Spitfires on Malta

Spitfires were used all over the world throughout WWII making it one of the most versatile aircraft used during the war. Among the battlefronts it served with, was on the small island of Malta. Civilization on Malta has been around for centuries and every since it began there has been constant fighting over the island due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea. Control over northern Africa has always been fought for and during WWII it was paramount for the Axis powers. Well, the battle for Malta lasted for two years and with the help of Spitfires, the Allies were able to maintain control of the island.

On March 7th, 1942, 16 Supermarine Spitfires MkV’s were delivered via USS Eagle to the island, along with nine more from USS Eagle. 47 more were delivered on April 13th, 1942. All of this was part of Operation Spotter which gave priority to reinforcing the island in order to help hold Africa. Unfortunately, the majority of those aircraft were destroyed on the ground throughout March and April. Despite the loses, the island held and the Axis powers paid dearly in men and machines trying to take the island. Many of those reserves were needed in the Africa campaign but would never get there.

This particular Spitfire is part of the Historic Aircraft Collection, in Duxford, England. It happens to be an MkVb painted in honor of the RAF Polish 315 and 317 squadrons.

Images captured with Nikon D5, 70-300 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.

Reliving the Battle of Britain

For those that lived in England during WWII, the early years of the war were some of the darkest and scariest. The enemy had already conquered so much in so little time that it seemed they couldn’t be stopped. The Battle of Britain was one of the most crucial battles that happened throughout WWII and while it only lasted a short time in 1940 the damage done on both sides was severe.

September 7th actually marks an important day in the history of the battle. After weeks of attacking radar stations, aerodromes and manufacturing facilities, the Luftwaffe switched to bombing major cities, specifically on this day was London. The RAF had been doing night bombing raids against German cities including Berlin before this happened. The attack against London was as much a retaliatory attack as it was strategic. While on the September 7th it was successful, future attacks were not due to the sudden lack of pressure on RAF fighters. Hurricanes and Spitfires met the enemy on September 15th which cost the Luftwaffe dearly over London. Standing in Duxford looking at these magnificent machines one could hardly imagine what it would have been like seventy seven years ago.

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

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

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

The Supermarine Spitfire

This year seems to be a very important year when it comes to aviation. There seems to be many anniversaries of firsts. March fifth was another important anniversary as it marked the 80th Anniversary of the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire which is not only an iconic aircraft from WWII but it is also one of the most revered fighters to have come out of WWII. Enthusiasts and historians alike have a passion for the Spitfires. From first conception, to the epic battles over Great Britain in 1940, to Africa, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, South East Asia, and of course the epic dogfights over occupied Europe. The history of the multiple variants of the Spitfire goes on and on and lives on today with numerous examples being flown around the world. Needless to say that this is merely going to be an INTRO post as there is no possible way for me to write about the whole legacy of this plane.

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The Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell and his team at Supermarine Aviation works, a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong, to meet Air Ministry requirement F7/30. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224, an open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear and a 600hp engine. It was a disappointment so the team “cleaned” up the design and created the Gloster Gladiator Biplane which was accepted into service. Mitchell then designed Type 300, an improvement on the Gladiator, but wasn’t enough of an improvement and was turned down. Mitchell went back and redesigned the Type 300 with a single thinner wing, breathing apparatus, closed cockpit and a more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the “Merlin” engine. In December of 1934 Mitchell got the backing by Vickers-Armstrong to go ahead with the improved Type 300 and in December of 1934, the Air Ministry provided the capitol and contract to produce the improved F7/30. On January 3rd, 1935 Air Ministry approved the contract and designated it F10/35.

In April of 1935 the armament was changed from two .303 Vickers Machine guns to four .303 Browning machine guns. Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers took the controls of the prototype (K5054) for the first time on March 5th 1936 for its maiden eight minute flight. He was later quoted as saying, “Don’t touch a thing.” The flight of the Spitfire came four months after the first flight of the Hawker Hurricane. Over the next several months the K5054 was flown by several squadron leaders adding in their two cents on various performance issues and possible ways of improvement. Multiple propellers was used to increase maximum speed up to 348mph. While later models would go faster than this. Changes were made to the rudder, a new engine and a undercarriage position indicator. The Spitfire gradually became more and more refined. On June 3rd 1936, Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires before a formal report was issued by the A&AEE.

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Many features made the Spitfire a unique aircraft, one of the most distinctive was the elliptical wing design. In 1934 the design staff had to solve the need for a thin wing as well as one that was strong enough to house the undercarriage as well as the armament and ammunition. The elliptical design was the most efficient aerodynamic plan for an untwisted wing. Needless to say that I am not an expert on aerodynamics of drag on wings so in this case I would recommend looking up the engineering and flight characteristic of how an elliptical wing is better then an straight edge or swept wing design. As the Spitfire evolved to handle multiple roles so were the refinements of flight characteristics. The history of the Spitfire is partly due to the history of the multiple engine, wing, armament, airframe, cockpit and other characteristic changes. There is in fact too many to write out everyone here.

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This particular Spitfire, NH759, is one of 957 MkXIV’s built. It was built in late 1944 at the Aldermaston factory in Berkshire, England. It went to the 215 MU on 20th May 1945 and having missed the European War went to India in July of 1945 and then to South East Asia Command in August of 1945. However it missed the war against Japan as well, as NH749 arrived on August 9th. It went into storage until it was sold to the Indian Air Force in December 1947. That history is unknown. In 1979 the Hayden Bailey Brothers brought it back to England. It was restored by Craig Charleston, sold to Keith Wickenden, then to David Price’s Museum of Flying and then in 2005 it was sold to the Commemorative Air Force. It now resides with the CAF SoCal Wing in Camarillo. Note the distinct five bladed prop on the Spitfire.

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I have only had the pleasure of photographing two Spitfires, the one mentioned above, and the Texas Flying Legends Museum newly acquired Spitfire MkIX. MK959 was built in March 1944 at the Vickers-Armstrong plant at Castle Bromwich. It’s first flight was in April, then assigned to the 38th MU at RAF Colerne. In May of 1944 it was assigned to the 302 Polish Squadron at Chailey England where it did fighter escort roles, providing medium bombers with cover over France before the Normandy Invasion. Nine days after DDAy it was assigned to the 329 Free French RAF Squadron out of Merston. It went on to fly nineteen mission over the D-Day Beachhead. By August of 1944 it was transferred again to 165 Squadron out of Detling. It flew 41 combat operations including Market Garden. MK959 went on to have many more owners in other nations before eventually being restored by Raybourne Thompson who painted MK959 in honor of Andre Rose, the only living pilot who once flew the Spitfire, and the Free French Unit, their mascot being the Half Stork. Thompson went on to sell MK959 to Tom Duffy of Claire Aviation in Millville, NJ and then Duffy eventually sold it to Bruce Eames of the Texas Flying Legends Museum. For a more detailed description of the history of TFLM’s Spitfire MKIX head to their website here.

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At the Wings Over Houston Airshow the Half Stork Spitfire made its debut! People all over the field would come over and enjoy the sight of a Spitfire once again being in Texas. After the airshow had ended an air to air photo shoot was held with the Spitfire and the museum’s A6M2 Model 21 Zero in a reenactment of the Battle of Darwin. Drawin, a port city in Northern Australia, was a vital RAF and Naval Base, as well as an allied base later in war. It was used as one of the primary ferrying routes in support of the Philippines. This route helped to move vital supplies without having to go around Japanese held waters. Knowing the strategic value of the city the Japanese Imperial Navy started bombing the city in 1942. The city being poorly defended at the time requested better air support. Churchill sent an urgent need for Spitfires to be sent to help with the island defenses. A small contigent of Australian and British pilots made up the squadron of Spitfires. A great book was written about Darwin Spitfires.

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The Spitfire, all variants including the Naval version Seafire, has had a long history of operations throughout many countries. It has produced several of Britain’s top aces including Robert Stanford Tuck who became an inspiration for many pilots after his book Fly For You Life was published in 1956. The Spitfire has a certain quality about it that many pilots lust after. It’s one of the few aircraft that many dream to fly. In another important ceremony, at last years Wings Over Houston, TFlM’s P-51D Mustang Dakota Kid II and MK959 Spitfire took to the skies with Collings Foundation’s ME262. In perhaps the first time in decades two of the German Luftwaffe’s most iconic enemies met with what was considered one of Germanys many “wonder weapons.” Bringing this kind of history to life helps to keep the memories and lessons we learned during WWII alive today. If not for the help of the dedicated few, these beautiful machines would be with us today.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Photo Flight of Paradise

It’s not everyday that you get to be part of history even if it is in the backseat. Ever since the announcement of the new addition to the Texas Flying Legends Museum fleet there has been questions of who and where the first photo flight will be. Warren Pietsch, director of flight operations for the museum, had only flown the planes a few times but new that the owner would want the images right away. Dad got the call and with a mechanical issue arising from the first photo platform a quick call was made to the backup platform flown by a good friend of ours and who is affectionately nicknamed Flydaddy. The next day he showed up in his A36 Bonanza and was quite possibly more excited then the rest of us.

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In the late hours of Sunday evening we flew out over Galveston Bay with the MkIX. Along with us for the first time was the owner who got to see his new purchase fly. He broke radio silence a few times to let us know how excited he was. Now I have done a few air to air’s before but I can honestly say that I have never seen the light reflect quite like it does with wings of this plane. There is just something about that elliptical design that makes the light really pop. One thing is for certain, if there is any doubt on whether airplanes look better in the sky then on the ground, this Spitfire puts that argument to rest.

The Spitfire MkIX

Life is full of surprises! Over the last couple of years I have spent a good deal of time working with the Texas Flying Legends Museum and the one thing that I have learned with the group is to be prepared for anything. When I went down to Houston this past weekend I was quite taken when they announced the newest addition to their fleet, the Supermarine Spitfire MkIX. This absolutely gorgeous WWII vet having survived the Battle of Britain and the D-Day+9, has resided in the United States for years tucked away being cared for. It is now in the hands of a great group of pilots who will fly the Spit in honor of those that did before.

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Throughout the airshow people would come over to the Spitfire and look in awe as it was parked on the ramp. While many Spitfires still exist and fly today, there aren’t many still in the US, let alone a vet. Monday morning before our flight out Dad, our good friend Joe Glyda, and myself enjoyed a static shoot with the Spitfire in the early morning light. The iconic elliptical wing design stood out so prevalently as the sun rose that it made an impressive silhouette. The three of us spent a lot of time just looking at the Spitfire enjoying seeing the history that was in front of us.

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As the sun got higher more of the details started to appear. The D-Day invasion strips which go vertically on the tail of this aircraft unlike others, the squadron and wing units, and of course the British markings. It’s truly amazing where history survives and how it comes back into the light. As the owner put it while we were discussing the plane, this is nothing new it has just come back out into the world again.

In Honor of the Battle of Britain

Today marks a very important day in aviation history and world history for that matter. Today marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain. This famous attack made by the German Luftwaffe started on July 10th 1940 and went all the way to October 31st 1940. The goal of the Luftwaffe was to gain air superiority over the RAF by destroying shipping. air bases and fighters. The Luftwaffe also started terror bombing during this campaign by bombing English cities in hopes that they would sign an armistice or surrender. England didn’t. Not only was the campaign a failure but it also led to the eventual cancel of Operation Sea Lion, the German amphibious assault on England. Many historians believe this to be the first major lose for the Germans during WWII.

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Two of the major adversaries during this campaign was the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, Heinkel He 111 and the Messerschmitt Bf 109. There are only a handful of original flying examples of the Bf 109, most of which are in other countries. Spitfires on the other hand are quite numerous with flying examples found in many countries. Britain naturally has the greatest collection of Spitfires with one of every model in either flight or static condition. This particular beauty is a Supermarine Spitfire MkXIV and is part of the CAF SoCal Wing.

HDR Vs. ACR. How Much is Needed?

Something has been stuck on my mind for a while now and it started in September at the Reno Air Races after something my Dad said. He said, “I do more finishing in ACR 7.2 than I do HDR these days.” We had just come off a morning shoot and I asked, “well does that mean you weren’t taking bracketed images for HDR’s out there?” He said, “no i still do but ACR 7.2 is so good and fast that it’s sometimes better.” I got to thinking about this, more over I wanted to test it. How much is HDR really needed if you use ACR in your basic workflow? To set this up I used the same image, same process, interesting results. For what it’s worth i use CS6 64bit, ACR 7.2, Photomatrix Pro 4.2 on Wacom Cyntiqs. Just thought I be clear on that before I get an email.

The morning shoot that we had was with this beautiful Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV graciously pulled out for us by crew members of CAF Camarillo. It was about 06:45 when we had the plane pulled out and in position. The challenge with morning static shoots at Reno has always been plane direction. If the nose points South East like it is here, to get a straight on shot you have lovely grey K-rails in the background. If you point the nose Southwest then the plane is back lit, anything else and the plane is side lit. Pretty obvious which way we went with.

You get to see the magic this time for here is the before and after images. The first image here is the first shot in a 7 bracketed series with -1 exposure compensation. The plane is dark and the sky sucks. At 0 compensation the plane is better but the sky is blown out. Both were used to make the second image and 0 comp. for the bottom one.

This is the HDR. Notice the color in the sky, detail under the wings, light on the asphalt, and the light around the prop. These are the key areas of difference.

Now here is the single image. The similarity is amazing! At least I think so. Both images went through the almost the exact same process except one was built in Photomatrix and the other wasn’t. Also Each image has one single filter applied that the other was not. I sharpened the plane in the first image to bring out all the rivets and lines, it wasn’t needed in the second image. The second image needed a polarization filter for the sky, first one didn’t. That’s it! That is the only difference in the finishing of these two images. Which one is better? I don’t know, can’t decide. I can tell you which one is smaller, that’s the second one by almost 30mb!On a hard-drive filled with Gallery images that makes a big difference.

Here’s what I’m getting at with all this. Just because you can doesn’t mean you need to. Can you shoot in nothing but bracketed sets to guarantee the right exposure? Yes. Is it better to learn from experience what is the best exposure for various scenarios? Yes. Can you get almost the same result with different techniques? Absolutely. But if you are going to invest in equipment, programs and time then isn’t it best to maximize each of them, time being the one you can’t buy back or return. Obviously there are times when there is more than 5 stops of light and you need to use HDR techniques to get the most accurate result. That doesn’t mean it’s needed in every scenario. Keeping up in this business isn’t just about the next image, it’s also finding the quickest route to finish the project so you can move on to the next one. If you’re curious the single processed image took less time than the first one did. One less step. If you don’t believe me than I dare you to go out, take a series of bracketed images, finish an image in that set both ways see what happens. I bet you’ll be amazed.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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