It’s been such an interesting week that I haven’t had time yet to go shooting with the D5 but this weekend is another story. I thought why not post one last shot from the trip back to North Dakota this past week with the Texas Flying Legends Museum. The four fighters were grouped up as we made our way across Idaho and into Montana.
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.
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.
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!
Many heroic stories were told of the brave men in their Grumman Hellcats and Chance Vought Corsairs fighting the nimble Mitsubishi Zero in the skies over the Pacific. While these aircraft have gone down in lore of the perilous battles they were poised in, before they were even built, many aces were being made in a much less glorified but exceptionally hard working staple of the US Navy and the British Royal Navy, the Grumman F4F Wildcat.
WWI proved the necessity for air power however many questions still lingered about how effective certain areas would be with the use of aircraft opposed to more traditional means. Carriers had been proven to be very effective, even if carrier tactics at the beginning of 1940 were still rather unknown, mostly because they were still being developed. The need for faster, more rugged carrier based fighters was needed and the Wildcat served that purpose in 1940. In the early parts of the WWII the Wildcat was the only option for US Navy and Marine divisions in the Pacific. The Hellcat and Corsair weren’t available until much later. For the first two years the Wildcat had to be the answer. While The Wildcat was not as fast as the nimble Zero, with a top speed of 318mph compared to 331mph, the Wildcat was a rugged plane with a simplistic yet strong internal structure. The Wildcat helped to save many pilots as they consistently were bringing the pilots back home. It was not uncommon for the planes to be riddled with bullet holes and yet still able to fly.
Like most fighters that went through WWII, the Wildcat went through several changes and upgrades until it reached the F4F designation. Originally it was called the “Martlet” used for the first time in Europe by the British Royal Navy. The F4F started with the FF biplane but which featured the first Us Navy retractable landing gear. It was a manual operation to hand crank the landing gear during takeoff and landings and the design would last all the way through to the F4F. This made the plane rather tipsy when parked. It also lead to accidents as occasionally the landing gear wasn’t all the way locked in place. The FF biplane lead to the F2F and F3F Flying Barrel. The general fuselage shape was created and lasted through the F4F with mechanical and performance enhances made. The US Navy however preferred the monoplane design and Brewster was working in competition with the F2A-1, which would later become known as the Brewster Buffalo. In 1936 and order was placed with Brewster with a second order being placed with Grumman for the G-16, designated by the Navy as XF4F-1. The Buffalo proved to be better, so serious modifications had to be made to the -3 with improved tail, wings and a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” radial engine. Testing led to production orders of the F4F-3 including an order from France with the Wright R-1820 “Cyclone 9” radial engine; however, France fell to the axis powers and the planes were delivered to the British Royal Navy in 1940 instead, who renamed the plane the Martlet. On October 1st, 1941 the US Navy received its first F4F-3’s and named it the Wildcat.
The history of the Wildcat began long before it was in the US Navy. The British Royal Navy used it as a replacement for their Fairey Fulmar, which was a two seat fighter that had inadequate performance compared to single seat fighters in Europe. The Supermarine Spitfire was in too high a demand for the Royal Air Force so very few made it to the Royal Navy in 1940. The Martlet, as known by the British, first drew blood on Christmas Day 1940 when it destroyed a Junker Ju 88 bomber over Scapa Flow naval base. This was the first US built plane in British service to score a combat victory in WWII. The Martlet remained in active service with the Royal Navy until the end of the war and flew its last mission on May 5th, 1945. In January of 1944 it was no longer known as the Martlet but officially the Wildcat.
In 1943 demands for aircraft changed and Grumman no longer had time to build Wildcats. While the company still held the production rights, General Motors Eastern Division started building Wildcats. Grumman was called on to build a faster better performance fighter for Aircraft Carriers. The F6F Hellcat was their solution. However, the Hellcat and later Corsairs were too heavy, too big and too powerful for the escort carriers so the Wildcat remained in service on the smaller vessels. General Motors ended up building 5,280 FM-1/-2 variants, the -1 was virtually the same as F4F-4 but later changed to handle only four guns and a larger payload, while the -2 was equivalent to the XF4F-8 prototype, which had a faster Wright R-1820-56 engine and a taller tail to handle the torque. This makes the earlier 1940-1943 Grumman Wildcats much rarer.
Both Wildcats seen here are General Motors Eastern Division FM models. The top is the FM-2P owned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum and the second is the FM-2 “Air Biscuit,” owned by Tom Camp and who is a regular at the National Championship Air Races in Reno,NV. Back in 2012 at the Air Races, we had the great privilege and opportunity to have four of the Grumman “Cat” family planes participating in the races. One of the mornings we were able to get three of the four planes out on the tarmac for a static family reunion photo shoot. It was a great chance to put a piece of history together as each plane stamped out its own history. The F8F-2 Bearcat and F6F-5 Hellcat are part of CAF SoCal.
While the Wildcat was out maneuvered by the Zero, thanks to the planes rugged design, self sealing fuel tanks and the Thach Weave, the Wildcat proved a worthy adversary for the early parts of WWII in the Pacific. USN Commander “Jimmy” Thach created a defensive technique, known as the Thach Weave, that allowed the pilots of Wildcats to counter diving fighters while in formation. His technique along with the bravery of the pilots helped turn the tide in the defense of Wake Island, Battle of Coral Sea and Midway. It also played a major role in the Guadalcanal Campaign as part of the Cactus Air Force. The Wildcat was a front line fighter until early 1943 when it was replaced with the Hellcat and Corsair. It still played a role against ground targets and submarines. One of the Wildcats last major victories was in the Battle of Samar when the escort carriers of task force 77.4.3 (Taffy 3), and their destroyers and destroyer escorts, protected the transport of troops and supplies to the Philippines in Leyte, against a much larger surface force of battleships and cruisers, including the Yamato. Confused after meeting strong resistance the Japanese Navy eventually withdrew.
Many pilots became aces in the Wildcat including Butch O’Hare, Joe Foss, and Marion Carl. Joseph Foss had 26 confirmed kills in a F4F. Seven of the top Fifteen Wildcat Aces were awarded the Medal of Honor, including Butch O’Hare and Joe Foss. This little plane made a big difference at a time when it was needed. Despite it being smaller and slower then other fighters during WWII, this plane helped to turn the tide and gain air superiority in the Pacific.
Continuing with the events that occurred after Pearl Harbor. While the attack on Pearl was going on, the international dateline showed that on December 8th, the same time, Japanese forces were attacking Wake Island. Some of the radio transmissions caused confusion thinking that the first attacks on Pearl were actually going on at Wake. This helped cause delay in reaction time at Pearl. The battle for Wake was a necessary stepping stone for the Japanese in the Pacific. The Battle lasted from the 8th-23rd of December with the surrender of the island on the 23rd.
The attack began on the 8th with an aerial bombardment that destroyed 8 of the islands 12 fighter planes but failed to break the island. The Imperial Navy returned with a larger fleet but was pushed back due to a strong defensive from the marines on the island and the last four wildcats of VMF-211. The defense held destroying one destroyer and damaging a cruiser and three other destroyers. This proved that Wake would not go without a fight. The Japanese kept fighting and by the 21st the last of the wildcats were destroyed. On the 23rd the Japanese took the island and 1,616 men were captured and taken back to Japan. The island was later retaken but with the great loss of 96 Americans who were executed. The Wildcats were a pivotal aircraft from the start of the War and well into the final years.
The other night I was puttering around the computer when I started looking up lost airplane wrecks from WWII. It’s kind of amazing what’s out there and hasn’t been discovered yet. It’s also kind of amazing how much gets forgotten out in the middle of nowhere. Alaska and the Yukon are great examples of the amount of cargo planes that have gone missing. Sadly of course that tends to mean that the crew also have gone missing. Always makes you wonder what the story behind it happened was. This of course led me on to thinking how much is out there that has been recovered. The point of all this is just be glad with what’s in front you.
One of the best parts of Reno is working with the static planes. Every year it’s basically a tradition to get a bunch of aircraft out early in the morning for a sunrise shoot. Why do we do this? Well quite simply it’s a ton of fun! It’s not always easy to get rare and unique aircraft in a place with a clean background, so while at the races we take advantage of it.
For instance last year we brought out a 3 Grumman “Cats,” a Wildcat, Bearcat, and Hellcat. It’s rare to get all the planes out together so we made it happen, just to recreate that history.
Then there is always the chance of meeting a rare racing plane that hasn’t been seen in years. This is Race 15, a P-51 Mustang that lives at the field and hasn’t come out to play in a number of years. We got it out at PRS and it was by far one of the best subjects we have ever had to work with. So you never quite know what will show up and life’s opportunities will bring you.
As most of those out there in the Aviation have probably heard by now, a few months back a FM-2 Wildcat was pulled out of Lake Michigan. Everyone who attended Oshkosh was very fortunate to be able to see this historic plane, provided they headed over to the Warbird Area at some point during the week. Lake Michigan was used during WWII as a training test bed for many aircraft models. The Navy got the great idea of turning a couple of civilian passenger liners into floating flattops for training in carrier takeoffs and landings. Over the course of the war thousands of aircraft ended up at the bottom of the freezing lake. Luckily on December 28th, 1944 William Forbes was able to climb out of the Wildcat and resurface in the water after the wildcat went off the edge of the floating flattop due to an engine failure.
The plane is set to be restored and hopefully will one day grace the skies again.
One of the responses I get a lot are compliments on my static aviation images. Which i deeply appreciate. Afterwards the inevitable question comes out, “how did you get those shots?” It’s a fair question. If you have ever spent time at an airport, which at this point in life about 80% of people in this country have been to an airport at least once, then you know that most airports aren’t that attractive. They are surrounded by homes, power lines, highways, cars, other buildings, you name it. So how then do these shots occur? Well it comes from planning, friends and coffee.
The planning part is pretty simple. You find a place you like, wait till there is an event going on there and then go. These days a lot of that information can be found out online. There are places where it’s easier to get those great scenic looking shots with planes. For instance Reno Stead Airport. For the places where you can’t do much about, well in comes Photoshop. The second part is harder. Making friends never is but with time and just talking it happens. Pilots are a lot like car guys in the respect that they both like to talk about their machines! You go up and start talking about their plane, ask questions and they open right up. The third part is, well, tough. You have to get up really early. I mean before the sun comes up, pull the plane out to position it and shoot. To my knowledge that is some of the best light and that is often when there is less people. Coffee helps afterwards. It may sound tough at first and it is, but the rewards are unbelievable. Best part, besides the images, you meet a lot of good people this way.
Finally! After a week of dealing with selection, finishing and FTPing, I can proudly say that the last of my Galleries are updated. The last two big ones, Performers and The Shed, have now been updated with a combine total of 21 planes and over 500 images! That means in this entire updating process I have put up over 1,100 new images in my Gallery. And yet there is always another blog to do. If you go to my Gallery now you will also see that the old page, The shed, has been broken up. The way I see it, as my air park grows and fills with new aircraft, I’ll have to continue building more sheds to house all the planes. On each page now is 20 aircraft along with a way to get to the next page. As always the navigation on the left upper corner is still there. Enjoy.
On a last personal note, for those of you out there that come to this site as an aviation enthusiast and as someone who recognizes that some of these aircraft, pilots and both are no longer with us; it is not for shear business reasons that I put up images of those planes or people, but more as a way to keep their spirits alive. As Robert Odegaard said, “these planes are for everyone, the photographs should be too.”
One of the questions that i seem to get asked a lot is why i spend so much time going through images from different shoots and processing them just for the library? Well it’s a simple answer. When the time comes that i need the image it’s right there ready to go. Now does this mean I go through every image from every shoot? No, but i do go through a lot. Although the process does take time, especially with Aviation, it’s worth it in the end. This process also helps to become better with finishing and evolve faster techniques.
Keep something in mind, if you spend the time and money to acquire the photograph, why not spend the time afterward to grow that library?