A Day in Infamy

78 years later and we still remember that morning when a surprise attack of Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor and effectively pushed the United States into WWII as an allied power. Many men lost their lives that day and hundreds of thousands more would perish in the years to come. We remember today, not in anger but to learn the lessons of our past and avoid making the same mistakes in our future.

Not your Average Valentine’s Day

This might not be the most cheery of Valentine Day posts but frankly I couldn’t find a photograph of something that was really cheery and this day does mark an important day in aviation history. The F4U Corsair was one of the fiercest Allied aircraft during WWII but it didn’t have an auspicious start. If you’re into aviation or a bit of a history buff then you’ve probably have heard of all the trouble that Vought had getting this plane from the blueprints to Carrier decks. But once it was there, pilots swore by it.

Today marks the first combat action of the F4U, from Marine units based on Guadalcanal in 1943. On a mission to Kahili Field in Southern Bougainville, fifty alerted Zero’s were ready for the American bombers and their escort of fighters. Two P-40’s, two PB4Y’s, four P-38’s and two Corsairs were shot down during the raid. Only three Zero’s were shot down during the attack. It was a devastating blow to the men stationed at Guadalcanal and was hence dubbed the St. Valentines Day Massacre.

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.

In Honor of December 7th

75 years ago today marked the beginning of four years of turmoil for the United States. While the rest of the world had already gone to war the US had stayed as neutral as it could be without declaring war. On December 7th 1941 the US Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese government. The next day Roosevelt asked congress to declare war on Japan and shortly after Germany. This launched us into World War II and for many December 7th is day that will never be forgotten. Nor should it be.


The events of Pearl Harbor have been studied for seventy five years and new pieces of information are still being discovered. What happened there has for some become an obsession. It wasn’t just a military operation but a political statement that is as analyzed as any other major event. For those that haven’t studied the attack, it can be summed up much more easily, the day we went to war. The Japanese Zero, as seen above, for a long time was hated but now is treasured as a rare piece of history. The Zero being the primary plane launched from Japanese Carriers to bomb Pearl.


Among the Zero’s many adversaries, the P-40 Warhawk was an early contender at Pearl and in the Aleutian Islands. The later contender the FG-1D Corsair fought in many battles over the Solomon Islands, up and done the slot. Today all three can be seen together flying around the country.


But one can never forget what happened that day and the many lives that were lost. While little remains of the Battleships and buildings that once covered Ford Island, Barabara’s Point, Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, the stories have lived on. If you’ve ever met a Pearl Harbor survivor then you’ve met someone who has lived through something that no one else can understand. Take a moment day and say thanks, for it would be a very different world today if not for the events that happened on December 7th.

Airshow Prep

Well it’s finally that time of the year again when the first airshow has arrived. The season officially began with the Cable Airshow in Upland, CA during the beginning of January but for myself the first one is this month with the LA County Airshow. Usually before I go to any event I always go through my checklist of what I need to bring, what will I be shooting, how will it be shot and any other homework regarding the event. These are important lessons for any trip so that you maximize your chances of success before you leave.


Airshows are a combination of great aircraft and performances brought together to bring amusement to the crowds. The people attend to see the thrills of flight. Thus bringing money into the airshow. People are a very important element to the airshow experience and capturing those people and the joys that they are having is essential when covering these events. But it’s not just about the general public. It’s also the pilots, the mechanics and of course the veterans. Everyone has a story and capturing it all is important. Last May in Washington DC while I was covering the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover for the Texas Flying Legends Museum, the people in the crowd at the WWII Memorial were all amazed when the planes flew overhead. Everyone was looking up taking pictures but of course I was photographing them taking pictures of history in the making. It was a combination of both that made that event so special.


Back on the ground, there are always subjects to be photographed. At each event there are dozens of aircraft making it a general smorgasbord for photographers to get great images. But you have to be creative a work around the other elements that come with shooting on the ground including people, ropes, chairs, orange cones and other elements that come with an airshow. While I tend to shoot a lot with the 24-70 f/2.8 or the 70-200 VRII I also shoot a lot of statics with the 200-400 VR just to isolate certain elements. I’ve gotten really good at removing elements that detract from the composition in post but whenever you can make the shot happen without the use of post processing it’s always better. For no other reason besides the fact that you save time.


Then of course there are the acrobatic, aerobatic, flybys, performances and tributes that come with every great airshow. These are the ones that are always the hardest for me because it’s not always easy to get that super engaging shot. You need to have the right background, good light and of course the image has to be sharp. With prop planes that can be a little harder since you also want that prop blurred which means having a slower shutter speed. It takes a bit of practice getting used to the panning involved with this kind of shooting but that’s why you start early in the season before you ever get to the event. All of this comes down to practicing early so that you are ready because if aren’t then chances are you might miss that shot.

The Year In the Sky

When this year started I had decided to start a new column on my blog featuring one aircraft a week and the history of that plane. It’s been one heck of year and while I was unable to make that happen every week, for seven months history has come alive for just a day. When I started in Aviation Photography I never thought that I would get so involved with the history of these planes or these people behind them. When I look back over this year, I am amazed of the the history that was shared.


Two of the biggest events this year were the celebrations of VE Day and VJ Day. While VJ Day didn’t have nearly the same amount of attention as VE Day, the 70th anniversary of both were marked in this country. I had the pleasure over the years to witness many special events such as the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid in Dayton, OH, air to air with two Super Corsairs, and the VE Day Flyover of our Nations Capitol this year. While the photography brought me to those events, it was the passion for telling the story through the camera that made them special.


Every year more and more of our vets pass away and this year was no different. We lost many good men and women, some whose stories were written down and others who were not. While it is impossible to tell them all it should be the goal of all to honor those by writing down their stories.


Each year is filled with discovering new subjects and coming up with new ways to photograph those subjects. As a photographer your main job is to capture those images so that others can learn and be inspired. While easy to think of images as art it’s even harder to wrap your mind around that fact that you are recording history. What you see every time you put your eye to the viewfinder is something you will never see again. It’s an odd feeling but it can drive you to take better images knowing that it will never be the same. It’s the one truth that I have come to learn through aviation.


On this last day of 2015 I hope everyone can rejoice in what they have accomplished in their photography. Whether big or small in the end we all were able to capture images that told a story for someone else to read. New subjects were found and more or waiting to be discovered. That’s the best part of being a photographer, there is always something else out there.

It was 74 years ago today

Ever year this anniversary seems to arrive faster each time. Perhaps as you get older time naturally seems to go by faster and thus is nothing more then coincidence or perhaps as the years have gone by and I’ve learned more about what this date meant to this country and others I have come to honor and respect its significance. For those that don’t know, today marks the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that Roosevelt would later remark as a day that lives in infamy. For many it was the day that ignited a flame in Americans, a flame that was carried overseas and into the second World War for the United States.



The attack was a combination of Zero’s, Kate Divebombers and Val Divembombers spread out in multiple groups in two different waves. Their targets were a combination of the battleships that were docked at Pearl along with the air bases spread across the island. The US carriers were the primary focus but were not docked at the time of the attack. Other structures along the navy base were prioritized as well. This one event created a ripple that caused so many other events to occur. Having spent time with many veterans who were shocked into action after that day, I can say that none of them were either expecting it or wanting it to happen. Many lives were lost that day and those to come.

Working the Morning Light

It’s been just a whirlwind of getting caught up over the weekend and thankfully I haven’t missed too much shooting in the process. Over the last several days we have just incredibly smokey skies in the valley and they aren’t even the good kind that provide color, these are just grey. Well this got me thinking about Minot back in June and one of the smokey mornings we had there shooting the B-25J Betty’s Dream static against a red sun. Now this of course isn’t Betty, this is the Texas Flying Legends Museum A6M2 Model 21 Zero, Last Samurai, but it got me thinking about light.


One of the greatest challenges with working with planes is the light. Due to the incredibly reflective nature of the metal surfaces it’s real easy to get images that reflect a lot of color and light. One thing that I have noticed is that the lack of direct light on the aircraft can actually make for some of the most natural looking shots. Direct light can make the image really contrasty and thus a lot less appealing. Using just the natural cool temperatures of sunrise before the sun comes up, give a more historic feel to the aircraft being on an airstrip in the Pacific Islands. Trying to recreate these historic shots can be difficult but ultimately rewarding.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Celebrating VJ Day

My apologies for the tardiness of this well deserved blog post. During the excitement of Photoshop World I had forgotten to get this post finished. Today is a very important day and thankfully as I have been reading online many news outlets have picked up the story today and made to sure to pay tribute and honor to those that fought in WWII because today is the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day. VJ Day of course standing for Victory Japan, the day that it was announced that the war in the Pacific was over, Japan had surrendered. Now due to time zones, it was August 15th in Japan that they officially surrendered and it was September 2nd that the official treaty was signed on the USS Missouri. It was August 14th however that the news broke across the U.S and the Pacific Islands. It is August 15th that the day is honored in the UK and September 2nd is the day that it is recognized by the U.S.


In honor of this day I thought an image of two of the most iconic aircraft to fight against one another in the Pacific theater wold be appropriate. Both of these aircraft are part of the Texas Flying Legends Museum. This A6M2 Model 21 Zero and FG-1D Corsair were adversaries between 1943-1945. Dozens of pilots became aces as they fought one another in fierce aerial battles. Many planes and pilots were lost during these encounters. Today they are seen as part of our history and our heritage.

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero

Last week I talked about the Grumman F4F Wildcat and it’s contributions to WWII. It seemed only fitting that this week I talk about that planes nemesis, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. This was the most maneuverable aircraft in the skies over the Pacific and Southeast Asia during the first half of WWII, arguably throughout the whole war. While certainly not the fastest aircraft built, with a top speed of only 331mph, the menace of this nimble little plane was its ability to turn on a dime. The maneuverability of this aircraft made the Allies take serious measures to design better aircraft to fight it. While the Zero was introduced in 1939, it wasn’t until July 11th, 1942 that a captured wrecked example was found on Akutan Island in the Aleutians. Parts of destroyed Zero’s were found at Pearl Harbor after the raid on December 7th, 1941 but those planes were unable to be repaired. The Akutan Zero was the first restorable and later flying, example of the Mitsubishi Zero that the US Intelligence had possession of. Throughout 1942 the only US fighter available to combat the Zero was the F4F Wildcat. In early 1943 the F6F Hellcat was introduced to the US Navy and approved for Carrier operations. The Vought F4U Corsair was ready at the end of 1942 but had characteristic flaws for Carrier operations so was released to the Marine units on islands in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal. From 1943 onward the Corsair was in service. Each of these fighters led it’s own unique history combating the Japanese Zero but are not the main focus here.


The Zero was designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a front line carrier based fighter. In early stages of the war it was considered the best carrier fighter with a long range of 1,900 miles and vast maneuverability, far more so then any allied fighter. It was designated the Navy Type “0” Carrier Fighter, or Mitsubishi A6M “Rei-Sen” or “Zero-sen.” Japanese pilots knew it as the “Zero-sen” or zero fighter for the 0 being the last digit of the Imperial new year 2600 (1940), the year it was introduced into service. The A6M referrs to “A” for carrier based fighter, “6” for model number and “M” for Mitsubishi its maker.

The allies called it the “Zeke,” keeping with the practice of male names to Japanese fighters, female names to bombers, bird names to gliders, and tree names to trainers, although the name “Zero” eventually stuck. With many problems facing the land locked country of Japan, production was a major problem as supplies kept them from growing. Many of the raids on Asian countries were to gather precious rescources that were needed to wage war. As a result of production issues the Zero was never able to keep up with Allied fighters later in the war. Improvements were being made on US Navy fighter to out match the Zero’s speed, performance and range but never manuverability. Despite new fighters being designed by Mitsubishi, the Zero remained a fornt line fighter until the end of the war. One of its most famous roles was as a kamikaze plane, ramming head on into US Navy vessels in hopes of destroying the ship while sacrificing the pilot. At this time in the war, the amount of Japanese planes exceeded the number of qualified pilots resulting in a need to do more damage faster. Several beliefs and bad information were attributed to both sides during this period.


In 1937 the Mitsubishi A5M had entered service and was fighting in China when the Imperial Japanese Navy started looking for replacements for Carrier Operations. A call went out to Mitsubishi and Nakajima with very specific requirements including; faster speeds, better rate of climb, better armaments, better radios and all based on current available engines. Nakajima believed the the requirements were too much to accompany into one plane and pulled out but Jiro Horikoshi, chief designer at Mitsubishi, believed that the requirements could be met with significant trade offs. Every weight saving procedure possible was used to make the plane lighter, including the top secret 7075 aluminum alloy, called Duralumin, which was partly made of Zinc to allow for better strength, less weight but far more corrosion. As a result a special chemical was painted onto the metal after fabrication to counter the corrosion. No armor plating was put onto any part of the aircraft making it more vulnerable as well as no self sealing fuel tanks, an increasingly more common part built in allied fighters. Due to the planes high-lift, low-speed wing with a very low wing loading, and the light weight design resulted in a stalling speed of under 69mph. This made the Zere, over 10,000 having been built, the most maneuverable single engine fighter of WWII. The tradeoff off of this design was later seen as dogfights would ensue and hundreds of rounds would be put into Wildcats, Hellcats and Corsairs and the plane would keep flying, while only a couple shots would send the Zero in a downward flaming ball.


There are only five flying examples of actual Zero’s around today and several examples of converted T6 Texans. Hollywood as helped keep the Zero alive with several adaptations needed for various movie roles including Tora! Tora! Tora!, Midway and Pearl Harbor to name a few. The top photo is of Jack Van Ness’s A6M2-21 Zero which was converted from a Harvard Mark IV a variant of the T6 Texan. This plane was repurposed for the role in Tora! Tora! Tora!, Midway, War and Remembrance, and the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep. It can be seen today at CAF Dixie Wing in Peachtree, GA.

The two photos below it are of the Texas Flying Legends aircraft. The FG-1D Corsair, Whistling Death, P40K Warhawk, Aleutian Tiger, and A6M2 Model 21 Zero, Last Samurai were all part of the 70th annual Doolittle Reunion three years ago in Dayton, OH. One of the main adversaries of the B-25 Mitchell Bomber was the Zero. The famous Doolittle Raid took place as a retaliatory strike against Japan and later the B-25 would be used heavily in ground attack roles in the Pacific. The Texas Flying Legends B-25J Betty’s Dream, took part of the 70th reunion. Two of the main adversaries of the Zero are seen here, the FG-1D Corsair, introduced in 1943, FG standing for Goodyear instead of FU for Vought, and the P40 Warhawk witch engaged the Zero in China, long before the Corsair was built. Last Samurai was recovered from Ballale in the late 60’s, a small island south of Bougainville, and is praised as one of the most accurately built Zero’s left in the world, with the exception of its DC-3 engine.


The combat history of the Zero began in 1940 when the Zero scored its first air to air victory against China based Soviet built aircraft of the Chinese Nationalist Air Force. 420 Zeros were active in the Pacific by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. It quickly gained a fearsome reputation due in part to its long range capability. The Zero could take off, travel hundreds of miles, fight, and fly back to their Carriers. This gave the impression of a much higher number of Zero’s being in existence at the time then in reality. The Zero was even a tough opponent for the British Supermarine Spitfire. The tight turning capability and high rate of climb made it nasty opposition. However, tactics soon emerged to counter the nimbleness of the Zero. Allied fighters would soon use the “boom-and-zoom” tactic. The idea was to attack from a high altitude position, dive down and strafe the planes in one quick pass, then climb back up above the Zero’s for another run. Due to the fragile design of the Zero, in many instances one good pass of heavy machine gun and cannon fire would be enough to send the plane crashing into the sea. Another key element used to take on attacking Zero’s was the Thach Weave. Two allied fighters would fly not far apart from one another and if an enemy attached itself to one, both would turn into one another, allowing for either wingman to get a shot off on the enemy. This maneuver helped many pilots beat the odds. Despite characteristic differences in aircraft, pilots from both sides admired and dreaded their opponents. Japanese pilots knew that their Grumman counterparts were strong and tough, while US pilots knew how nimble and precise the Zero could be. This lead to many fearsome and historic battles occurring throughout the Pacific Theater of WII.


Just as the Focke Wulf or Me 109 was the “villain” over the European skies, the Zero was the main “villain” over the Pacific. Today we look upon these planes not as what they did but of what they are. They are technological achievements in a time where the slightest edge means life or death for the other guy. Sadly very few original examples remain of any of these aircraft, which means that more history is lost. The above Zero is an A6M3 of CAF’s SoCal Wing. One of the largest museum chains in the world, the Commemorative Air Force continues to embrace our heritage, honor our veterans and keep history alive, which is exactly where this plane belongs.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, D4, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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