Spitfires on Malta

The Spitfire has a long history throughout WWII as it was used on so many fronts. Since the first time it flew in 1936 to its introduction into service in 1938, the Spitfire went through many changes and variants as its capabilities and potential were continually pushed until production stopped in 1948. To many the Spitfire is the epitome of aviation spirit due to its design and its legacy. For those that flew the plane, they loved it because it got them home safe.

One of the fronts where the Spitfires was used and isn’t talked about as much was in the Mediterranean at a place called Malta. Malta was a 97 sq mi island which operated as a forward base between Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besides being a British Colony it had a surprisingly large population of natives with a combined total population of 250K as recorded by a census in 1937. The strategic importance of the island was great as allied planes and naval vessels could attack vital supply lines of the Axis powers going into Egypt. Rommel desperately needed the supplies to keep up his desert offensive. Thus a tremendous amount of ships, aircraft and personnel were diverted from other fronts between 1940 and 1942 to fight the defenders of the island. Despite victory almost in hand, the fortress was never captured but the losses that Germany took were significant.

On March 7th 1942 the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V made its debut on the island with 16 aircraft being flown off of the carrier HMS Eagle. Throughout 1942 more and more aircraft were flown into Malta by HMS Eagle and USS Wasp. The island had a unique compliment of Swordfish Biplanes, Bristol Blenheims, Bristol Beaufighters, Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires. No one aircraft can be contributed with the defense of the island but like all battles it was the combined effort of all that made it possible.

The above image was taken a couple years back at Planes of Fame Airshow of Robert Defords home built Spitfire Mk V.

Image Captured with Nikon D4s, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Reno From the Ground

As more and more planes start rolling into Stead the opportunities become even better. Each year varies with a different showing of planes in attendance each year. This makes for an ever changing atmosphere to work in. The one nice thing is the background, where the natural light hits, the halogen lights, the access, all of that remains the same so planning out those shots can be challenging and rewarding.

Now this year starts off differently because the Texas Flying Legends Museum brought down some of their planes including their Spitfire Mk.IXc. One aircraft is all that’s needed to make a good day great for a photographer. When it comes to static planes two big elements to control is background and angle. The background at Stead never changes so you can only do so much there but by getting down low, with good light and clouds you can make that “boring airplane at an airport” shot look great. A few years back CAF Camarillo brought up their A6M3 Zero and under the exact same conditions with a little change of angle and morning light, that desert background can look great. With so many great planes and so many shots already taken at Stead it’s challenging and rewarding to come up with new images.

The Cockpit Shot

You wouldn’t think this would be a hard photograph to get since all it is is a simple click while the aircraft is static on the ground. But believe it or not it is rather difficult. Basically there are two main reasons why, first is trust. The cockpit is a very personal space for the person flying that plane. It’s a lot like the inside of someones house or car. You just don’t go around taking pictures of those things without asking. Secondly, it’s a matter of safety. Aircraft are hollow, if you look down and back inside a warbird you’ll see a whole lot of empty space. If something is dropped, it’s gone. Not only that but there are lots of little things that could get bumped or broken when you stick a camera inside a plane. So how do you get that shot?

Well for starters you might be wondering is that shot so important to get? Yes it is, because the cockpit is different in every plane and if you’re trying to tell the story of that plane you want to try and capture every detail. When it comes to the shot your best bet is to ask the pilot if you can. Don’t assume, ask first. Make sure you be polite when you ask and make sure you ask when the pilot ISN’T about to go fly. They don’t need that distraction. Next ask them where is it safe to touch and where it is not. If you have a belt buckle take it off. You don’t want that scratching the side of the plane. Don’t lean on the side of the fuselage or on the wings. Be considerate and be sure to thank the pilot when you’re done. It’s actually a fairly easy shot to acquire with just some basic manners.

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

The British Fighters

You can’t beat photographing a Hurricane and a Spitfire in Britain! One of the best parts about my latest trip to England was having the chance to photograph both of these amazing aircraft at Duxford. Thanks to the nice folks at the Historic Aircraft Collection nine participants at Dad’s UK Aviation Workshop got a chance to see these rare pieces of history up close. While I was helping with instruction, I got a chance to work with them too.

The Hurricane is the unsung hero of the RAF. During the Battle of Britain more Hurricanes were used then any other plane and throughout the war in Europe Hurricanes were used in every front. The Hurricane came out in 1937 and was Britain’s frontline fighter for a long time before the Spitfire came out. While not as fast or agile as the Spitfire, the Hurricane was far more rugged with greater armor. The Hurricane was known for getting their pilots back to the airfield. In many ways the Hurricane and Spitfire are like the P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang.

It was a treat to see the Hurricane but to have a chance to have both in one frame was truly unbelievable. When it comes to working with multiple aircraft it helps if you have the ability to position them to a more flattering angle. If you don’t then it’s best to choose subjects that naturally look good together. After that watching the background and getting low to help show more sky helps with the overall image. Throughout the Battle of Britain the skies were dark and cloudy, including that is not only natural for England but also to recreate that bit of history.

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

Enemies Together

Once a upon a time these two great planes were adversaries over the skies of Europe. The sleek and sizzling Spitfire and the fastest plane in the sky, or at least at that time. We never got to see the true potential of the Me 262 during combat which is probably a good thing for the allies but those that did surely remember it. In 2015 for the first time in North America we had this very Me 262, a P-51 Mustang and this Spitfire grace the skies over Houston. This year the two enemies were back together again.

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The ME 262 seen here is flown by the Collings Foundation and the Spitfire is flown by the Texas Flying Legends Museum. Both rare planes and rare moment in history to have the two back together again. Photographically the options were pretty slim. With clutter on all bu tone side of the planes, getting a clean shot was next to impossible without using post processing. Using the D5 and 24-70, this is a simple click capturing the brief moment that the planes were together. The next morning the 262 was back home. Sometimes a few clicks is all you get.

That Early Morning Reward

I’ve seen a lot of really good sunrises and sunsets but it still gets me whenever a great comes along. While down in Houston, TX a week ago we had one spectacular morning shooting at Ellington Field. It was Sunday morning during the Wings Over Houston Airshow that the skies just lit up! At first it seemed liked it might be a dud but then this pocket opened up and the sunlight was just gorgeous. You couldn’t have asked for better.

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Shooting was a cinch. It was a matter of combining the great light with the silhouettes of the planes. Now the field was littered with planes so the subject matter was quite extensive but I went for the Spitfire for two reasons. First off in the background is a B-17 Flying Fortress. Historically that’s pretty cool to have two allies that fought together in one photograph. Secondly and this is more important, the white stripes on the wings are great for grabbing the viewers attention. Even with the light in the skies your eyes still go to the white which wouldn’t be seen on any other plane. It’s a little detail but it makes a difference in the end.

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

An Important Day For the Free French Air Force

Today marks a little less known day in the history of the air war during World War II. Five Curtiss H75 Fighters of the French Air Force engage German Bf 109’s and shoot down two. This was the first French air to air victory during WWII and also marks the first for the allies, although the United States hadn’t entered the war at this point. After the German occupation of France the government and thus the air force operated out of England and North Africa. On June 17 1940, five days before the Franco German Armistice, the first airmen took off towards England to help form the new Free French Air Force.

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While not many representations of the Free French units exist here in the United States, one example is the Texas Flying Legends Museum’s Spitfire MkIX, a true combat vet and one that served with 329 Free French Squadron RAF unit based out of Merston, England. The Spitfire came off of the assembly line in March 1944, it went to the 302 Polish Unit based in England, it then went on to a couple other units before ending up with the 329 nine days after the invasion of Normandy. MK959 fought bravely throughout the war and represents only one of many allies that fought.

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.

A Different Year But a Similar Image

It’s funny how time repeats itself. Two years ago at Planes of Fame I saw this image of a P-38 with the tower behind it and the neon lights giving off starbursts. Well on the last day I was up for sunrise photographing the statics and I couldn’t help but notice the same situation present itself.

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This time it was the CAF SoCal’s Spitfire MkXIV that was the subject. Using the D4s and 24-70 AF-S, it was a single click with max depth to bring out more of the starburst. Of course a tripod helped with this also. The image was finished with ACR and PSW CC.

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