as a rare piece of history. The Zero being the primary plane launched from Japanese Carriers to bomb Pearl.
Among the Zero’s many adversaries, the P-40 Warhawk was an early contender at Pearl and in the Aleutian Islands. The later contender the FG-1D Corsair fought in many battles over the Solomon Islands, up and done the slot. Today all three can be seen together flying around the country.
But one can never forget what happened that day and the many lives that were lost. While little remains of the Battleships and buildings that once covered Ford Island, Barabara’s Point, Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, the stories have lived on. If you’ve ever met a Pearl Harbor survivor then you’ve met someone who has lived through something that no one else can understand. Take a moment day and say thanks, for it would be a very different world today if not for the events that happened on December 7th.
A big part of aviation is actually the little parts. The details of each aircraft help to define that aircraft and need to be photographed individually as well as a whole. But how do you do that? One of the most romantic ways is to use a little spot lighting either with a flash, a pen light or in this case the light coming through the windows of a hangar. Then by dialing in minus exposure compensation, you get a nice moody romantic look to these otherwise cold planes. these detail shots are essential to the story and help to create another layer of depth to the planes. While they are rather simple to do not every photographer does them so I highly encourage you to try and incorporate this into your own photography.
As I talked about in my post yesterday, the planes are not always the most important element in the story. At Dekalb Peachtree Airport, outside Atlanta GA, the Atlanta Warbird Weekend was held in part at the Epps Hangar. Mr. Pat Epps bought the hangar and started his business at the airport many many years ago and has grown it into the second busiest airport in the US. While doing so he maintained the integrity of the place by keeping and still using the old WWII hangar that used to house the airports fleet of Corsairs. This hangar was a huge detail in the photographs when all five P-40’s were parked inside.
This hangar is pretty darn cool. As the sun moves throughout the day the light inside the hangar changes positions as it comes through the upstairs windows. As a result the inside becomes a very warm and interesting place to shoot. Now these are simple clicks with the D5, 24-70 AF-S, and the 70-200 VRII but it shows how big and characteristic the hangar is. This one diamond is of particular interest as it is the last piece of the original scaffold from WWII.
The Atlanta Warbird Weekend ended yesterday after two days of people coming out to see the five P-40’s that flew out for the event. It’s not very often that five P-40’s show up at any one event and the people that came out were true fans of the aircraft. Sunday people were staying until the show ended just to see the planes takeoff as they went back home. There are so many great stories to tell from this past weekend but here’s one quick post to get things going.
I’m down in Atlanta this weekend for the Atlanta Warbird Weekend being hosted at Dekalb Peachtree Airport in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the American Volunteer Group. The Texas Flying Legends Museum brought their two P-40’s down for the weekend piloted by Bernie Vasquez and Steve-o Hinton. The planes and crews arrived yesterday bringing the total up to 3 so far. With more on the way the weekend is shaping up to be a good one. But Frank has already made the trip worthwhile.
Frank Losonsky was a crew chief for the AVG’s in China before working on a C-47 flying over the hump. Frank, although not very expressive, was having one heck of a time as no sooner as the two P-40’s landed, Bernie prepped the P-40E to fly Frank around Georgia. The two were up for a good 40minutes before coming back down for an interview with a CNN crew. His family was thrilled to see Frank get so much attention and Frank while not all smiles was loving every minute. Honoring guys like Frank is what makes aviation so wonderful to be a part of.
This weekend at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend hosted by CAF Dixie Wing in Peachtree, GA the 75th Anniversary of the American Volunteer Group is being honored. It’s not the actual date when President Roosevelt signed the unpublished executive order to help the Nationalist government of China fight Japan during WWII but this weekend we will have 9 P-40’s and two surviving AVG members to honor. The American Volunteer Group was made famous by General Claire Lee Chennault and the 1st Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers.
The Flying Tigers did not go into combat before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. Afterward, in their 100 P-40B’s they were instrumental in the defense of Burma and China. The unit was only active from April 1941 until July 1942 when it was replaced with the USAAF 23rd Fighter Group. Only five of the original members joined the new unit. The original plan called for three groups, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd AVG. Both the Second and Third AVG were recalled after the United States declared war on Japan and before they reached China. The 1st AVG held the fort down before more men and supplies arrived with the 23rd Fighter Group. The Flying Tigers created many hero’s and those men went on to inspire many more to join the cause and fly fighter planes. With an intelligent and charismatic leader like Chennault and the style of the infamous Shark Jawed P-40’s, the legends of the Flying Tigers will never cease.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been such an interesting week that I haven’t had time yet to go shooting with the D5 but this weekend is another story. I thought why not post one last shot from the trip back to North Dakota this past week with the Texas Flying Legends Museum. The four fighters were grouped up as we made our way across Idaho and into Montana.