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.
Yesterday’s Precon was a blast. We went to Stallion 51 in Kissimmee and Stallion holds a collection of mustangs by some really nice people. Not only were they kind enough to pull out their two planes, both called Crazy Horse, onto the tarmac for the students to shoot static but also they let everyone work with the models inside the hangar where they were being caretakers of three more mustangs.
Between the planes and the models, Marissa and Terra, there was lots to work with and lots to learn at Precon. Terra here was one of our models and she did a great job. She was dressed like Rossie the Riveter and with the great hangar light, planes in the background and her facial structure it was an easy shot. Something everyone was taught to utilize more was how to capture the shots with making it harder on themselves.
This past week I was home in California with the folks working on a few projects with them and yesterday after they got back from their trip to Minot we met up in Reno at the Reno Air Races. Now for those that have followed my blog for a while you probably know that we started going to the races in 2009 and took an absence the last couple of years. Well a very good friend of ours who is part of the crew on Voodoo asked us to come up to take a couple of pictures. An unplanned, spur of the moment idea turned into a really great day which brings up the lesson behind this post. Just show up.
A lot of people ask how you make these great opportunities happen in aviation and the answer is you show up. We didn’t plan on going but we had a friend who wanted us there so we went. Now if you’re starting out the answer is real easy. You go online to find a list of airshows that are happening around the US, like this one, then you just go. A day pass is $10 and you walk around, take pictures and talk to people. It’s amazing what happens when you just be sociable. Every aviation project I’ve worked on has basically started with this process. It’s really basic but it works. This shot of the P-51 Mustang Voodoo was taken with the D5 and 70-200 VRII in high speed crop. As I said I wasn’t planning on going so I didn’t have my 200-400 VR with me. But by showing up I got a couple shots and kept those connections I’ve made over the years alive and that’s what you need to do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Arsenal of Democracy couldn’t have happened without the support of many people. They said that 56 planes took part of the flyover on May 8th which is a lot when you think about it. Planes and Pilots came from all over the country to be a part of the event and many of those pilots spent time practicing and doing photo flights. There was so much commotion at Culpeper throughout the week but the airport felt rather calm most of the time. Last Wednesday everyone was busy getting planes maintained and cleaned so that they could fly in the practice flight the next day. The T6’s were part of the trainer formation that flew on Friday and they would go up repeatedly to practice. This particular P-51, “Ain’t Misbehaving” was coming back from their practice flight of a four ship of mustangs as well. All of this was shot with a D4 and 70-200 VRII.
You know it’s a Monday when your mind is blank of good ideas and you’re left with the list of things that need to get done. This is one of those Mondays. What better way to face one of those days then with a good image from a good trip. This is race 15, an old school mustang racer. We had a fun morning photographing it a year ago.
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.
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.
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.
The best part of being a photographer is that you always get to photograph something different every time you pick up a camera. Sometimes it’s something dramatic and sometimes it’s a little less so. As long as its fun that’s all that matters. Well while down in Chino I got the chance to photograph the Bremont Horsemen Aerobatic Team which was quite a thrill to see. It’s not everyday that three Mustangs and then three F86 Sabres fly together in such a tight formation. The group has gone through a series of other aircraft to perfect their routine to what it is today. Although it may seem more simplistic without all the flips and tumbles as some other aerobatic performers do, it’s actually an incredibly skilled performance with such a tight formation throughout the whole routine. It was fun to watch.
One of the many things that I still find fascinating about photography is how you can photograph the same subject in different ways and get very different results. Take this Mustang for example. Usually you tend to photograph it while looking up, that’s the most common way to photograph any plane at an airshow. But when you have the opportunity to do an air to air shoot and you get to look at the plane in a whole new way, that photograph changes. When we were doing a first multiple ship formation we had a breif where we planned certain shots with certain planes. This mustang, known as “Little Horse,” part of the Texas Flying Legends fleet, was only needed for the early part of the shoot and what you see here is Mark breaking away and heading back to home base.
Looking down on the subject is always fun. It’s also not something you see as often. It does provide one of the perspectives that is always desirable, speed. These planes move fast and anyway to show that speed makes for a more dramatic photograph. The greenish, brownish background of Galveston Bay just blurs out as the mustang slides away from the rest of the group. Having a full prop blur doesn’t hurt either. Then again, that’s another part of the story that you can choose to do with as you want.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film