07/23-24, 2011 Dayton Air Show - Thunderbirds brought real thunder to the show


What summer means might be different for a person to person.  But, to me, the summer means Hummingbirds and air shows.  We have visited Dayton air show 07/23 and 07/24.

I haven't been taking much pictures of static display recently, but this time B-1B on static display was extending its wings and showing the mechanism of how a part of the wing is retracted into the fuselage at high speed.  I took a picture of that.

B-1B Lancer.  Close-up look of where the variable-geometry wing is retracted into the fuselage.

Another interesting static display was NASA's Super Guppy, which was used for carrying huge cargo, in particular, a lot of historic rockets.  This airplane was used by Airbus before they had their own huge cargo.

NASA's Super Guppy.

The official air show web site was also talking about static display of QF-4s, but I didn't see any.

U.S. Army Golden Knights started the flying part of the show.

The first day was in a clear blue sky.  I didn't make a good guess of the focal length, and missed some nice photo opportunities during the A-10 aerobatics.

Mock ground attack of A-10.

Wing walking by Tombstone Riders.

Tora Tora Tora

A B-2A Spirit made a fly by on Saturday only.  It flew high, and I could only see the belly.  To capture at least markings, I chose +1 Exposure Compensation, which made the background almost plain white.  Since B-1B made a fly by following the B-2, it would have been nice if they flew in a formation.  Maybe B-2 was too busy to go around many air shows during summer weekend and didn't have enough fuel to form a formation and come back in to the air show.  Some day I want to go to Whiteman AFB air show where B-2s are based.

One of the things I wanted to capture with my Olympus E-30 was the moment when Sean D. Tucker's Oracle Challenger cuts a ribbon hanging between the poles about 15 to 20ft above ground.  My previous camera K100D was too slow to capture the moment.  This time I finally was able to capture the moment.

Sean D. Tucker.  I was able to capture the moment when his Oracle Challenger III cut the ribbon (left).

Below is from an aerobatic of Red Bull aerobatic team.  For the first time I saw a manned helicopter making loops and barrel rolls.  According to the air show announcement, this helicopter was the only one that is certified to perform aerobatics in the U.S.  Of course excluding military helicopters, I suppose.  UH-60 and AH-64 must be able to perform aerobatics.

There was a small mishap during during F-18F aerobatics.  He was supposed to make a high-speed pass over runway 26R, in front of the spectators, but he did over 26L.  I wondered if he made a mistake or he was trying to make a high-speed pass from the other direction, but I heard on radio "That's a wrong runway."  So, I guess that was his mistake!  The air space was closed for this aerobatic flight, and there was no danger.

Then came an aerobatic flight of Melissa Pemberton.  She made an impressive 13 inverted flat spins in a row.

A B-25 Mitchell "Panchito" flew.  Actually I see this particular B-25 in many places.  It was also in a mini air show at Butler county airport last month.  It is a great point I like about this country that such a historic airplane is seen in many places.

The last and best performance of the day was Air Force Thunderbirds.  They flew a high show in a clear blue sky.

Finally, I captured a decent shot of a surprise pass that comes after Trail-to-diamond roll.

The first day of the show was very nice under the clear blue sky.  I found all radio frequencies.  I took notes of camera settings I used to prepare for the second day:


  • First pass 110-120mm F8-F9
  • Continous Roll  200mm F7
  • Slor Roll 800mm 200mm F7
  • Dedication pass 150mm F7-F8


  • First 2 passes  65mm
  • Boom & Zoom (3rd pass) 70mm


  • Surprise pass 130mm

The focal lengths are direct reading from my lens.  I am using 2x tele-converter, and the crop factor of Olympus E-30 is 2x.  So, to convert them to 35mm film scale, the numbers should be multiplied by four.  Since numerous missed opportunities in the last year's Cleveland air show, I decided to study closely the camera settings from the past air shows to get better shots with less mistakes.  This time, too, I carried a memo of the camera settings that I used in the past Dayton air shows.  So, I didn't miss too much.  But, by calibrating with the newest settings, I was going to be able to get a lot more successful shots on the second day.  That was the plan, at least.

.... Despite my preparation, the second day was a lot more cloudier than the first day.

This one came out very well.  I can read markings like "NO STEP"clearly.

B-1B Lancer.  I wish they flew slightly lower.

By the time F-18F took off, the sun was utterly hidden by a cloud.  I could shift exposure compensation to the positive side to make the airplane brighter, but if I do so, the background will become plain white.  The best background would be blue with little cloud.  Plain white background doesn't look good.  In this condition, it is impossible to take an impressive shot.

I can read markings, but it was dark.

Due to the high humidity, vapor along the shock cone was visible for a fraction of second during the high-speed pass.  Even before the airplane itself reaches the speed of sound, the air flow around the fuselage gets faster than the speed of sound and makes a shock wave.  If the airplane further accelerate, the shock wave grows bigger and finally reaches the ground, and you would see a news next morning about broken window of the nearby houses.  But, if you see a shock cone, it is an indication that the air flow around the airplane is faster than the speed of sound.

Vapor along the shock cone.

After the aerobatics, F-18F flew a heritage flight with a F-4U Corsair.  The pilot who flew F-18F on the first day was struggling to stay stable behind slow-flying F-4U.  But, the pilot who flew this time maintained the very stable formation.  F-4U was flying almost at its top speed, and F-18F was flying at its nearly lowest possible speed at which it could maneuver.  Maneuvering while flying at its almost slowest speed requires a very high skill of flying.  To be fair, the pilot who flew on Saturday was not particularly poor at the formation flight.  Rather, I should say the pilot who flew on Sunday had a very good skill of the formation flying.

Heritage flight of F-18F Super Hornet and F-4U Corsair

The sky was cloudy, but the weather lasted marginal for flying until Panchito flew.  But, when the Thunderbirds was about to fly, numerous thunderstorms were in the vicinity of Dayton international airport.  We could see numerous lightning shots, which was a spectacular view, but not a good weather for an air show.  I thought Thunderbirds was going to cancel the flight at all.  But, to my surprise, they took off!

Precipitation of a thunderstorm was visible to the east of the Dayton International airport

Diamond pass.  Soon after this pass, they decided to cancel the show.

But, before long into the show, the thunderstorm moved in to within 5nm of the airport.  The safety was priority, and Thunderbirds decided to cancel the rest of the show.  So, Thunderbirds brought real thunder to the air show.  But, they were flying F-16s which can withstand continuous 9G loading factor.  A F-16 is supposed to have a mechanism that dissipates electricity when a lightning strikes the airplane so that the avionics, especially fly-by-wire computers, survive.  There were multiple airports that they can divert in case a thunderstorm come directly above the airport, including Wright-Patterson AFB, and Springfield airport where F-16s of Ohio National Guard are based at.  I wondered if they canceled the show because the airplanes were in danger or because spectators on the ground were in danger of a lightning strike.

So, Thunderbirds aerobatics suddenly turned into a autograph session of the Thunderbirds pilots.  I usually don't go for autographs because anyway I cannot get autographs from all the pilots.  But, this time, all but two of the twelve main members (six pilots and six other support members) were lined up for autographs.  I went for it.  For some reason Thunderbirds #8 and #10 were not there.  I'll try to get them in Cleveland air show.

Usually I get some extra brochures and send them to my airplane-fan friends in Japan.  Many of them are living near Matsushima air base, which was substantially damaged by the tsunami this March 11th.  None of my friends had a serious damage like losing a house.  Nonetheless, I suppose if I could send a brochure with all autographs to them they would be happy.  Well, but it's too personal.  I didn't ask for extra copies with all the signatures.

I had to drive through a severe thunderstorm on the way back from Dayton.  The visibility momentarily came down below 1000ft or so.  I was happy not to be in a Cessna then.

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