A Splash of Color Goes a Long Way

When it comes to a photograph we tend to put a lot of emphasis on the size of subjects and the amount of negative space around that subject. It’s really important to remember that subjects don’t always have to be big. They can take up a very small amount of space in the overall composition if all the elements around it support it. This P-51 Mustang is a great example as it’s belly is painted a bright orange and with a dark background it pops even if it’s small.

Let the Races Begin!

It’s that of the year again for the National Championship Air Races to return to Stead Field outside Reno, NV. Every year dozens of competitors take to the sky to compete to see who’s the fastest. It’s basically like NASCAR in the air. For those that go every year then you already know the amount of fun to be had at the races. For those that haven’t gone then you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Photographically it’s a hoot! This is just one example from many years back but the challenges and rewards from this event are vast.

Depth of Field and Planes

Depth of field plays a role in every photograph we take. When it comes to planes it will change the amount of detail you see in not only the subject but in the background. Sometimes having that extra depth is a good thing but other times it can be distracting to have all that extra information in the background pop out. When working with multiple aircraft you have to decide what your story is going to be and you want to tell it. Will you stop down and show all the detail of the planes or stay wide and blur them out? Decisions, decisions.

Wishing Everyone a Safe Racing Weekend

For the next couple of days the Unlimiteds are flying at the Reno Championship Air Races, truly an amazing spectacle to behold! The planes are loud, fast and cool. I spent a lot of years at the Air Races and they were always a ton of fun. This shot of Voodoo was taken three years ago the last time I was there. I hope everyone at the races have a good safe racing weekend.

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Happy Worldwide Photo Day

As some of you might have heard today is Worldwide Photo Day. IT is a celebration not just for professional photographers but for anyone who enjoys taking pictures. It is meant to honor Joseph Nicèphore Nièpce and Louis Daguerre who in 1837 came up with a photographic process that was recognized in 1839 by the French Academy of Sciences. The Daguerreotype was the first practical photographic process.

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While today marks a significant moment in the history of photography it is also a day for everyone to go out and express themselves with their photography. Of course no photo would be complete is it’s not shared with others, you can go to the World Photo Day website and download your image to be seen with everyone else.

The Mustang in the Pacific

It’s fascinating how history remembers certain things but not others. For instance the P-51 Mustang has become an iconic fighter plane from fighting over the skies of Europe during WWII. That is how the plane is remembered best but what fascinates me is many don’t know about the planes history in other theater’s especially the Pacific.

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Today actually marks a rather unique anniversary, this is the first day where P-51’s escorted B-29 Superfortresses to bomb Tokyo, Japan. It marks both a first for the P-51 but also the first round the trip flight of any allied fighter from Iwo Jima to Tokyo. One person that can account for that mission is Jerry Yellin.

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I had the great pleasure of meeting Jerry at the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover last May in Washington D.C. Jerry flew P-51 Mustangs in the Pacific during WWII. He arrived on Iwo Jima on March 7th and then participated in the first escorting run on April 7th. He flew over a dozen missions during his tour. He flew not only the first escort mission over mainland Japan but also the last mission of the war. Today Jerry spend his time telling his story and working with others to keep the Spirit of 45 alive in all.

One of the Headliners

Perhaps one of the quickest growing “attractions” in the aviation world is the fleet of aircraft belonging to the Texas Flying Legends Museum. While this great group of historic warbirds, flown by some of the best pilots, do make appearances at airshows around the country, the word attraction barely begins to describe what this museum is truly about. While they do fly a routine at every event showcasing their unique aircraft, the museum and the people behind the planes are constantly working towards achieving their goal of honoring the past and inspiring the future. As a result of the care and devotion to the planes and their craft, the planes of the Texas Flying Legends Museum were one of the headliners at the Los Angeles County Airshow with every person there standing as they flew their routine and many left once they had finished.

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The Los Angeles County Airshow was the debut event for TFLM on the west coast. This year marks the first time that the fleet has been brought west of the Rocky Monutains and for some of these planes it’s the first time that many of them have ever flown over California. The Sptifire for example has never flown over California skies since it was built in 1944. Despite the challenges that the crew faced with bringing the planes from Ellington Field, Tx to Fox Field Lancaster, CA, everyone held their own and delivered a superb performance to the fans delight.

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Their routine consisted of multiple flyovers starting with a formation Vic flyover with all the aircraft. Included in Sundays Performance was the B25 Bomber, P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, TBM Avenger, FM2P Wildcat, and MkIX Spitfire. After making one lap around the field the Spitfire broke from formation to showcase what made it so iconic. The other aircraft made another lap around before breaking into pairs and then single ship formations all doing laps around the field including bombing runs and straffing runs with pyro. The entire performance lasted 18 minutes but every second was exciting. Not a single person on the ground wanted the performance to end. The next stop for the fleet will be the Planes of Fame Airshow where dozens more warbirds will be seen flying alongside the TFLM Fleet. I can’t wait!

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Airshow Prep

Well it’s finally that time of the year again when the first airshow has arrived. The season officially began with the Cable Airshow in Upland, CA during the beginning of January but for myself the first one is this month with the LA County Airshow. Usually before I go to any event I always go through my checklist of what I need to bring, what will I be shooting, how will it be shot and any other homework regarding the event. These are important lessons for any trip so that you maximize your chances of success before you leave.

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Airshows are a combination of great aircraft and performances brought together to bring amusement to the crowds. The people attend to see the thrills of flight. Thus bringing money into the airshow. People are a very important element to the airshow experience and capturing those people and the joys that they are having is essential when covering these events. But it’s not just about the general public. It’s also the pilots, the mechanics and of course the veterans. Everyone has a story and capturing it all is important. Last May in Washington DC while I was covering the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover for the Texas Flying Legends Museum, the people in the crowd at the WWII Memorial were all amazed when the planes flew overhead. Everyone was looking up taking pictures but of course I was photographing them taking pictures of history in the making. It was a combination of both that made that event so special.

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Back on the ground, there are always subjects to be photographed. At each event there are dozens of aircraft making it a general smorgasbord for photographers to get great images. But you have to be creative a work around the other elements that come with shooting on the ground including people, ropes, chairs, orange cones and other elements that come with an airshow. While I tend to shoot a lot with the 24-70 f/2.8 or the 70-200 VRII I also shoot a lot of statics with the 200-400 VR just to isolate certain elements. I’ve gotten really good at removing elements that detract from the composition in post but whenever you can make the shot happen without the use of post processing it’s always better. For no other reason besides the fact that you save time.

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Then of course there are the acrobatic, aerobatic, flybys, performances and tributes that come with every great airshow. These are the ones that are always the hardest for me because it’s not always easy to get that super engaging shot. You need to have the right background, good light and of course the image has to be sharp. With prop planes that can be a little harder since you also want that prop blurred which means having a slower shutter speed. It takes a bit of practice getting used to the panning involved with this kind of shooting but that’s why you start early in the season before you ever get to the event. All of this comes down to practicing early so that you are ready because if aren’t then chances are you might miss that shot.

The P-51 Mustang

I finally decided to write about the Mustang. I was holding off for a long time because it’s a plane with such a well known history and such a glorified history that there really wasn’t anything more I could say about it but since it is important with what I’m trying to accomplish here so it seemed appropriate to add. Please note that this will be a post that I can’t possibly be able to talk about everything with this plane, there will most definitely be another post later on.

Well where to start. The P-51 Mustang is said to be one of the best fighter aircraft to have rolled off of production lines during WWII. I think anyone that flew a Mustang then or flies one now would argue that it is an amazing aircraft. The P-51 was built by North American Aviation in response to a request by the British Purchasing Commission. In 1938 British Government setup a purchasing commission in the United States under Sir Henry Self. One of his primary purposes was the design, development, and delivery of American aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the time there was no American plane that met European standards except the P-40 Tomahawk but even that was lacking. NAA President “Dutch” Kindelberger approached Self to sell the B-25 Bomber but instead was asked to produce the P-40 under contract from Curtiss. Kindelberger said that he could build a better, more cost effective and sooner available aircraft using the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine. The delivery date was set to January 1941 and in March of 1940 320 aircraft were purchased.

Edgar Schmued led the development team of NA-73X which had the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine, four .30 in (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns, two in the wings and two beneath the engine firing through the prop arc, laminar flow airfoils, a new radiator that used the “Meredith Effect” of expelling heat adding a jet thrust effect and a fuselage made of conic sections. All of these new features were accomplished after 102 days. It was one of the fastest built aircraft given the war circumstances. In September of 1940 the prototype rolled off of the assembly line and on October 26th 1940 it was test flown by Vance Breese who said it handled well. In September of 1940, 300 more planes were ordered two of which went to the United States Army Air Corps.

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This is Kermit Weeks P-51C, Ina the Macon Belle, in honor of the Red Tail Lee Archer. It can be seen at Fantasy of Flight, FL.

Pre War doctrine stated that heavy bombers would get through. Their defenses were too strong, they fly too high and enemy fighters would not be able to knock them down. Up into 1942 the USAAC still believed in this doctrine and refused, despite RAF and Luftwaffe results, that the need for a long range escort fighter was not needed. During the early years of fighting, Spitifre from the Royal Air Force and P-40’s would guard bomber formations until they reached the European coastline. Due to fuel consumption and the constant battle of flying further and further away from home bases something had to give.

Throughout 1942 the evidance was inconclusive that there was any problem with daylight bombing. Then in 1943 at the Casablanca Conference the Combined Bomber Offensive was conceived. Round the clock bombing would be done by daylight runs of the 8th Air Force out of England and nighttime runs done by RAF units. the goal was to destroy key industrial targets, specifically aircraft manufactoring and supply, in order to gain air supremacy before the invasion. Deep penetrations raids were at a first a success but by the end of 1943 losses were mounting. The August raid against Schweinfurt–Regensburg resulted in a loss of 60 B-27’s and on October 14th 77 more were lost. The need for an escort fighter was needed. Many were thought up but the one that had the most promise was the P-51B.

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Seen here is the P-51A Miss Virginia. This is the only authentic flying example of a P-51A in the world and is operated by Plane of Fame Air Museum out of Chino, CA. One thing that makes this plane very unique is it’s 1,120hp Allison V-171 0-39 engine. The Allison engine was believed to be one of the best engines for low altitudes under 15,000 and the P-51A and earlier designs utilized this ability with great effectiveness. However after the need for an escort fighter was made Mustangs were modified to carry the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in B’s and C’s models.

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The P-51C seen here is set in the almost classic English air base scenario with the hangar in the background and the clouds rolling in over the channel. The P-51B/P-51C were equipped with the Packard V-1650-3 Packard Merlin engine which was heavier the Allsion. The P-51B was built in Inlgewood, CA and the P-51C was built in Dallas, TX. Production started in early 1943 and was in operation by the summer of 1943.

The P-51 was choosen for the use of an escort fighter because of it’s ability to carry 184 gallons internally and then another 85 gallons externally. This gave the plane the ability to travel four hours forty five minutes. While the internal tanks created loss of performance when full it was concieved that they would be used up first while crossing the channel.

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The Mustang was the clear answer to the problem. During the winter of 1943-1944 enough Mustangs had arrived to the 8th and 9th Air Force to resume operation Pointblank in early 1944. Cover of the bomber stream consisted of P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt cover during early stages then handed over to the P-51’s for the long stretch into occupied territory. The Mustang had proven superior so well and so quickly the the 8th Air Force started to switch over it’s fifteen fighter groups to Mustangs. By the end of 1944 fourteen groups were flying Mustangs. At the high altitude that the bombers were flying, initial Luftwaffe tactics and fighters were unable to be effective against the new fighter. The twin engine fighters BF 110, Focke Wulfe 190, and BF 109 all were at a disadvantage at the higher altitude in part due to the heavy armament they were carrying to destroy the heavy bombers. New tactics were created for the new escorts and bombers.

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In 1944 General James “Jimmy” Doolittle took command of the 8th Air Force and one of the first measures he took was to take the fighters off of defense measures of the bomber stream and assign them to attack enemy fighters whenever they were found. The goal was to gain air supremacy and while this decision was not as poplar with bomber crews the end result was a much faster destruction of Luftwaffe fighters. P-51’s would go on “fighter sweeps in front of the bomber stream to clear out enemy fighters first. In response to this the Luftwaffe developed new tactics one of which was combining heavily armored FW 190A’s out front and followed by lighter fighters, BF 109’s in mass. The idea was for the FW 190A’s to attack the bombers while the BF 109’s would keep the P-51’s busy. While difficult to accomplish, when it did work the affects were devastating.

After mid 1944 fighter sweeps weren’t enough so the systematic strafing of enemy air fields was started by returning escorting fighters and later strafing missions were started with P-51’s going specifically to hit Luftwaffe air fields. One of the most successful strikes was when P-51’s would strafe enemy fields that were recovering the German Jet fighter ME 262 which was extremely vulnerable during recovery. This of course didn’t happen until 1945.

Starting in late 1944, P-51D Mustangs started arriving in England with an upgraded wing root design which made it more capable of carrying heavier loads for the additional strafing and bombing runs that were now in practice. Also the P-51D had a bubble canopy, one long piece of plastic instead of the standard birdcage canopy which had limited visibility due to the metal used to hold the glass together. The same Roll Royce Merlin Packard V-1650-7 engine was used.

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In 1943 P-51B’s started arriving with the American Volunteer Group in China and in 1945 P-51B’s and C’s started going to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force. In late 1943 P-51B’s started arriving in Italy for the 12th and 15t Air Force. These Mediterranean based fighter groups consisted of the same rolls as those based out of England with protection of bomber streams over Northern Italy, France, Romania, and other occupied territories. The fighting in that region was a bit different with the goal set to destroy the German oil reserves and refineries. Enemy fighters consisted of more then just the Luftwaffe but also the Italian Air Force and Romanian pilots. It was in the Mediterranean Theater that the famous group known as the Red Tails, the all African American Group, would make their name.

While a late comer to the Pacific Theater the P-51 did serve on escort missions for B-29 Superfortress’s and ground strafing mission during the island hoping campaign. Jerry Yellin a Mustang pilot who flew 19 missions including escort and strafing, remembered the sights, smells and feelings of flying over the islands. Jerry flew the last mission of WWII in which his wingman was shot down. The war had ended just hours beforehand but news had not reached them yet.

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Over 15,000 P-51’s were built during the war and stayed in service until 1984. The P-51 served in Air Force’s all over the world and remained in operation for the US Air Force until 1980. As such an iconic plane many were bought for museums and for flying memorials to the brave pilots that flew them. Due to the planes speed and performance characteristics many were purchased for airshows and aerobatic displays. One of the most profound uses was for air racing. The P-51 Mustang was flown at the Cleveland Air Races before they were shut down in 1949 and then the Mustang has been flown for decades at the Reno National Championship Air Races where for over a decade the winner has been a Mustang model. Seen her are two of just that. The one on the left is Bob Hoover’s Old Yeller P-51D Mustang that he used for decades as a performance piece for airshows and aviation events all over the country. The one on the right is Strega, twelve time National Air Races champion.

The P-51 is one of the most iconic and recognized aircraft of WWII. In part it was due to the overwhelming amount of planes that were built. But it was also because so many men wanted to be fighter pilots. As a result of both and because the P-51 was so well built many of the men that flew it were able to return home and thus their stories live on.

Images Captured with Nikon, D3, D4, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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