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I drove all the way from Pittsburgh to Dayton to see A-4 Skyhawk in the air.
It took 40 minutes from the hotel in Springfield to the air-show parking. To make
sure we get a good parking spot close to the gate, we left the hotel a
little before 7am. We got there at around 8:20am. We saw
surprisingly few cars. The forecast was predicting record-breaking
102F on that day. Maybe many people stayed home to avoid extreme
heat. We took some rest in the car and then walked to the gate
In these days, I keep track of what focal length I used in every
air show for each airplane. I use this data to better configure my
camera. Jet fighters and attackers are fast. It is nearly
impossible to adjust the focal length on the fly. To take
advantage of the focal-length data, I needed to shoot pictures from the
same location as the past air shows. I came to the same spot as
the previous years and opened the camping chair. At that time, the
temperature was already 102F and going up. It was going to be a hot day.
This year, following the opening parachute jumps, two F-16s from
"Stingers" based at Toledo Ohio made fly-bys. According to my past
data, when F-16s from Springfield air base showed a nice knife-edge
pass, I used 480mm in the scale of the 35mm film. So, I set up my
focal length to 120mm. I had 2x tele converter and my E-30 had 2x
crop factor. The result was....
It flew high, and didn't give any knife-edge. I had to extend
my lens all the way to the maximum length.
Then came B-52. It gave only one pass. My past data
indicated 70mm should work. But, as it appeared on final runway
24R, it looked very low. I thought I had to use shorter lens.
I quickly switched to my short-range lens. And,
Actually my data was correct. With my short-range lens, this
was the biggest size I could get.
Lesson learned: Respect past
Then, A-4B Skyhawk started the engine and taxied to runway 24R!
Finally! A-4 Skyhawk is taking off right in front of my eyes!
I stood on my stool and tried to capture the airplane on take-off run.
As you can see, the airplane was obscured by the massive heat haze!
But, it should be ok as soon as the airplane went up to 300ft.
That's what I thought.
A-4 Skyhawk is small compared to F-4 or even F-16. And, this
was my first time to see A-4 Skyhawk flying in an air show, and I didn't
have my past photography data for this airplane. But, I assumed
that it was going to fly a similar path as F-16 aerobatic demo, and
calculated expected ideal focal length, which was 600mm with 35mm film,
150mm with my camera + teleconverter.
A-4 Skyhawk then made a turn and flew to the right of the show
center then came back and showed a knife-edge pass! It was
exposing its back to the audience. Its signature double-delta
wings were clearly visible! The lighting condition was the best!
There was no way I was going to miss this photo opportunity!
It was clear that 600mm was too short. I extended my lens to
the full length and pressed the shutter button and took three bursts of
Wow! It was low. It appeared lower than the speaker
poles. It meant that the distance was farther than the past F-16
aerobatic demo. Probably the altitude was the same. I assume
300ft. Then it showed some aerobatic maneuvers and landed.
Finally! I saw an A-4 Skyhawk flying! I shot pictures
of an A-4 Skyhawk in the air! I briefly checked the picture
quality of the airplane on my E-30's LCD panel, and it appeared ok.
It looked slightly blur on the LCD monitor, but when I zoom more than
10x, my E-30 smoothes the picture out. So, I wasn't worried about
Another flight I was looking forward in this year's Dayton air show
was QF-4 Phantom II aerobatics. I saw one Vietnam-War color scheme
QF-4 Phantom II in Cleveland. In this Dayton air show, two QF-4s,
one in Vietnum-War color scheme and the other in low-visibility color
The closest data I had was when Collings foundation took their F-4
to Dayton in 2007. That time I used 420mm in the scale of 35mm
film, and that was good.
Well, I should have gone up a little higher. But, I can use
this data for the next year.
I was able to capture last passes with full frame.
British Sea Harrier owned by
Nalls Aviation flew before the Blue Angels. I was also looking
forward to seeing it because the lighting condition in Dayton is so
nice. When I saw it in Pittsburgh, the sun was behind the
airplane. No matter what I did, the airplane was darker than the
But, this time, this Sea Harrier was always flying far from the
spectator area. Even with my 200mm+2x tele converter, which is
equivalent to 800mm in the scale of 35mm film, the following picture was
the biggest I could get.
I noticed Sean D. Tucker was not in Dayton this year. I was
assuming he was coming, but he apparently was taking a break.
I tried something different to capture the surprise-pass of the
Blue Angels. It is a very high-speed pass, and I almost always
cannot keep up with the speed. Angular velocity, relative to the
photographer, changes rapidly when it comes closer. I end up with
getting a close-up picture of the engine nozzle.
So, if I often end up with getting a nozzle, why not aiming at the
nose of the airplane, then I may capture the whole airplane. When
it came to my mind, I though I was genius! .... Sorry,
it was so obvious. It didn't come to me until this time. So,
I tried this new (new to me) strategy, and ....
It worked! I don't have a chance to see Thunderbirds this
year, but I should be able to use the same strategy for the surprise
pass of the Thunderbirds. I'll try next time.
I never get bored of Blue Angels.
So, the first day was over. But, it was hot! Hot!
Hot! Brutally Hot! We carried six 500ml bottles of water. We drunk them up
by 1pm. We bought additional one 500ml bottle of water and
two cups of lemonades. But, by the time Blue Angels' flight was
done, we were feeling as if we got lost in a desert. We started
seeing our vehicle beyond the mirage.... Water.... We need
water.... Well, we walked back to the parking lot across the air
desert ramp. Iced coffee that I kept in the
cooler box with ice cubes tasted like heaven. It was indeed a brutally
hot day. The evening news was saying like 30+ people were carried to
the hospital due to heat exhaustion.
Back in hotel, I checked the photos on my laptop. My main
interest was how crisp a picture of A-4 Skyhawk I got. Exif data
indicated I used a right setting. I had shutter speed of 1/1250 to
1/1600. Which should be fast enough.
However, to my disappointment, the pictures were not very crisp.
You can see unscaled pictures by clicking thumbnails below.
The left one, the camera seemed to miss the focus. But, the
mid-air refueling probe looked a little strange. It appears to be
a bit wavy. The right one, it is wavy everywhere. If it was
a motion blur, I should see some directionality. But, it's not
like that. It is more like looking something through water.
Was it ....... HEAT HAZE!?
No way! A-4 Skyhawk was at least 300ft up. Even for the
left picture, my camera may be fooled by the heat haze. Usually
from my experience, jet airplanes are not so affected by the heat haze
because they stay higher than other propeller aerobatic airplanes.
But, it was a record-breaking brutally hot day. The heat haze may
have also been record breaking.
The second day was going to be slightly less hot. But, it was
going to be very hot. I needed to come up with a counter measure
for the heat haze.
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