Buzzin through the skies

There’s nothing quite like hearing a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine go whizzing by you. It’s just feels good. What’s amazing is how loud they are until you hear an F-16 or F-18 go by and then they seem quiet in comparison. In order to capture that feeling in a photograph one might think the plane has to be big but with a good background and a colorful subject, it doesn’t have to fill the frame.

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Clouds are important, they give the feeling of speed to any flying subject. Certain ones are more interesting then others. Just as a blue sky is boring a full sheet of white clouds can be just as boring. Finding the hole in the clouds where there is a little more interest can add more to the story especially if the subject has just a little flash to it. This P-47 Thunderbolt from Lone Star Flight Museum has all the color needed with the orange tail and red cowling. The combination of color and wispy clouds creates that feeling of speed despite the size.

Planes of Fame Airshow is here!

If you live in southern California then you’ve probably heard of the Planes of Fame Airshow held at Chino Airport at the end of April/beginning of May. It’s one of the great Warbird airshows on the west coast and it’s one that I’ve gone to numerous over the years. I missed last year’s show because I was in DC for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover but I remember the P-38’s of 2013 and the P-47’s of 2014. What this yea has in store with the honor of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor I don’t know. But I do know one thing.

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The Texas Flying Legends Museum is making their second west coast debut stop at Planes of Fame this weekend to perform, inspire and honor. They do such a great job with their performance that at LA County Airshow it was the highlight of the afternoon. If you’re in the area I would recommend heading over, it will be a blast!

The P-47’s first Mission

The P-47 Thunderbolt is one of my favorite WWII Warbird because it was one of the Allies backbone planes in Europe and after the introduction of the P-51 Mustang it was very much overshadowed. Both planes have a great history to them and accomplished many remarkable feats but the P-47 just has that little bit extra that makes me care so much about them. Today is actually a memorable day for the P-47 and in a way it’s because nothing actually happened.

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By the end of 1942, P-47C’s were being flown to England to replace aircraft in American fighter groups for combat operations. The initial group was the 56th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force. In January of 1943, two Fighter Groups the 4th and 78 started getting equipped with P-47’s. The 4th Fighter Group was originally flying Sptifire’s and as a group made up of American Volunteers that joined before the US entry into the war. It was with the 4th Fighter Group that on March 10th, 1943 the first combat mission with the P-47 was made over France. No enemy aircraft was encountered. The mission suffered due to in part to bad radios in the planes. All radios were replaced with British radios and missions resumed on April 8th. This day seventy three years ago marks the beginning of a long chapter of P-47’s flying over occupied Europe.

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

What do you do when you have grey skies?

Why the best thing to do with grey skies is too look at photos of better skies! No not really. That was just good timing. But in all honesty when it comes to days that have nothing to offer but grey skies and boring flat clouds, then either you become really creative with a subject and flash or you find another project to work on. If there is one thing that i have learned is that there is always something else to work on. How relevant it is to that moment in your career maybe hard to understand but as long as you keep working on something then you’re probably moving forward as opposed to go nowhere. Grey skies then become a blessing. While inspirationally they are exhaustive, having a reason to stay home and get caught up is never a bad thing.

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The P-47 Thunderbolt

One of the most rugged of the fighters that flew over the skies of Europe and the Pacific during WWII was the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. This ground attack fighter/bomber was known for it’s tough exterior, equipped with eight 50 caliber machine guns and a carrying capacity of 2,500 lbs. When fully loaded the P-47 was up to 8 tons. While it did serve in the role of escorting heavy bombers over Europe and fighting air to air against enemy aircraft, it’s best role was as a fighter bomber. Destroying convoys, tanks, fortified positions as well as other coordinated attacks alongside ground personnel.

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The “Jug” as the P-47 had been affectionately nicknamed after a resemblance to a milk carton, was made from a series of improvements upon improvements. In 1939 Republic was working on upgrading several aircraft with newer engines. Alexander Kartveli designed the P-47 in order to replace the Seversky P-35. In the Spring of 1940, the XP-44 and XP-47 were proven inferior to the Luftwaffe fighters. Changes were made but the XP-47A was also inferior. Kartveli eventually designed a new aircraft with vast improvements the most substantial was the use of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp two-row 18-cylinder radial engine. Several other improvements were made including elliptical wings, a “horse collar” cowling for better air flow, spacious cockpit for the pilots, and of course the eight .50 caliber machine guns.

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The P-47 continued to go through several variations and improvements as the uses for the plane were extended. By 1943, P-47 D models were equipped with a “Bubble” Canopy in order to allow for better vision for the pilot. Every model up to this point were called “Razorbacks” as the metal fuselage extended up and back from the canopy. The first P-47 flew in May of 1941 and was introduced into service in 1942. It continued to fly for the rest of the war. Over 15,000 were built.

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The 56th Fighter Group was the first to receive Thunderbolts and went overseas to join the Eighth Air Force. The 4th and 78th Fighter groups, already stationed in England, transitioned from their Spitfires and Lightnings to the Thunderbolts. The first combat mission was March 10th 1943. By mid 1943 the P-47 was in operation in Italy with the 12th Air Force and in the Pacific with the 348th Fighter Group out of Port Moresby, New Guinea. By 1944 the P-47 was in all operational theaters except Alaska.

While the P-51 Mustang eventually replaced the P-47 in the role of escorting heavy bombers, the P-47 remained in service throughout the war. The P-47 kept and impressive air to air kill ratio, shooting down 3,752 enemy aircraft for 3,499 lost. The 56th Fighter Group stayed with their P-47’s throughout the war by choice and ended with 677.5 kills in the air. It was the only group in the Eighth Air Force to stay with the P-47. The group housed many leading aces including Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, Captain Robert S. Johnson, and 56th FG Commanding Officer Colonel Hubert Zemke. The 56th remained the top scoring aerial victory group of the Eighth Air Force.

The P-47 remained in active service until 1950 but did not go to Korea. The P-47 was used by several other allied nations over the years.

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In 2014 the Planes of Fame Airshow honored those of the mighty Eighth Air Force with a display of aircraft from the European Theater. Among those planes were four airworthy P-47’s of various models. A fifth P-47 was also on display at Chino from Yanks Air Museum. It was truly an amazing site to see these magnificent planes together again. Razorbacks and Bubble Canopy P-47’s together representing thousands of brave airman that fought in this iconic aircraft.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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 P-47 Thunderbolt on the ground

I honestly couldn’t wait to talk about this plane. I just had so much fun photographing them. I mean it’s not everyday that five P-47’s are in one location at one time with a chance to get each one in a frame. Now the fifth one in this case is part of Yanks Air Museum and it was on the other side of the field so it wasn’t in the lineup Saturday or Sunday morning. But the other four were. Now obviously this one frame doesn’t have all four in it but it does have three. Now two of the P-47’s are privately owned while the other two are part of museums. The green with a red cowling Razorback is part of Planes of Fame while the silver bubble canopy is part of Tennessee Museum of Aviation.

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I do love line shots. You have to really watch the background as well as how much is included in the line to really set the tone in the image. In this case at the end of the row was an A-2 Skyraider which didn’t quite work with the P-47’s. Using the D4 and 24-70 AF-S and just enjoying going down the line shooting, it was truly a simple click. Of course lucking out and having pretty clear skies helped too.

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Now this particular Razorback was one of my favorites as it actually was restored here in the stats, won Grand Champion at Oshkosh in 1982 and was flown to Ducksford to be part of their collection. It was recently purchased and is now privately owned. This particular Razorback is painted in the scheme of Lt Severino B Calderon part of the 84th Fighter Squadron P-47D 42-74742 – ‘Snafu.’

The Mighty Jug

The P-47 Thunderbolt, more affectionately known as the Jug by those who piloted it, was one of the heaviest, largest and toughest fighter aircraft that relied on a single radial engine. The Jug was built with heavy armor and a massive offensive capability. With four .50 Caliber machine guns in each wings and able to haul up 2,500 lbs of bombs which is over half of what a B-17 can carry. Although the P-47 was not used in long range bombing attacks, it was used for short range ground attacks. It was widely used for long range escort for the flying fortresses. It was made famous by the 56th Fighter Group, part of the Eighth Air Force, which had a number of top aces, as they flew missions further and further into Europe. When looking at this plane it’s almost like watching a flying tank.

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

Back down in Palm Springs

This past Saturday was the reunion for the 100th Bomber groups 8th division down in Palm Springs, at the Palm Springs Air Museum. Dad and I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to go so we went for another suicide run down there. I say suicide because its almost seven hours down and then the same back up. Of course that’s one of the benefits of two drivers. Gotta admit though writing this post is difficult my eyes still feel tired. The first time we went down to Palm Springs wasn’t that long ago and that was for the T33 Shooting Star. Both events were quite different, from the demo flights, to the arrangement of planes even to the amount of people. The T33 had in general more people but the bomber group had more family and relatives show up. The aircraft inside and out were switched around too.

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Instead of the Navy planes being outside for display, they were all tucked away and the fighters were brought out. The Supercobra, P47, and the P40. Even the B25 was outside in view. The P47 was looking great it was parked first in line like the Avenger was the last time. The challenges were there, the fence, the other planes, the bald skies. Thankfully this time there was no dust in the sky so it very clear. Great looking plane, can’t wait to see it fly. We both walked around the plane taking in every angle.

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While walking around, shooting from low and high angles with the 24-70 my primary close-up lens, i didn’t notice the nose art. As i finished walking around the plane i saw it and was quite surprised by the name. It made me chuckle.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, Nikkor AF-S 24-70 f2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A New Museum to Explore

This past Saturday Dad and I went down to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see what treasures it would yield. The museum was holding a 65th anniversary to island hopping in the pacific specifically Midway Island and Gaudalcanal. Neither of us knew anything about their speaker format or what their flight demonstration would be like, so it was a good time to go learn especially since we had nice weather there and back. Now Dad spent a lot of time in the mountains and valleys in southern California but i hadn’t. Even being born in Santa Barbara and the occasional project Dad was working on, as a kid i wasn’t down in the area much. So along the way down to Palm Springs, Dad was pointing out places he had been when he was a kid and how much everything has changed.

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The Museum was quite impressive, inside and out with an F16 and Tomcat on display in the front yard and a memorial honoring some of the fallen. Inside the first thing that stood out beyond all else was a painting that expanded across most of the wall above us. It depicted the battle of midway with extraordinary detail. After admissions we started wandering looking at the displays and variants of aircraft. We later found out that the founder Robert Pond had between 25-30 planes in his collection, this included a B25 and B17. The first couple of planes that stood out were the Bearcat and Dauntless parked outside near the fence. Great looking planes, so unaccustomed to seeing a Bearcat that wasn’t modified. Outside was also the PBY which was amazing to see, so few exist nowadays.

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Walking around inside we saw a number of good looking planes. In the “Pacific Theater Room” was another Dauntless, Wildcat, Hellcat, Corsair and one of my new favorites the A26 Marauder. I saw one for the first time down at CAF Headquarters Arizona. This one looked even better, sitting inside helped, it had great yellow and red wings that just stood out in the room. Moving around we found the room with the B25, along with it was a P51, Spitfire and of course the P40 Warhawk. You just can’t not love this plane. The look of those shark jaws in the front just makes it look mean. It was of course replaced with the P51 during the war so it must not have been mean enough. Mousing around we found the room with the B17. Not quite as polished as the one at CAF but still great looking. This one was open to walk inside of seeing what it would’ve been like to be crammed inside of one.

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As we were waiting outside watching the T33 Shooting Star get ready for its flight, it was the plane doing the flying demo that day, i looked back across the yard to see if there were any missed shots. I seem to keep missing them, it’s definetely difficult with fences and hangers surrounding the place. I never got a good shot of the PBY with 24-70 while walking around, so perhaps the 200-400 would be better. That’s when Dad pointed out the nose art and i had to get the click. Next up was the flight!

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Images Captured with D3, Nikon Nikkor AF-S2.8 24-70, Nikon Nikkor Vr 200-400 f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital film

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