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

The Grumman TBF Avenger

I decided it was time to talk about the TBF Avenger, made by Grumman but was also licensed out to General Motors and it was General Motors that used the title TBM Avenger. The TBF, know by the pilots that flew it as the “turkey,” was a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps torpedo bomber that used mainly during WWII but went on to serve up through the 1960’s. The TBF was proven so effective that later it was purchased by other nations air forces. For this particular post I decided to use only photographs of the Texas Flying Legends Museum TBM Avenger in part to keep the photographic story a little more complete. There are in fact numerous Avengers still flying today.

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The Avenger was the answer to a call made by the U.S. Navy for a new torpedo bomber to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator which was introduced in 1935 and was obsolete by 1939. Several firms put in bids for the contract but Leroy Grumman won with his TBF design. Two prototypes were built and first flew August 7th, 1941 making this year the 75th anniversary of the Avenger. Despite one of the prototypes crashing, production continued. The Avenger was the first to feature a new compound angle folding wing which was designed to maximize storage space on carriers. Later planes would use the same design including the F6F Hellcat and late models of the F4F-4 Wildcat. The TBF was equipped with a Wright R-2600-20 Cyclone 14 engine. It was the heaviest single engine aircraft built during WWII and only the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt came close in maximum weight.

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The Avenger had a crew of three: pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/rear gunner. The radio sat behind the pilot in a compartment that was accessible by a tunnel. In most planes today the radio is removed allowing for a second seat. The radioman sat in the tail/belly section with the turret gunner above him. The radioman had a .30 Caliber machine gun he could fire against enemy planes coming from behind and below. There was a .30 caliber machine gun in the nose and a .50 Caliber mounted in the turret. later models would replace the nose gun with a .50 Caliber mounted in each wing.

The bomb bay was able to hold a Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo, or a single 2,000lb bomb or four 500lb bombs. Like many other Grumman aircraft the Avenger was rugged and tough. It handled well and with a ceiling of 30,000ft and a maximum range when fully loaded of 1,000 miles, it was better then any other torpedo plane at that time, including the Japanese Nakajima B5N Kate Divebomber which had become obsolete.

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The TBF Avenger has a long history of combat missions having first drawn blood during the Battle of Midway. An order of one hundred Avengers were sent to Hawaii to join the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. However only six managed to make it before the Carriers left. These six TBF-1’s were part of Torpedo Squadron 8 which operated off of Midway island while the rest of the squadron used TBD Devastators off of the carrier USS Hornet. Of these six aircraft, five were shot down during the Battle of Midway. The sixth plane was heavily damaged and one gunner was killed, the other gunner and pilot were both injured.

This was the beginning of a long list of combats that the TBF, named the Avenger in October 1941, would be a part of. The first major victory for the TBF was during the battle of Guadalcanal in November of 1942 when on a joint mission with Marine and Navy units, they helped sink the battleship Hiei.

By 1943 Grumman started to produce more Hellcats then Avengers leaving the work to be done by the Eastern Aircraft division of General Motors who designated the plane TBM. By mid 1944 the TBM had become dash-3 models and were the most numerous built, while more dash-1’s were in service at that time. The TBM also became a terrific sub hunter with escort carriers being used to protect convoys.

Seen here is TFLM’s TBM-3E and FG-1D Corsair, the Corsair which would later be flying top cover for the Avenger, flying together as we made our to D.C for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover last May.

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The TBM had many distinguished pilots including former president George W. Bush. Bush was the youngest naval aviator up to that point. He joined in 1943. While flying a TBM with VT-51 off of the carrier USS San Jacinto, his avenger was shot down on September 2nd, 1944. Both of his crew mates were killed and he had to ditch in the sea but managed to drop his payload on the radio tower on Chichi Jima. He was picked up by the American submarine USS Finback. TFLM’s TBM-3E Avenger is painted in honor of George W. Bush with his personal signature on one of the prop blades and a special dedication flyover at his home in 2013.

The TBF/TBM Avenger never achieved the same level of fame as some of the other single engine fighters that came out of the war but it is certainly an amazing plane with a very rich history. For the pilots that flew them they handled like a truck but it was reliable. For those, like myself, that get to fly in them today they are a spacious and comfortable way to relive a part of history.

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

Working in the Sun

The sun can be a powerful element when included in a photograph. Some avoid it because it can be too overpowering but when used in the right way it can be an element of intrigue. When I’m working with critters I rarely have the sun directly in my photographs because I want the softer natural light to be on the critter and not seen in the background. With aviation it’s quite different. Due to the natural graphic elements of aircraft the direct sun can be quite interesting. These two images are good examples of that.

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This first image is of a modified T6 Texan part of the Tora! Tora! Tora! performing group as a Zero. What initially caught my attention was the flag waving form the canopy. Now this is obviously a backlit shot and there is a bit of lens flare but with the help of ACR it wasn’t a distraction. The morning I shot this we had some great cloud cover which helped to mask the bright sun so it wasn’t a glaring white ball.

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The second image, a TBM Avenger, has no clouds but more color and it is that color that makes for an interesting sky. Both of those subtle details help to make the sun less overpowering. Now with aviation I said there was a graphic element and there is and in both of these cases it’s the plane’s shadow. It’s not something you generally think about but when you can combine the sun, plane and shadow into a unique composition then you have something truly interesting. When it comes to working the ramps and looking at multiple aircraft and having to work around people, noticing these elements and knowing how to work them is important.

TFLM in DC

I apologize for being a little tardy these last couple of weeks with my aviation weekly blog post but I figured with this last trip to DC why not make that the subject for this week. I had the great fortune to be working with the Texas Flying Legends Museum for the entire week documenting the event. It was an amazing experience that required all the knowledge that I had obtained from the previous years working in aviation to make happen what was asked of me. The end result was over 20,000 images and hours of video footage all from one week. But if there was one event that it was important to record all of that footage, it was this one.

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This trip literally started for me four days prior to having to show up for in Florida to meet the crew. It was a mad scramble getting everything ready before I had to ship out but once there in Florida with the pilots and the planes it was pure enjoyment mixed with a whole lot of work. One of the best example of this was the amount of air to air time I had with the other planes. We flew in a five ship to DC with the other fighters and C-53 coming on their own. The B-25 Betty’s Dream was the main photo platform but with all the time available and the need to include the B-25 in the shots in order to get a better overall story, I switched over to the TBM for a while to shoot. It’s amazing what a difference there is when flying across the country in these older planes is like compared to commercial. It’s hard to describe because it’s not like just a quick flight up and then back down. It really makes you feel like you’re flying back in time.

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Once we were at Culpeper, the fighter base where all the planes were kept except for the B-29, B-24 and B-17, it was a couple of days of practice flights combined with talking with the other pilots. It’s amazing the community that exists amongst this amazing group of people and the stories are just amazing. Culpeper is home to a healthy community of homebuilt aircraft one of which we had the fun of seeing is a WWI fighter being restored and the owner, Andy, fired up the engine for us. It was bloody loud but way cool! Along with some of the homebuilt crowd that were there witnessing what was going on were some veterans. Now at the memorial on that Friday there was said to be over 400 veterans. We had a far less amount at Culpeper but when you get the chance to just one of them, then thats all it takes.

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Friday was the big day and after much consideration with how the planes were flying, Dad and myself along with some friends all went down to the WWII memorial to watch the planes fly over the national mall. Since we had so little time with each formation it made more sense to be on the ground to photograph the one area that needed the most coverage, the people. They said that over 30,000 people attended that day and that’s pretty impressive considering it was a workday. I can honestly say from watching in my seat and from the conversations that were had, it was an amazing spectacle. The formal presentation was moving and the speakers they had during the presentation were great. For all the events and airshows I had been too this was by far the best. It’s hard to say that considering all that I have been too but it truly was a powerful event.

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Then, as soon as it had begun it was already time to head home. It’s hard to believe where that whole week had gone but Saturday was upon us and it was time to fly back to home base. Now the one element that was against us the whole trip was the weather. Oddly enough one of the very best days that we had was that Friday at the ceremony. Flying too DC there was rain and flying back there was rain and by the time we had gotten to Fargo there was even snow. It’s another one of those challenges when flying across the country that has to be dealt with but it comes with the territory in Spring time.

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The fleet ended up flying in multiple groups to best utilize speed and fuel consumption in working around the weather. One of the main home bases for the Texas Flying Legends Museum is in Minot, ND and that’s where the planes were headed for maintenance after months of flying in airshows. TFLM was one of the major sponsors of the Arsenal of Democracy bringing in eight aircraft. They finished the formations on May 8th with the missing man solute in honor of those that did not make it back. The Texas Flying Legends Museum have always believed in Sacrificing Above Self and they proved that with the back to back flying they have done this Spring in order to bring these great planes around the country for everyone to witness.

Flying Back Home

This past week has been one heck of an amazing week! It was such an honor to be a part of the Texas Flying Legends Museum and to have the privileged of documenting the 70th anniversary of VE Day in Washington DC. Going into this project I knew it was going to be a huge challenge with the amount of the coverage that it would take to tell the story and then to put it all together for an inspirational and memorable presentation. I have my work cut out for me still with 900GB of video and images to go through but I can’t wait!

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I’m going to be posting more this week about the ceremony and all that went into it but for starts I figured I’d go with where it all ended. This was the flight back yesterday morning from Fargo, ND to Minot, ND which is one of the main bases for TFLM. We were trying to stay ahead of the weather the whole way back Saturday and Sunday and we caught a little bit of it on Sunday. It actually got so cold it was snowing at one point. This was taken out of the left side of their B-25 Betty’s Dream of their TBM, F4F Wildcat and FG-1D Corsair. Flying formation is always a challenge even more so when there is weather. I wasn’t calling formation changes during any of this because of the weather this was how they were flying comfortably.

Looking out of the Canopy

Over the last couple of years I have had the great joy of being able to fly with other aircraft. It truly can be described as an adrenaline rush. One thing I’ve learned through painful trial and error is to keep cool and think through everything that is going on during the flight. This really is important in order to see all those other shots that might be possible. In this case, while flying in a TBM Avenger with a corsair on the wing, it’s very easy to be only concerned with the corsair and not see the big picture. TBM’s were designed as a torpdeo bomber that was vulnerable against enemy fighters. They needed top cover from our fighters to get in and out of enemy territory. The corsair was a carrier and land based fighter that was primarily involved with providing that cover. In formation flying getting the shots of the corsair is important but finding time to get shots with both planes is essential. Using a 16mm fisheye I was able to get most of the plane, wing and everything outside the TBM.

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Fisheye’s really are a great lens to bring along when photographing planes and you’re in a small cabin. The give the feeling of a lot of space when there isn’t any. Plus because of the curvature of the glass it also creates that nice curvature to the earth which really gives a nice feeling to how the planes relate to the ground.

Getting through those images

The trip is over, the images are filed and the stories are sitting in the back of your mind ready to be written down. What stands in your way but all those images that need to be processed. Oh that time consuming task of getting through thousands of images only for them to then sit in a folder as you try and make that sale. It’s a pain in the butt chore but it’s a pretty darn important one. When you’re working in a field that mostly takes place between Spring and Fall, which is especially true when living in a state that snows a lot, there tends to be a bit of down time. It’s great being able to chase those winter blizzards and fresh snow, but it also provides lots of time to work on images and write new articles. We all have to find time to get through our projects, not only is it good to progress forward but also to just feel the accomplishment of getting something done.

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A Hero not forgotten

Everyday people fly through Chicago’s O’Hare airport probably not knowing where it got it’s name. Well if you look down the west end of terminal 2 you would get a clue as to why. In that terminal is a F4F-3 Wildcat retreived from the depths of Lake Michigan and restored in honor of Edward O’Hare, the US Navy’s first flying ace. On February 20th, 1942 he single handily attacked a squadron of 9 heavy bombers on route to his carrier. He managed to shoot down or damage several of the bombers, earning him the Medal of Honor on April 21st, 1942.

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On November 26th, 1943 O’Hare was on the first nighttime fighter attack launched by a US aircraft carrier, when his squadron of F6F Hellcats and TBM Avengers engaged with a group of Japanese torpedo bombers. O’Hare and his wingman Ensign Warren Andrew “Andy” Skon joined up with a TBF piloted by LCDR John C. Phillips and crewed by radar specialist LTJG Hazen B. Rand and rear gunner Alvin Kernan. O’Hare was behind the TBF when Kernan reported a Betty Bomber above and behind O’Hare. He opened fire as did the Betty. A shadow and a whitish splash was all that was seen of O’Hare. No radio calls were made. O’Hare’s aircraft was shot down and sadly was never found. There is much controversy over how he died, but those that knew him didn’t care. They were sad they had lost a friend.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Fisheye Friday Fun

Here is one of those fun experiments that you never quite know what will happen. Having flown in a number of aircraft before I knew that the space to shoot is usually always tight. Therefore having a wide angle lens is really useful. In the last air to air shoot I did with the Texas Flying Legends was in their TBM Avenger. The Avenger is a large torpedo bomber that has four seats in it but could easily fit more. Besides the pilot and myself, one of Kelby’s film crew was in the belly and moved into the turret gunners seat. The TBM is one of the few planes that actually has a lot of space in it. I was in the second seat or navigator seat and had a great vantage spot over everything. Their FG-1D Corsair flew cover for us and even when he was tucked in on the wing he still seemed far away. Because of the great long canopies in the plane, the Fisheye worked great to get the feel of what someone would have felt and saw when looking out over the water.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 16mm Fisheye, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Pacific Formation

Working out of the side of a B-25 isn’t real easy to do, but it is still fun. When working in formations with no control over where the planes go is where the real challenge lies. In this instance a lot of the shots come from just the opportunities available. The TBM Avenger, FG-1D Corsair and P-40 Warhawk are Asia/Pacific Theater aircraft and together they make a great formation. After doing the stack down with the six aircraft the three planes broke away, the TBM being up top. Usually the Corsair and P-40 would be providing top cover for the slower torpedo plane but because of the stack down it was safer not to rearrange the planes until they were needed for the next shots.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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