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

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

Hell Hawks

I just got done reading my 6th book of the year. A little slow this year but still grateful to have time to read that many books. Well the latest one is called Hell Hawks. This book came out last year and is all about the 365 fighter group known as the Hell Hawks, and their role during WWII in the European Theater. It’s an amazing story that is expertly written. If you have ever wondered what the role of the P-47 was or how much it affected the war then this a great read for you. It took me a month to read this book solely because I didn’t want it to stop. If you have the time I suggest picking up a copy.

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This is the P-47D Razorback, 42-74742, “Snafu,” painted in the scheme of Lt Severino B Calderon part of the 84th Fighter Squadron, which I was able to photograph at Planes of Fame this past May.

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Getting Ready for the Invasion

One of the most iconic subjects on warbirds today are the black and white invasion stripes. For those of you that don’t know these stripes were painted on the wings of every plane that flew during the Normandy invasion or, D-Day. The idea was that the men on the ground would be able to tell friendly planes from foe by seeing these stripes. It would help keep our pilots safe as they made their ground attacks on enemy installations so that the boys of the invasion fleet could keep pushing back through the fifty miles of beach that they needed to secure.

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This past year at Oshkosh the Texas Flying Legends did a great salute to our veterans with a panel of vets and a recreation of the D-Day invasion with their C-53, which just came out of paint, and a paint crew putting on the invasion stripes. Using mops, buckets and brushes they used a water based crayola paint that washed right off but looks real and made these stripes across the plane. Up close you can see that the stripes aren’t perfect with bristles and imperfections in the paint but from far away you can’t tell. The reality is this is how it was done. It was an all hands on deck project the night before the invasion that made this all possible and everyone at every rank was involved at the England bases to get it done.

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Today of course we see these lines all over the place. On different Mustangs, C-47’s and P-47 Thunderbolts. They can be seen on a variety of different aircraft as they have become a very symbolic part of WWII. It was these three planes though that were among the biggest players during the invasion.

Working that Rainbow Background

If you follow my blog or my Dad’s, then you’ve no doubt heard about how much we like clouds in the background of our plane shots or landscape shots or really any shot that has sky in the background. It really does make a big impact on the overall image. Well this is a bit more than we usually ask for especially since we were in Chino and this particular day it was almost 100 degrees out but there happened to be some ice crystals in the air which formed a rainbow affect in the clouds and they just so happened to stick around for quite a while. As the planes were going by occasionally they flew close enough to get some color in the background.

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Dad and I made a little game of this and every time a plane looked like it would go by that one tiny stretch of color we just let the shutters rip! Everyone around us in the media pit looked our way, always with the same expression, “what are they taking so many shots of?”

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Well it was these planes going by in these certain spots. Using a D4 and 200-400 VR, I waited for that right moment. The A-2 Skyraider had the most consistency as it flew higher than most others. The Mig 15 and F86 Sabre were next best as they too were flying high at times.

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The true winner was the P-47 Thunderbolt. The four ship went right over the spot and then as they did their break a ways and single passes, old Snafu here, a P-47 bought from the museum in Duckshire, flew the best line through the best section and gave us that brief moment of joy.

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 Romance of Flight

What is flight? Flight is the world between heaven and earth that houses many beautiful creatures that soar around looking down on the world. Birds naturally start flying at an early age, instinctively as their biology tells them to. For humans that were never designed to fly, physically or mentally, it has been one of the greatest challenges to overcome in the past hundred years. For some flight is just a way to travel from one destination to another, but for others it is a way of life. A life that many consider to be truly free. A last reach to the stars. Our jobs as photographers has always and will always be to capture stories, so that there will always be a record of what happened. There is no easy path in any field of photography but when it comes to machines that have no smile, no eyes and no voice, bringing out the life in each plane can be a real challenge. It’s the challenge of bringing Romance to Flight.

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No matter what plane it is the core elements are always there. The fuselage, the nose, the wings and the tail. Each plane has one of these things, if not more, and often the story comes down to how the details in each of these areas makes the plane what it is. In a way every plane has its own characteristics which make it unique. Sometimes with a flashy paint job or a colorful past, but no matter what it is none of it matters if it doesn’t come out in the photograph. Take this AT-17 Bobcat/ T-50 for instance, or otherwise known as a Bamboo Bomber, photographed down at CAF Mesa with a 24-70 f/2.8. This uncommon plane was first built in 1939 as a military trainer to help students get used to a multi engine aircraft. It later branched into the commercial world as the T-50. Over 5,400 of these planes were built and although it’s not a rare plane it certainly isn’t common either. With it’s rounded wings and bulbous nose getting low and shooting up against the Arizona sunrise brings out the radiance of the yellow paint job as well as the structural simplicity.

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Being old isn’t the only way to have character, although more and more character does seem to come out as one gets older. It can be something as simple as the destination that tells the story, and we all know that the best destination is seen in the background. This Piper Turbo Prop is flying into this frozen airport at my home town at Mammoth Lakes. Dad and I raced down there one evening before dinner. Armed with a 200-400 VRII and D3 we waited along an old stretch of highway as the plane came in. Thankfully since we had no sunset, and the plane was late, we had a low fog come through to give an eerie wintery mountains feel to the scene. What that family was planning to do that weekend I don’t know but imagine ski’s were involved.

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I’m often reminded of how easy it feels to bring out the “majesty” of these vintage planes and how much harder it is with more modern aircraft. The only reason it feels that way is because most of these old planes already have a history to them, it’s just a matter of bringing that back to life. For newer planes where the history isn’t written yet it’s about finding ways of showing how technology has progressed. Like these V-22 Osprey’s down at Miramar. There was at least a half dozen lined up going over this little hill, all looking the exact same. The one on the end kept coming and going on maneuvers as it was scheduled. Probably one of the most amazing technological achievements, this tiltrotor airplane breaks the laws of physics letting us not only fly but hover in the air.

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On the rare ocasions when there isn’t just one aircraft out front but a whole line of planes as far as the eye can see, that’s when the pixels must really fly. There is nothing like having a squadron at the ready.

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Sometimes that squadron is a dozen warbirds from various collections and museums, and other times its a line of racers getting ready to go out for that last race of the year. With a 70-200 VRII and lots of depth of field, bringing out that first plane can be just as important as that last one. It’s all about the story and finding those shots where you can see down that line of planes and it’s perfect, are far and few!

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It doesn’t take long before you realize that there is more to this whole plane thing then just the planes. As I’ve talked about before it’s about the people behind the planes. It is amazing how much aviation touches our daily lives and how few people know about it. Then again it’s also amazing how some people dedicate their lives to making sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn about these aircraft. Taking the Texas Flying Legends out of Houston, TX. Their mission is to educate while honoring all veterans and preserving their stories. Their credo says it all, sacrifice above self. Their beliefs don’t just extend in what they do on the ground but in the air as well, as they are constantly preforming, critiquing and improving their aerial demonstration.

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Back on the ground it’s right back to whats really important, the vets. It’s important not just for today’s pilots but for everyone to get involved and talk with veterans. They’re stories are unbelievable and most are willing to share those stories if you just sit and talk with them. When they know you aren’t just there for an autograph and that you truly care, the world can open up.

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It doesn’t just end with the vets. The pilots, the volunteers, the mechanics, the staff even the reenactors they all have their stories to tell and enjoy just being around the planes. For most it’s not about the money it’s about shear enjoyment. It truly is a great feeling to just spend a day under the wing of a plane and watch the world go by. Even for some greased up mechanics working on a C-53 after a long flight, under that blue sky and on top of that green grass, everything is at peace.

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It’s about the people and just showing an interest that great things can happen. Well if that’s not a reward enough it can lead to great things like flying over Galveston Bay with millions of dollars of warbirds. This P-40 Warhawk, Aleutian Tiger, is a great example of just this. Dad and I got to work with the Texas Legends for one reason, we talked, we showed up and we kept our promises to help. That was all. Always remember that last part.

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I know everyone wants to hear some super secret awesome way to get marvelous shots of airplanes no matter what the subject, what the background is and what the light is, but the truth is there is no secret. Everything still comes down to the basic fundamentals of photography. Good light, interesting background or with planes a clean background, good panning, and the subject needs to be sharp. The only trick, if that is what you want to call it, is applying the physics of the rotating prop to an appropriate shutter speed. Slower shutter speed shows more blur in the props, it’s best to shoot in shutter priority to get this result. How far down you go is up to your panning abilities but that’s all it takes. After that the rest comes down to your own personal taste and creativity. Post processing falls into both of those last two categories. I will say watch out for dust, it’s a pain in the butt.

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In the end it all comes down to what’s pleasing to the eye. Making these machines into individuals with their own characteristics makes the best shots. Every pilot knows when they step into a plane that each one has it’s own quarks, we just need to show that in our images. Flight began as a romantic notion of touching the stars and proving that man can do anything that he sets his mind to, even defying our physiological nature. As long as that notion is in your heart when you photograph these planes then it will show in your photographs.

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

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