2014/06/07-08 Latrobe Air Show


Latrobe Air Show is back!  The show was scheduled but cancelled last year due to military budget cut that subsequently cancelled all Blue Angels and Thunderbirds demonstrations.  Latrobe Air Show just gave up because it didn't project sufficient number of spectators without military participation.  They concluded that it wouldn't be worth for the cost for organizing an air show .

But, this year, the show has returned.  And, when I was watching 11 o'clock news on Tuesday,

"The Blue Angels will fly over the downtown Pittsburgh for photo shoot between 2:45 and 3:15.  The formation will fly west side of the downtown."

Really!?  Isn't it a rare chance of taking six F-18 in a formation plus photo plane in front of the downtown?  I go!  I definitely go!

The problem was I didn't know exactly the planned flight path of the formation.  The best possible picture can be seven F-18s flying in front of (or just above) the skyscrapers of Pittsburgh downtown.  But, is it possible?

It would be almost 3pm.  The sun was going to be already low to the west.  To keep the sun behind myself, I needed to stay west of the downtown.  But, the formation was going to fly west side of downtown.  Then, the formation might end up flying directly above me.  Then, there's no chance of capturing it with the downtown.

How about staying east of the downtown?  I would have a better chance of getting the skyscrapers and the seven F-18s in a single picture.  However, I would be very far away from the airplanes, and the airplanes would be too small just like dots.  To be able to recognize them as seven F-18s, I should be west side of the downtown.

There is a small hill called Mt. Washington south of Pittsburgh downtown.  On the west side of the mountain is a pricy restaurant called Monterey Bay.  There is a small open space in front of the restaurant where you can see a great view of the downtown from the west.  It could be too close to the downtown and the formation may end up flying directly overhead.  However, there's no better place to see the downtown from the west.  If the formation flies straight from south to north, then it might fly overhead.  But, if the formation flies from the north east to south west, there is a chance that I can take Pittsburgh downtown and incoming seven F-18s.  The flight path was not open.  It was a gamble anyway.

Downtown Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington

I left CMU around 2pm, drove straight to a parking lot nearby Monterey Bay.  I parked my car at 2:28pm.  It took five minutes or so to get to the vantage point.  So many people!  Many people apparently were thinking the same thing.  But, only handful of them were equipped with a serious camera.  Many of them were there for just watching or trying to capture them with a phone camera, which would no match for fast-flying jet fighters.

2:42pm, 3 minutes earlier than scheduled, seven F-18s flew in from the south.  Unfortunately, directly overhead from where I was. 

Too high!

The formation flew past the west side of the downtown, then made a right turn.  I prayed for the north east to south west path this time.  But, the formation kept turning, aligned the same north to south path, and flew directly overhead reverse direction from the initial entry.

I couldn't see how the formation turned again.  The formation entered from the south, exactly the same path as the first time.  The formation made a right turn, and this time, it flew closer to the downtown on return.  I was somewhat able to capture all seven airplanes plus downtown buildings.  But, this was the best I could.

This was the best I could.

The formation re-entered from the south, and then went around the downtown, and returned to Latrobe.

I was not able to take a picture as I wished, but it was a good start.  A good start of the air-show season for me!

Thursday.  Temporary Flight Restriction over Latrobe airport was in effect from noon to 5pm.  That's a published information.  You can go to a web site skyvector.com and find the air-show airport.  It will tell you when TFR is in effect, and most likely air-show practice will be during that time period.

My guess was that Blue Angels will practice like 3pm like the last time.  I left home around 11:30am and headed to Latrobe.  Around 12:15, when I was 15 minutes away from the airport, I spotted a silhouette of an airplane, which looked like a F-18.  Blue Angels was only one jet team that was going to fly in this year's Latrobe air show.  I was certain it was a Blue Angels' airplane. 

Did they start the practice at noon?

However, it didn't appear to be performing aerobatics.  It was flying around the airport.  It should be a press flight carrying a TV reporter or a local VIP.

Then I saw two more F-18s taking off.  But, nothing similar to the solo take off, no roll-on-take-off, nor high-rate climb.  Press flight in three airplanes?  What are they doing?  Did they have three two-seater F-18s?  The two airplanes were flying around the airport without performing aerobatic maneuvers.

I arrived around 12:30.  I parked at a shopping plaza parking near the approach end of runway 23.  There were many people who were thinking the same thing.  They were also watching Blue Angels F-18s flying around the airport and were waiting for the aerobatic practice to begin.

I took out my camera, crossed the road, and move to the grass area on the airport perimeter fence.  A photographer from a local TV station was also shooting from there.  So, it seemed that they were flying around to get used to the terrain around the airport.  Then one more airplane joined, and four-airplane formation started the show maneuvers.  Since they fly a flight path that is best viewed from the show center, I didn't have much opportunity from the approach end of the runway.

But, that was fine.  My first target was landing.  When I am watching from inside the air-show spectator area, I cannot take landing pictures.  This time I cannot be inside the spectator area anyway.  I thought it was a good chance to take landings of the Blue Angels' F-18s.

Then, two solo airplanes took off, and the four airplanes of the formation finished the practice and coming back to land on runway 23.  Since there was no previous data, I didn't know what focal length to use.  All I could do was to make a guess.

Landings of Blue Angels airplanes.  I cannot take this kind of shots from inside the spectator area.

I think it came out well.  What I like about the landing picture is I can see the pilot in the cockpit.

Then the solo airplanes started practice.  They first practiced opposing maneuvers many times.  I knew what focal length to use from the first pass, I could pre-set the focal length for the rest of the passes.  In fact, my position was much closer to the flight path than from the show center.  I was able to capture a very good shot.

Well, you may say I should have set positive exposure compensation so that the airplane becomes brighter, but too much exposure compensation will make the sky just plain white.  I like blue sky, too.

They were also practicing Tuck Over Break many times.

After solo airplanes landed, I drove around the airport to see if there is a good place where I can see the air-show practice better.  But, there didn't seem to be any better place.  I came back to the terminal parking and had sandwiches, and was thinking if I should stay longer or come home.

Not before long, Blue Angels crews and pilots came back to the aircraft.  I first thought they were back for a photo and interview session with the local VIPs, but the crews pulled out the ladder to climb up the airplane, and removed the air-intake cover.  Obviously they were preparing for the flight.

Are they going to fly once again!?

I rushed back to the shopping plaza.  They indeed took off again, and this time in the full air-show sequence.  By this time, the scattered clouds were increasing, and they flew a low show.  And, I didn't have a good photo opportunity because the sun was hidden by the clouds.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed.  What a luxury to see Blue Angels' flight twice in one day!

Friday.  I was hoping Blue Angels to fly twice like Thursday.  I left home a bit earlier and headed to Latrobe.

I arrived a little before noon.  But, nothing was flying.  I drove up to the terminal and understood.  Other air-show performers had arrived.  On Thursday, Blue Angels could use entire five hours of temporary flight restrictions.  But, this time, all other performers needed to practice, and Blue Angels didn't have time to fly twice.

I was staying at the shopping-plaza parking lot on this day, too.  The sky was clear.  Not too hot.  The perfect condition for an air show.  U.S. Army Golden Knights, GEICO Skytypers, and other teams took to the sky one after another.

GEICO Skytypers typing 'LATROBE' in the sky

Skytypers coming back for landing.

And, the Blue Angels started around 3pm.  Only one minor thing was the sun was already behind the airplanes by the time the Blue Angels took to the sky.  Latrobe main runway is 5-23, which is used for the air show.  The sun stays behind the spectators almost all day, but it will go to the other side late afternoon.  But, there didn't seem to be a place where I could park and see the airplanes while keeping the sun behind myself.

Spiraling smoke after Tuck Over Roll

Six airplanes converging after Bomb Burst Downward

The best picture from this air show was this.

Delta formation from the side

Just a delta formation?  Not really.  If you have taken pictures of Blue Angels, look for a close-up picture of a delta formation from the side with blue sky as background.  This picture is nearly impossible if you are taking a picture from the air-show spectator area.  Whenever they fly a delta formation in front of the show center, they perform Delta Loop, Delta Roll, Delta Break Up, Pitch Up Break, etc.  The formation is either far away from the show center or the airplanes break away from the formation by the time they come close.  Only chance you can see a delta formation close enough from the show center is Delta Flat Pass.  However, this maneuver is only included in the flat show, which is for low-cloud condition.  Therefore, the background will be most likely cloudy, and the picture won't be too nice.

Another possibility is to shoot the delta formation incoming at the beginning of a remote show.  They typically fly in from the behind.  You should identify the show center and should stay at a reasonable distance from the show center.  But, if you do, you have a chance of capturing a delta formation from the side with a blue sky background.  Nonetheless, the entry altitude may be high.  Typically there is nothing on the extension of the runway centerline, but otherwise residential area or building complex around the airport may prohibit the formation to come down low.  And, remote show is not so common.  If you go to Fleet Week, it will always be a remote show.  But, they fly far from the shore line.  Probably you won't be able to take a close-up picture of the formation.  (In return, you can take a formation flying in front of the Golden-Gate bridge though).  So, it is very difficult to take a close up look of the side of the delta formation with blue sky as background.

But, this time I was outside the airport.  Blue Angels keeps a delta formation before Pitch Up Break.  If I had been inside the airport, #1 airplane would be gone when the formation were in front of the show center.  But, because I was outside the airport, I knew I had a chance to see the delta formation just before Pitch Up Break.  I was waiting for this exact moment!

The sun was already behind the airplane at 3pm.

It was a nice air show.  I hope they are going to do it again next year.

....  No, not done yet!  It was just practice sessions.

Saturday.  I usually wake up very early in the morning when I go to an air show.  But, not this time.  I have enjoyed a lot watching the practice sessions.  It's ok to miss first a few performances.  I got up late, and left home at around 9:30.

I drove on I-376 to I-76 then into PA30.  I knew I was going to make a right turn.  I shifted to the right lane 5 miles before the airport.  The right lane traffic completely stopped 2 miles to the airport.  This last 2 miles took 2.5 hours to move.

I personally was thinking, one lane should be kept open for local and through traffic.  So, air-show traffic must stay on the right lane at least a few miles before the airport.  But nobody was controlling traffic or no sign for guiding the traffic.  As a result, many cars stayed on the left all the way to the airport and cut into the right lane.  As a result, right lane traffic was moving more than twice slower than the left lane.

Sorry, I won't be nice next year.  I will drive all the way on the left lane unless someone controls the traffic.  Latrobe Air Show organizer should do something.

I almost was preparing to see Blue Angels from my car.  But, I managed to get in a little bit past 1pm.  There was a looooooong line behind my car.  Maybe some people could not get to the airport before everything was over.

Actually Latrobe air show organizer could do things a lot better.  They should double the number of bathrooms.  The worst thing they came up with was a large food court inside the spectator area.  All food was sold there.  Everyone converges to the food court around noon time, and the small area around the food court becomes extremely crowded.  They should simply set up food stand in different locations.

Well, maybe they had more people in this time than the past air shows.  Almost all air shows around Pittsburgh were cancelled last year, and maybe many people including me was experiencing withdrawal symptom, that only cure was more air shows.  Probably all of them stampeded to the Latrobe air show.  Also the weather forecast for Sunday was horrible.  Maybe most people chose to come on Saturday instead of Sunday, which turned out a right choice.

The sky was clear, and the wind was really calm.  How calm?  Smoke from Blue Angels airplane stayed long time in the same place until becoming diffuse.  So, it became somewhat hazy from the smoke, and I couldn't take as nice pictures as on Friday.

I was able to capture sneak pass this time.  I should have chosen longer focal length and positive exposure compensation.  I expected my camera to increase the exposure automatically since it was low.  But, my camera didn't make it as bright as I expected.  I'll try again in Dayton and Cleveland.

I was able to keep up with the Sneak Pass, but the photo became dark.

The show was on Sat and Sun.  But, I didn't go on Sunday.  The forecast was predicting late-afternoon shower.  What if the shower arrived earlier?  That's what I thought, and that was a good guess.  A line of heavy rain passed over Pittsburgh around 1pm.  And, Latrobe airport was in a thunderstorm exactly when Blue Angels was supposed to fly.

It was a very nice air show, although I believe the air-show organizer could have done much better.  In fact the weather before Thursday and after Sunday was very poor.  It was a very lucky choice of air-show date.

I am hoping they are going to invite Thunderbirds next year.


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