First Combat in a Long Legacy

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.

Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Use Light to Bring out the Details

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.

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Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Celebrating the American Volunteer Group

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.

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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.

The Afternoon Session

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!

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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.

Look To The Skies!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 was 74 years ago today

Ever year this anniversary seems to arrive faster each time. Perhaps as you get older time naturally seems to go by faster and thus is nothing more then coincidence or perhaps as the years have gone by and I’ve learned more about what this date meant to this country and others I have come to honor and respect its significance. For those that don’t know, today marks the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that Roosevelt would later remark as a day that lives in infamy. For many it was the day that ignited a flame in Americans, a flame that was carried overseas and into the second World War for the United States.

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The attack was a combination of Zero’s, Kate Divebombers and Val Divembombers spread out in multiple groups in two different waves. Their targets were a combination of the battleships that were docked at Pearl along with the air bases spread across the island. The US carriers were the primary focus but were not docked at the time of the attack. Other structures along the navy base were prioritized as well. This one event created a ripple that caused so many other events to occur. Having spent time with many veterans who were shocked into action after that day, I can say that none of them were either expecting it or wanting it to happen. Many lives were lost that day and those to come.

Happy late Birthday P-40 Warhawk

Since yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the first flight of the P-40 Warhawk and today is my weekly aviation Thursday post, I thought, why not combine them. On October 14th, 1938 Curtiss test pilot Edward Elliott flew XP-40 for the first time over Buffalo, NY. Edward flew for some 300 miles in 57 minutes at an average speed of 315mph. The P-40 was improved to go up to 366mph. In April 1939 the United States Army Air Corps placed the largest order for single seat fighters up to that point of 524 P-40’s. P-40’s became a training and front line fighter for years until other fighters replaced it. The P-40 has a huge legacy that spans the length of the globe. One of the first planes I wrote about in this new blog section is the P-40. Why? Because it is one of my favorite Warbirds. You can read about it’s history here. Happy Birthday Warhawk.

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TFLM in DC

I apologize for being a little tardy these last couple of weeks with my aviation weekly blog post but I figured with this last trip to DC why not make that the subject for this week. I had the great fortune to be working with the Texas Flying Legends Museum for the entire week documenting the event. It was an amazing experience that required all the knowledge that I had obtained from the previous years working in aviation to make happen what was asked of me. The end result was over 20,000 images and hours of video footage all from one week. But if there was one event that it was important to record all of that footage, it was this one.

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This trip literally started for me four days prior to having to show up for in Florida to meet the crew. It was a mad scramble getting everything ready before I had to ship out but once there in Florida with the pilots and the planes it was pure enjoyment mixed with a whole lot of work. One of the best example of this was the amount of air to air time I had with the other planes. We flew in a five ship to DC with the other fighters and C-53 coming on their own. The B-25 Betty’s Dream was the main photo platform but with all the time available and the need to include the B-25 in the shots in order to get a better overall story, I switched over to the TBM for a while to shoot. It’s amazing what a difference there is when flying across the country in these older planes is like compared to commercial. It’s hard to describe because it’s not like just a quick flight up and then back down. It really makes you feel like you’re flying back in time.

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Once we were at Culpeper, the fighter base where all the planes were kept except for the B-29, B-24 and B-17, it was a couple of days of practice flights combined with talking with the other pilots. It’s amazing the community that exists amongst this amazing group of people and the stories are just amazing. Culpeper is home to a healthy community of homebuilt aircraft one of which we had the fun of seeing is a WWI fighter being restored and the owner, Andy, fired up the engine for us. It was bloody loud but way cool! Along with some of the homebuilt crowd that were there witnessing what was going on were some veterans. Now at the memorial on that Friday there was said to be over 400 veterans. We had a far less amount at Culpeper but when you get the chance to just one of them, then thats all it takes.

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Friday was the big day and after much consideration with how the planes were flying, Dad and myself along with some friends all went down to the WWII memorial to watch the planes fly over the national mall. Since we had so little time with each formation it made more sense to be on the ground to photograph the one area that needed the most coverage, the people. They said that over 30,000 people attended that day and that’s pretty impressive considering it was a workday. I can honestly say from watching in my seat and from the conversations that were had, it was an amazing spectacle. The formal presentation was moving and the speakers they had during the presentation were great. For all the events and airshows I had been too this was by far the best. It’s hard to say that considering all that I have been too but it truly was a powerful event.

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Then, as soon as it had begun it was already time to head home. It’s hard to believe where that whole week had gone but Saturday was upon us and it was time to fly back to home base. Now the one element that was against us the whole trip was the weather. Oddly enough one of the very best days that we had was that Friday at the ceremony. Flying too DC there was rain and flying back there was rain and by the time we had gotten to Fargo there was even snow. It’s another one of those challenges when flying across the country that has to be dealt with but it comes with the territory in Spring time.

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The fleet ended up flying in multiple groups to best utilize speed and fuel consumption in working around the weather. One of the main home bases for the Texas Flying Legends Museum is in Minot, ND and that’s where the planes were headed for maintenance after months of flying in airshows. TFLM was one of the major sponsors of the Arsenal of Democracy bringing in eight aircraft. They finished the formations on May 8th with the missing man solute in honor of those that did not make it back. The Texas Flying Legends Museum have always believed in Sacrificing Above Self and they proved that with the back to back flying they have done this Spring in order to bring these great planes around the country for everyone to witness.

The Curtiss P-40

When I decided to do a weekly post about different aircraft, I was having an issue with how to accurately tell the story of certain planes that have very diverse and unique histories. The only conclusion is that with certain aircraft multiple posts would have to be made. This weeks topic is a great example of the various history that surrounds each variant of the plane and as time goes on the need for more posts that will arise. The Curtiss P-40 is one of the few planes that during WWII was not only around from before the start but was also used in every theatre of the war. While it never had the sleek fighting capabilities as many of the later model planes did, it did have the reputation for being rugged. It’s armor plating helped to save many lives. In the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Air Force, B, C and equivalent models were known as the Tomahawk, while D models and later variants were known as the Kittyhawk. In the United States Army Air Force it was known as the Warhawk only after the P-40F variant came out with the Roll Royce Merlin engine installed.

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The P-40 first flew in 1938 and was produced up to 1944. A step up from the Curtiss P-36 Hawk, over 15,000 ended up being built. Many legends have been built up around the P-40 as most believed it’s fame came from either Pearl Harbor, after Lts. Welch and Taylor destroyed several Japanese planes in them or from Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group, also known as the Flying Tigers, fighting in the Burma China Theatre as part of the Chinese Air Force. This isn’t to say that both of those don’t demand notice for their actions, merely it wasn’t the beginning. The first allied air force to use the P-40 in combat was the British in North Africa. They also saw combat in the Middle East before going over to China to fight the Japanese. It was in North Africa that the famous shark jaws were first put onto one of the P-40s after being seen on some of the German twin engine fighters.

This example is a P40C model that came out of restoration in 2014 and is currently owned by the Fighter Collection in Duxford. This is one of the earliest examples as not many C models exist. To that point only one P-40B is still flying today, also was once owned by The Fighter Collection, now a part of the Collings Foundation. That particular P-40B was the only surviving P-40B from Pearl Harbor. The P-40C 41-13357(above) was acquired back in the 90’s from the former Soviet Union where most of its history is unknown. It was accepted by the USAAC in 1941 where went to Patterson Field, then Puerto Rico, then back to Buffalo, NY for an overhaul and then on to Russia. The aluminum finish is in honor of a P-40 stationed at Chanute Field, KS where it would’ve been used as a personal ‘hack’ for a base commander. It is one the finest restored P-40s flying.

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The main dislike of the P-40 was the lack of a two stage supercharger which made it virtually useless as a high altitude fighter. This made it less desirable in Northwest Europe where the BF 109 and FW 190 were more overpowering. Also the P-38, P-47, Spitfire and later the P-51 were much better high performance planes. However the P-40 was still a very useful plane in the other theatre’s where high altitude wasn’t as necessary. Two of the major uses were as an air superiority fighter and a ground attack fighter. It’s low cost augmented some of the issues, which helped it stay in production. Nevertheless not many planes have the history of being flown around the the world. Not only were they used in Europe, North Africa, Southwest Pacific and China but also in Southeast Europe, Italy, Alaska and Southeast Asia. They were also part of the lend lease program so many went to the RAF and Soviet Union.

Besides the planes combat history, several were used as trainers and base hoppers in the states. Due to the planes low cost and ease of maintenance many of the P-40s remained on bases for pilots to use to acquire hours in. Like most fighters just aft of the cockpit was an internal fuel tank which when removed leaves enough space for another person. Many P-40s have been modified so that they can give rides today. However some P-40s were specifically built as a trainer with a second seat and a second set of controls. This is the TP-40N one of five designed as a trainer and is part of Fantasy of Flight. With Kermit at the controls, you can see how much space there is behind him for someone in training.

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Due to the planes unique history spread all over the world, several different markings appear on the planes. In context there are books written solely on these markings and what they mean. While the standard color is Army Olive Drab, the shark jaws is in honor of the AVG, whose planes were infamous for having the design. The red prop hub I believe is a symbol of the RAF. This shot came from the Planes of Fame Airshow in 2014. It is one of the most packed airshows in the United States with dozens of planes in the sky making it something worth seeing.

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Most P-40s have some sort of olive drab variation, due to the fact that most were stationed in areas where they would be flying over something green. If an enemy plane was looking down on the P-40, then it should blend in more. However, in North Africa olive drab wasn’t very suitable. This particular P-40N is part of Planes of Fame and is painted in honor of the 325th Fighter Group out of North Africa. They were known for the yellow and black checkerboard pattern on the tail and thus called the Checkerboard Clan. The shark jaws having first been painted on in North Africa after seeing the markings on German planes are also part of the design. While the Allies in North Africa may have been the first to where the famous jaws, it was the Flying Tigers that made it famous.

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Among the more unusual of the designs is the “Parrot Head” art work of Warhawk Air Museums P-40N. This particular design started at Napier Fields, Alabama for advanced pilot training. This particular aircraft is in honor of class 43K of Dothan, AL. Like many planes after WWII, there wasn’t much of a need for the P-40. With faster, better fighters on the frontline, the P-40s became rather obsolete with some being sold off to other nations as trainers.

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In 1964 when the Reno Air Races began there was a call for the planes again beyond that of airshows and museums. With the added classes of bronze and silver, the unlimited category allowed other WWII fighters to compete without having to achieve speeds of that of a Mustang, Bearcat or Hawker Sea Fury, as those are the most prominent winners of the golf category. Warhawk Air Museum is one of the competitors in the other classes that consistently has brought down one of their warhawks for competition over the years. Both Parrot Head and Shark Jaws as they are affectionately known have been seen racing around the pylons. In 2009 both planes were at the races and in a rare moment they stacked up for a brief second. The shutters were going like crazy as everyone wanted the shot of the two warhawks stacked up.

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The P-40 was known as being rugged. It is seen as the same. Whether over land or sea the P-40 looks at home in the sky. It’s history spans the length of the globe with stories from rookie pilots to legendary aces like Claire Chennault and Gregory Boyington. Numerous books have been written about the plane and none of them says it all. It’s history grows everyday as more is discovered and more are restored to fly again. There will always be another chapter to this plane.

To Be Continued

Images Captured with Nikon D3, D4, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, and 500 f/4 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Five years ago I never knew the importance of this day. I knew what what happened but never let it sink in. Every year since then I have written a post on December 7th talking about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Early in the predawn light swarms of Japanese Zeroes and torpedo bombers flew over Honolulu to deliver a tremendous blow to the United States. Mistaken as a group of B-17’s by radar the Japanese planes went untouched as they made their surprise attack. A flew P-40’s were able to get off the ground and engage the enemy during the raid but the damage was done and 5 battleships and thousands of men were dead and wounded. This was the opening to the greatest conflict the United States would ever be apart of.

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Having talked with veterans and heard their stories, when approached about the subject of the Pearl Harbor raid, each of them had a note of sadness in their voice. Even though most were not there in person, they all heard about the raid and knew what it meant for the country. Many of them agreed that there was anger initially, after time it went away to feelings of remorse. Today we celebrate these brave men for what they did after the attack, like the Doolittle Raiders, who made a surprise raid in 16 B-25’s launched from the carrier Hornet against Tokyo. Today is a day we remember not only for those that we lost but for what it meant during the years that followed Pearl Harbor.

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