I have visited the following air shows this year:
This is the summary from my air-show tour.
As regular years I took a day off and watched the practice run from the nearby shopping plaza parking lot. When I was living near Atsugi U.S. Naval Air Station and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Air Base, I was watching practice sessions and fly-ins starting Wednesday of the air-show week. The four diamond formations consisting of 16 aircraft in total known as Diamond of Diamonds was nothing but spectacular. For the first time in my life I saw American-style aerobatics by Jimmy Franklin and Sean D. Tucker in Atsugi air show. His sponsor was Randolph Engineering then, and therefore I am wearing Randolph Aviator sunglasses today. Air Shows are full of inspirations. Now sadly there is no flight demonstration in Atsugi air show any more. Malicious selfish and cowardly people moved in to around the base fully aware of the presence of the base, and then started anti-base campaign. Those cowardly people pushed U.S. Navy jet aircrafts out of Atsugi base. Now they are based at Iwakuni base. It is unfortunate that a small group of cowardly people succeeded in destroying an opportunity to inspire people, especially young generations, around the Atsugi base.
What is special about watching the practice session is I am able to take close-up photo of the landings. What I really want to capture in the aircraft photo is the pilot. I am always fascinated the aircraft technologies for bringing the pilot, crew, and passengers back to the ground alive. It is more artistic than any other arts I have ever seen. The pilot is the most important. Therefore, I want to include the pilot (and crews if present) in my aircraft photos. Some people complain that the military technology is the technology to kill people. Sure, it does include technologies for destroying enemy vehicles and facilities, which would kill soldiers inside. But, the true core of the military technology is to keep human alive in the extreme environment.
The sky was clear. The sun was behind me. It was the perfect condition for taking a pictures of aircrafts. Below three are the T-6 Texans painted like Japanese Imperial Navy aircrafts for "Tora Tora Tora" demonstration.
In the air show, they use pyro. After the first pass, the smoke from the gasoline explosion obscures the aircrafts. It is difficult to take a crisp clear images of Tora Tora Tora aircrafts during the show. In fact, the aircrafts are so obscured from the spectator area. The pilots view must be totally blacked out while passing through the smoke. It is amazing that they are able to maintain separation in that bad visibility during the show. But, today I was close to the approach end of the runway. It was my opportunity.
I am a Japanese native, and watching re-enactment of Pearl Harbor. Now Japan is the closest ally to the United States. Two countries once fought a fierce battle can be allies. Isn't it something?
This year Latrobe featured Canadian Air Force Snowbirds. They fly nine aircrafts, but they flew only eight for the practice run.
The day one of the air show. The forecast was predicting rain in the afternoon. But, the sky was clear in the morning.
By the way, when you look for the best place to watch the flying acts, look for something that is marking the show center. Typically a large school bus, truck, or in Latrobe gigantic inflatable balloon, is placed opposite side of the spectator area. The performers identifies the show center by looking at the marker. If you cannot find one, find a podium with a lot of antennas. That's where the air-show announcer stands during the show, and typically is at the show center. The performers fly so that they look the best from the show center.
As a typical air show, the show opening was a parachute jump flying a U.S. flag, and an airplane draws a circle with smoke around the jumper. I strongly believe that Japanese Air Shows should do the same.
By the way, I long had been looking for a solution to the problem that the camera shakes a bit when I press the shutter button. Too many times, I keep the target dead center in my finder, only to lose it when I pressed the button. During the last day of this year's Cleveland air show, I came up with a solution, which seemed to work pretty good. But that was my last day of the last air show of this season. I'll try how it works next year :-P
Then Tora Tora Tora took to the sky.
In the afternoon, it got gradually cloudy. I didn't have a blue sky, but in such condition one good thing is that the the afterburner becomes more visible in front of darker background.
We saw rain moving close to the airport. Thin lines of rain drops were visible in the distant. Air-Show Officials were discussing if and when the rain may move in to the airport over the airboss frequency. Initial prediction was that the rain would miss the airport, but later it changed the moving direction. It rained pretty hard once.
We were worried if Snowbirds was going to cancel. But, the rain passed before Snowbirds. All nine airplanes took off!
It was so cloudy. I thought I wouldn't get good photos. In contrary, Snowbirds' landing lights were so visible. Snowbirds' nose-mounted landing lights are not so visible under bright background, but this time the background was darker.
To the end of the show, the clouds moved out and sun came out.
The show continued on Sunday. But, the Sunday forecast was so bad, predicting thunderstorms all day. We gave up and didn't go. It turned out that thunderstorms nicely avoided the airport most of the day. (According to the METAR) I regret I didn't go, but it was too late.
I was Japan for visiting one of our research sponsors in June. I took this opportunity to visit Hofu-Kita Japan Air-Self Defense Force Base Air Show.
Actually, I flew in to Tokyo two days before the air show. But, my original schedule was cancelled and had one whole day open. A student who had just graduated from Electrical and Computer Engineering department, who probably was one of the best students of the year and taught me a lot of electronics especially retro-PC repair technique was visiting Japan with his girlfriend. So I did a tour guide for them. I visited Tokyo Skytree, which is the new TV broadcasting tower for the first time.
Day two. When I stay in Tokyo one of the things I do is to have breakfast at Burdigala Express bakery located in the basement level of Tokyo station. I usually come back from Japan 4 pounds heavier, and take months to shave it off.
I tried again to take a picture of Mt. Fuji from Shinkansen train to Hofu. But, it was cloudy and hazy as always.
Then I stopped at Nagoya to see a high-school friend, who was brave enough to chose a career as a pilot for Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. I was not brave enough to pursue that career at that time. I at least became a pilot though. One of Boeing 787 prototypes is on display at Chubu International Airport, also known as Centerair airport. I visited there with him.
RF-4E Phantom II fly-by was scheduled during the Hofu-Kita air show. (Kita means north in Japanese by the way). That would have been my last chance to see JASDF RF-4E flying. All RF-4Es are scheduled to retire end of March. But, the forecast was depressing, predicting rain all day. However, as the day came closer, the forecast improved. On Saturday, the day before the air show, I had a high hope that the weather would stay flyable during the show.
Hofu-kita air show is not a large air show. I was not expecting too much crowd. But, anyway I took the first train in the morning. When I got off the station I praised myself for making a right decision. Already a line was forming for the shuttle bus. The line was growing quickly after I joined.
What I like about Japanese air shows is so much variety of local foods. Cleveland air show is getting to that level (I cannot pass Bratwurst hot dog!), but still you have hundreds of gourmet breakfast and lunch to choose from. But, the bathroom gets looong line when the people arrives. My recommendation is eat early, discharge, and then prepare for the flights.
To my disappointment, RF-4E fly-by was cancelled due to the low weather at the departing airport. RF-4E was not at the Hofu-kita base. It was supposed to fly a remote show. Hofu-kita was in VMC (Visual Meteorological Condition), but RF-4E base (New Tabaru, I guess?) was apparently low IMC. I missed my last chance to see RF-4E.
.... Isn't it possible for a U.S. museum to buy one from JASDF and keep it flyable? Anyone?
Instead, United States Pacific Air Force F-16 Demonstration team rocked the base. They flew low! Definitely lower and closer than the air shows in the U.S.
Later I noticed that the pilot was wearing a Wild Weasel patch. Their mission is to destroy enemies' air defense battery. They are trained to fly low, hugging the ground. I am sure they were flying much higher than what they can really do, but that was real low and close.
By the way, I recently read a book called "Viper Pilot" written by U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Colonel Dan Hampton . Since Amazon.com terminated my affiliate account, I don't put a link. (Buy one from Barnes and Nobles!) Actually I read another book called "Tanker Pilot" earlier, I'll talk about this book later. The book was extremely interesting. So, I decided to read another one written by a retired pilot, and picked "Viper Pilot." The author flew F-16 for Wild Weasel missions in Iraq. The book gave a rare opportunity to look into the life of Wild Weasel pilots. At first I thought the book was just boasting the author's war experience, but quickly I realized this author had a clear and strong message. I then just could not stop reading this book to the end. You should get one and read if you are interested in fighter airplanes and life of distinguished top-level fighter pilots.
Later JASDF F-2 fighter bomber (F-16 variant) showed aerobatics.
The last demonstration was from JASDF Air Rescue Wing.
Then I stayed in Fukuyama for a week, and came back to Tokyo.
On the way back, I visited Game Preservation Society, paid annual membership fee. Then met with my electronics and FM-7 master briefly. Then flew back to Pittsburgh from Tokyo Haneda airport. (No Narita please)
Within two weeks of returning to Pittsburgh, I was in Dayton Ohio with my wife for annual Vectren Dayton Air Show. Recently when I go to an air show, U.S. military branches are running a pull-up challenge. If you can do certain times pull-ups, you get a prize. This year, on the first day of Dayton Airshow, I did 14 pull ups at Air National Guard truck, and won a T-shirts.
I was not expecting to see Sean D. Tucker's solo aerobatics this year, but to my pleasant surprise, he flew his solo aerobatic routines. He was saying he was going to retire from solo aerobatics and would start formation. The air-show announcer was saying this will really be the last time I would see him fly solo. He also introduced two-airplane formation aerobatics in the afternoon, which to me was still in development. I'm looking forward to seeing what he is going to show us next year.
This year's Dayton air show featured a formation flight of KC-135 tanker and C-17 cargo airplanes. They came close, but not really connected. I have seen once (maybe twice) actually connecting formation in Atsugi air show before. I think it was S-3B Viking + Refueling pod connecting to EA-6B Prowler. I believe I still have a photo somewhere in my archive. But, I haven't seen actually connecting formation after that. Is there any regulation? Maybe. I don't know.
By the way, I recently read a book called "Tanker Pilot" written by a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Mark Hasara. It was a heck of a learning experience for me. I was thinking that majority of the aircrafts participating in Iraq-war campaign carried enough fuel to go in and come back in external fuel tank. I was wrong. It was a massive air-refueling campaign behind the success of the two Iraq campaigns.
Again, I don't put an Amazon link since Amazon.com terminated my affiliate account, but it is the book worth reading. Get one from your local Barnes and Noble.
Sea Harrier from Nalls Aviation. I, from the bottom of my heart, admire American aviators who does everything to keep historic airplanes flying. Aircrafts are most beautiful while flying for sure. Actually, it is not difficult to take a crisp picture of a Harrier while hovering, but we don't have too many chances of taking the top side of the aircraft. First of all, Harriers do not do a photo pass (or a dedication pass sometimes called) too often. Even when it does one, the distance is so inconsistent. It is difficult to make a good guess of the focal length.
I am using Olympus E-5 with 2x tele converter + Olympus 50-200mm lens. When fully extended, it is equivalent to 800mm F7.0 with 35mm film. However, E-5 too often fails to auto-focus at max length. I now chose not to go beyond 150mm position, which is equivalent to 600mm with 35mm film. This time I bet on 120mm position (480mm equivalent) but it was too short.
Thunderbirds flew a low show, I believe.
I have been trying to get a perfect shot of the Sneak Pass for more than 10 years, and still no success.
I thought the next frame of the previous shot came out perfect, but...
G*******mn it! A tiny bit of the tail wing was chopped off! It is a good picture, but not yet a photo I have been looking for. My challenge continues. But, maybe 12 meg-pixel E-5 with only 5 frames per second burst shot is not a good enough camera for my photo skill. If I had 10 frames per sec, it would be easier. If I had 20 meg pixels, I can pull the focal length a bit shorter and still may be able to get a crisp picture.
Day two. I did 11 pull ups at Navy booth and got a bag.
The bag made a good souvenir to an enthusiast friend in Japan.
By the way, doesn't this maneuver looks like,
a Somen-Noodle Tempura that you can eat in Japanese restaurant, isn't it?
Full Tempura dish from Chaya Japanese Cuisine at Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.
Toledo airport is a base for Ohio National Guard F-16 squadron "Stingers". They show spectacular mock ground attack demo during the show.
On top of it, this year's Toledo air show hosted world only flyable F-100D Super Sabre. It was absolutely a rare opportunity to see historic F-100D flying.
Then came F-100D Super Sabre! For some reason I see the older model, F-86 Sabre, more often. It was my very first opportunity to see F-100D taking off. According to the air-show announcer, F-100D could turn on/off the afterburner, but there was no adjustment. Afterburner could be turned on when the throttle is fully open position. There was no such thing like 50% afterburner. Also he said that F-100D's engine had a problem of dark smoke which gave away the position of the fighter jet to the enemy interceptors. The smoke goes away when afterburner is on, but of course it burns up all the fuel in ten minutes or so.
This F-100D was given to Turkish air force during the cold war for free. Then it was rusting somewhere in Turkey. An aviation museum purchased the airplane and restored to the flying condition.
The rival of F-100D was Soviet Migs. And, it is so amazing that a flyable Mig is in the U.S. This Mig-19 flew with F-100D. Absolutely spectacular demonstration.
What's special about Stingers' mock ground attack demo is counter-infrared flares. Flares create infra-red source and confuse infra-red guided missiles. I read in some books that modern flare dispensers cut magnesium pieces into the length that reflects the radar wave effectively and ignite and release it. If that's true, the flare is good for infra-red guided and radar guided missiles.
But, the challenge to the photographers is they fly inbound in two-ship formation, and we do not know which of the two is going to dispense flares. So, I needed to make a guess. If I aim at the one dispenses the flare, I get a real nice picture.
This Mig-19 low pass is REAL low. I'm wondering if I can do the same low pass in Cessna 172. All right. I won't.
And the two-day show was concluded by the Stingers' mock ground attack demo.
How can I render flares in YSFLIGHT like these?
F-16s (I believe eight in total) showed touch & goes after the demo.
I enjoyed the show. I stayed til the last F-16 landed. But, since there was no Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. Some people were leaving the airport without waiting for the last Stingers' demo. There typically is a massive traffic jam after the show, but not for this one. It was an easy exit.
My last air show of this season was Cleveland Air Show. Cleveland is about 2.5 hours drive from my place. There are two freeway service plazas both direction between Pittsburgh and Cleveland nicely 40 to 50 minutes interval. By stopping at each plaza, I don't get too tired for driving. It is quite easy to get there and back.
This year's Cleveland Air Show featured the Thunderbirds. In Cleveland most of the air force jets including Thunderbirds take off Cleveland Hopkins International airport and fly a remote show. Thunderbirds fly in to the show center from the behind in a delta formation, then #5 and #6 solo airplanes breaks left and right over the show center. The remaining diamond formation makes a big loop, and rolls 90 degrees and exists to the left. Immediately two solos fly in to the field from two different directions. That's the way they start a show in Cleveland.
If I wait for the opening delta formation a little bit to the west from the show center, it is a unique chance of taking all six airplanes perfectly lit by the sunlight. I calculated the best camera setting from the pictures I took four years ago in Cleveland Air Show 2015. I captured an almost-shot then. But, if you look carefully, two solos are already starting to roll. It is not the perfect delta.
I was going to try two years ago in Cleveland Air Show 2017, but one of my friends had a bad car accident. I had to give up Cleveland for helping her. So, it was my first chance in four years. If I miss, I would need to wait another two years.
The photo I have been trying to capture is all six airplanes in perfect delta formation, pilots' helmet visible, in front of the blue sky, and perfectly lit by the sunlight. Actually, taking a crisp picture of Thunderbirds delta is not so easy. Most of the delta maneuvers are away from the spectator area. The last pitch up is the closest, but #1 typically breaks before reaching the show center. It is actually difficult to take a crisp picture of the Thunderbirds delta with all six pilots visible. I always want to have pilots in my aircraft picture. If not, at least I want to see the cockpit in my picture.
Another new addition in this year's Cleveland Air Show was F-35A aerobatic demonstration. Last year F-35A did some passes, but no aerobatics. F-35A is said it sacrificed the maneuverability for the sake of intelligence. Then how agile is it after all? That was one thing I was looking forward to seeing.
DAY ONE. I won a T-shirts at Air Force Reserve base by doing 15 pull ups. Actually 10 was good enough for the T-shirts, but anyway I was able to do 15 times.
Mock ground attack demo of A-10 was very impressive. If I can request one thing, I wanted the photo pass to be a little closer to the spectator area. Above photo was taken with my lens fully-extended (800mm equivalent). Due to the air disturbance, if the airplane is that far away, the picture never becomes crisp. Anyway it is hard to get any better picture than the one I got in Waukegan though.
Actually, this A-10 was #10962. The one I saw in Waukegan was #10964. Very close. I also checked the ones flew day two and day three of the air show, but the same A-10 flew on day two, and the last three digit of the one flown last day was #981.
Getting interesting, and,
What a shot! But the tail was chopped off. And the next shot was...
Nose chopped off :-P
I was not expecting F-35A to fly this close this low. I was shooting with 480mm equivalent, but I was not expecting F-35A to appear this large in my frame. I am using Olympus E-5. It can shoot only 5 frames per sec. If I had 10 frames per sec camera, I should have the best shot in between. Maybe with my camera skill, I may need a better performing camera.
Photo pass was nice.
By the way, F-35A demo showed high AOA maneuvers one after another. The one remarkable was a near flat-spin after high angle climb. From my position I couldn't tell it was really a flat spin like F-22 does, but it appeared to be turning with low bank angle in a very small radius at slow air speed. I didn't understand how F-35A, without thrust vectoring nozzle, could do that maneuver. Also impressive was "Dojo" turn. Dojo was the call sign of the pilot. Maybe this maneuver changes its name depending on who is flying. In this maneuver, F-35A comes in high speed and then make a 135-degree climbing turn in 5 seconds. Due to the high angle of attack, the air flow over the main wing is so turbulent. The turbulent air is clearly visible by the condensed water vapor. It appeared that the main wing was stalling, therefore it looked to be a post-stall maneuver. F-18 and F-16 can do post-stall flying. Just fly straight with main wing completely stalling. But, in this one, F-35A makes a steep turn. Again, I cannot understand how F-35A can maintain control post stall without thrust vectoring nozzle. I want to ask how it does these maneuver if I have a chance to talk to the pilot.
Then I moved to the pre-calculated position, configured my camera to pre-calculated settings. The sky was clear. Perfect condition. I waited for the Thunderbirds delta to fly in from the behind.
Then I saw the F-16 formation, but they were circling and did not come in. Was there a trouble? Then,
Only three F-16s flew in. Two solos broke very far, and #3 airplane was missing.
It was not even a diamond.
Only one good thing was I saw this Stinger formation (a diamond followed by a solo) for the first time.
I could not capture a shot I was hoping. I had two more days.
DAY TWO. I did 15 pull ups at the Marine Corps tent and won a bag. I wanted a baseball cap, but it required 20 pull ups. It used to be 15 for a baseball cap, but somehow they raised the bar. Later I told it to my personal trainer then my training menu got tougher. My challenge is to be able to do 20 pull ups by the air show season next year.
The forecast for the second day was horrible. I thought about cancelling the trip, but I went there anyway. When we arrived, the weather was not as bad as it was forecasted.
This beautiful blue and silver airplane was flown by Ms. Julie Clark. I think I saw her aerobatics in my very first American air show. It was Miramar air show 1995. I have seen her many times. She had been flying for air show for more than 40 years, and this year was her last season. I'll miss her.
For some reason P-51 didn't participate in the heritage formation.
You can see the air flow over the main wing is very turbulent. I think it is very possible that the main wing is stalling. I really cannot tell why this airplane is in control without thrust vectoring. Only one thing I see unusal is the angle of flaperon. It seems both flaperons are tilted upward.
So, my second challenge to get the perfect Thunderbirds delta. The sky was cloudy. Already it won't have blue sky. But anyway, unless I press the shutter, the probability of getting a good picture is zero.
So I came to the same position, configured my camera, and waited.
There came the Thunderbirds! With one less airplane compared to the previous day.....
What happened to them? I looked at their official Twitter. They mentioned about a family emergency. Then family first. I hope everyone was all right.
DAY THREE. I didn't do pull up challenge three days in a row. I need to be nice to my shoulder. I damaged my shoulder a few years ago and took whole one year to recover.
The sky was perfect blue. I should have the Thunderbirds delta this time. If I cannot get Thunderbirds delta, I would need to wait another two years.
Actually I have long been trying to find a solution to this problem: I can keep the target in my finder until I press the shutter, but when I press the shutter I end up shaking my camera, missing the target. I came up with a solution. I was holding my camera with four fingers like sideway. That's why I apply force on the shutter, there was nothing that counters the downward force. So, instead, how about holding the camera like wrapping the side of the camera with my entire palm? I did experiment, and it seems to work very well.
I came up with this idea on the very last day of my air show season. Damn it! Why I didn't come up with this idea earlier?
I was able to keep up with the high-speed pass very well. Although I didn't see the shock cone like the first day.
Better close-up look of the "Dojo" turn. The airplane image is blurred by the heat haze created by own afterburner. The condensed water vapor clearly indicates very turbulent air flow over the wings. Again both two flaperon seems to be up.
I saw many 'lasts' this year. This C-31 Friendship is retiring and U.S. Army Golden Knights will use Bombardiar starting next year.
Then my Thunderbirds delta challenge again.
Nooooo! Solos broke off way too early! They peeled off closer to the show center four years ago. They did differently this year.
This picture is not bad at all, but this was not what I was trying to take.
A seagull photobombed in the picture that was supposed to be the perfect delta formation.
At least I was able to see Thunderbirds high show with all six airplanes. I'll try again in 2021.
During the air show, the announcer was saying that the air show contribute to the local economy by bringing in tourism. He mentioned that some spectators were coming from as far as Japan. Was he talking about me? Probably not. He probably looked at some surveys they were doing near the entrance and found some answered they were from Japan. When I was living in Japan I saw advertisements for some guided tours to visit American air shows. I hope those tourists from Japan was able to see the Thunderbirds high show on the last day. And, yes, it is true that the air show substantially contribute to the local economy. Keep them flying!
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