Miami Vice

Work took me to Miami. Well that is South Beach and partying for some of the “normal” folks – uh-uh for me as usual, I was checking up some good locations in and around Miami (MIA) airport. Found a couple of spots and then kind of hit jackpot. I had the Hilton Miami Airport to stay that overlooked the airport. Couple of days before I gave a call to the hotel to give me a room overlooking the airport. I arrived in Miami around evening – checked into the room and wow – the view was awesome. Looking towards East, and South Beach skyscrapers in the distance – but the best part was it was overlooking the short final approach for Runway 30 and the hold position for Runway 27. Now all I needed was the Latin American airlines and some cargo aircraft to show up. And they would all show up in due time.

First order of things was to unpack the camera, check settings and keep it – ready to go – on the table – then onto other things ;) I got some great action in the evening as I was prepping for my next day’s presentation.

It was opened up by a cargo version of the Airbus A330 from Avianca – Colombian based airline with freight carrying fleet as well. Avianca is supposed to be the second oldest continuously running airline behind KLM and the oldest airline with continuous operation within the western hemisphere. That was followed by a Boeing 767-200 from Amerijet – another cargo company that specializes in transportation – be it air, trucking and maritime operations. Dominant in Latin America and Caribbean its bought some other operators to expand its presence worldwide. A Boeing 767-200 from ABX Air – another cargo flying company that flies express cargo routes and also dabbles in airline-related training, including dispatch, simulator and flight training – was lining up on Rwy 27 for takeoff. Looks like cargo was going to be my main theme for this time. Miami just by its location is well suited to act as a focal point for connecting Latin America to the rest of the world. The airport is one of the largest in terms of cargo with moving two million tons of freight annually and moving almost forty million passengers annually. It is also the operations hub for American, FedEx, UPS, LAN Cargo, and almost ninety six other cargo operators.

It was almost sunset and a storm was approaching from the East. So it was a nice background of grey clouds and a little bit of the setting Sun that popped out for sometime – and a Boeing 737 from American airlines was poised right for the shot as it came in on short final for Rwy 30. After a while it was a Airbus A320 from Interjet – which is a low-cost airline based out Mexico City and initially operated the Airbus fleet from Volare Airlines – but expanded to get newer Airbus A320s and is also the first operator of Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft acquiring that in March 2013. This was followed by an Avianca A320 passenger aircraft.

The next morning began with a glorious sun rise. There were some storm clouds gathering again leading to a phenomena called – fingers of God – the sun rays diffused through the clouds layer. This scene reminded me of God being an artist and using the sky as his canvas to throw paint around.

I did the pending work of catching up emails from last night and some other emails I was working on the previous week. On to some other prep work and decided to check out the airport of Opa-Locka in the early afternoon. I reached there but everything was very silent and nothing was happening at Opa-Locka – so headed back and decided to scout one position that was near to the Hilton where I was staying. While driving back, I experienced the tropical rains that I had somewhat forgotten staying in California for so long – the rains came with cats, and dogs and every other animal you can think off – it reminded me of Bombay – my hometown and how the rain used to pound for hours on end and be relentless for some days. Even though I had the wipers on max speed, it was sometimes difficult to see just 10 feet away – and the road being new to me I was extra cautious. Somehow I made it back to my room – a bit drenched but the camera was fine. By now the above scene out of the window was murky grey
One could not even make out that there was an airport in the distance. I could see one aircraft that was on almost the threshold of Rwy 30 abort and head off into the pattern for a go around. One can barely make out the Delta Boeing 737 that was holding short of Rwy 27 in the grey murk. One could see the lights of the Boeing 737 approaching the hold position off of Runway 30.

The deluge reduced a bit to show me a TAP (Portugal) Airbus A330, followed by a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 and an Air France Boeing 747-400 taxi in to their respective gates. It was my first time seeing a 747-8 with the different engines and the raised wingtips.

The next day I made it a point to get up before the sun rise and be ready at the spot for some early cargo action – well as they say the early bird gets the worm – I bagged three different worms that day if you want to say it that way ;) I got three different models of cargo jets – one was a Tampa Cargo Airbus A330 (below left), the second one was a Atlas Air Boeing 747-400F (below center) and the last one was a classic SLC Corp’s MD-11 tri-jet (below right).

There used to be moments of sheer nothingness – when there were no aircraft movements at all while sometimes I used to get the wholesale deal like for example above where the three different freighters made their way one after another and there was a pause in the traffic again. I got some nice morning departures of the Boeing 737 from American in the new scheme (below left), as well as the Boeing 737 in the old scheme (below center) with the beacon, and a regional jet of an American subsidiary (below right).

One other advantage I had was the area overlooking the airport was the International Terminal for LAN, TAM, Avianca (Colombia), TACA, Air France, Lufthansa, Argentina, etc. So these landings used to come up on Runway 30 or Runway 27. American, Fedex, UPS and some international arrivals happened on Runways 26L and 26R, that were on the other side of the terminal. Even the Cargo terminal for some of the Cargo operators like Tampa Cargo, LAN Cargo, Atlas Air, was on the hotel side of the terminal. Back to my room for getting dressed for the day and getting ready to head out – still managed some terminal and runway short activity as it was piling up. Like this Atlas Air 747-8F (below left) captured on final approach to Rwy 27 unlike the regular arrivals on Rwy 30, a Transportes Aéreos Meridionais (TAM Brazil) Boeing 777 (below center) just before taking the active runway, and another classic tri-jet the Boeing 727-200F of Amerijet.

There was a fair amount of taxi activity right in front of my hotel window :) Above left, a GOL (Brazil) Boeing 737 comes in for a landing on Rwy 30 while an Avianca Airbus A330 holds short of Rwy 27. Above center, a Cayman Airways Boeing 737 comes in for a landing on Rwy 30, while above right, a Copa Airlines (based in Panama) holds short of Rwy 27 for takeoff. To the left is a Boeing 777 of TAM landing Rwy 30, while an Airbus A330 of the same company is seen holding short of Rwy 27 for takeoff. TAM has a significant presence in Miami, especially after taking over LAN from Chile. In 2012, LAN was bought over by TAM – and now even though the management is one, the two Airlines still operate differently. The Boeing 767 and 777 are very popular in the LAN fleet, while Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 is a popular model in the TAM fleet. The first day went by in a jiffy and I and Krishna, another friend from my group, were held back for impromptu discussions with the SEs. We had to head for dinner as well that with the LATAM SE team and there was no way I could hang around the airport. Anyways there were some additional days that I would be there and I decided to make the most of my time the other days. But anyways the  guy that I am, I decided to hang around the hotel on the approach end of Rwy 30 and get some shots that evening. It was probably good since I bagged an ABX Air Boeing 767 (below left) and a Embraer ERJ-190 (below center) landing Runway 30 and best of all a MartinAir MD-11 tri-jet landing Rwy 27 (below right).
 The story of the shot to the left is an interesting one – the story of this ever elusive Argentinian beauty. I was elated to get the MartinAir MD-11 above – any further sense of jubilation was put to rest by this Argentine Airbus A330 – beautifully painted in blue, grey and white – as it approached to takeoff Rwy 27. I could not even make it to my room and all the time that it stood there I was cursing myself, why did I have to come down from my perch above in the room. As I was kicking myself in the butt, the beauty as soon as she had appeared, immediately started its take off roll and she was gone. I could not even capture it above the freeway since the rotation point was way on the other side of all those trees and street lamps of the freeway. It was a rare beauty for me and somehow, somewhere I made it a mission to snag this beauty – and the day will surely come!! :)

As I went up to the room I saw that the blue hour  - the hour where the setting sun and the darkness falling in makes a very somber blue sky – was up. And waiting for me was a Delta Airlines MD-80 aircraft holding short of Runway 27. I did not have a tripod and had to think “outside-the-box” to come up with a makeshift arrangement. I took the ice bucket in the room, flipped it over, rested the camera and its tripod collar on it – darn, it was still low – I put my suitcase on the table, then the flipped bucket on top. Ok – this was good now I did not have any remote to fire the camera and keep it vibration free. Ok – switch the camera to a 6sec timer mode. The Delta MD-80 waited patiently through what seemed an eternity – and I got this resulting shot.

The morning started gloriously the next day – with somewhat clear skies. I got a nice sun rise peering up from behind some clouds and a electric pole. Miami Air Traffic Control Tower looked great at sun rise as well as sun set – that is when the Sun showed up from behind the clouds. The atmospherics were quite dynamic at the mellow light hour. The picture below left, shows the nice mellow orange sky at dawn with the ATC Tower and the Atlas Air 747-400F at the base of it. The LAN cargo Boeing 777 (below center) showed up real early for a landing on Rwy 27. You can see the spoilers deployed on the wing in this shot as it came to rest from its landing roll, ready to head up the taxi way into the Cargo Terminal. A US Airways Airbus A320 (below right) took to the air early with the rising sun light glinting off its fuselage.

The evenings were equally awesome as the mornings – not in terms of light, but traffic as well. The position was just ideal – as the great Phoenix rose up – the retraction of the nose and main landing gears and the close-up that it offered were great contributors to the sense of action. And by Phoenix I mean the Boeing 747s that took off. One evening I got a British Airways 747-400 and on the other evening I got both a British Airways as well as Air France. The feeling of looking at these beasts taking to the air is indescribable.
In the picture above center, the big giant seems to be almost child-like trying to get the nose gear in and the door closed. The close-up of the engines and the wings almost expose the sheer power and complexity of this aircraft as it heads for home. The Air France 747 takeoff below shows the engines pouring coal to get that thrust to reach speed and altitude. The picture below right shows the Sun glinting off of the 747′s fuselage against a background of grey skies. All in all a voice of “holy crap” used to come out everytime a 747 used to go by :D

The humidity brought about some puffy clouds in the sky – unlike the clear blue sky of California – and that mixed in with the setting sun in the evening made up for an interesting mixture of light on the fuselage, jet wash, and blue sky – as seen in these pictures of various aircraft taking off around sunset. As seen below, a US Airways Airbus A320 (below left) takes off amid some nice jet wash seen in the blue sky, an Avianca Airbus A330 (below center) takes off in orange skies with the jet wash evident around the fuselage, and an MD-80 turns golden (below right) as the setting sunlight glints off the fuselage.
On one of the evenings, it was all action when the Sun was behind some of the clouds – and then when the Sun came out – it was an awesome light – but no one came to play for a while – and I feared if I am going to get anything in this magnificent light. As I mentioned before the ATC Tower at MIA was beautiful at sunrise and sunset – so I took that one picture where the tower (above left) was lit brilliantly against a dark sky in the background. But the winner of today’s game was a TACA Airlines Airbus A330 (above center and right) and a United Airlines A320 (left) – that broke the silence and got me some nice shots. The TACA A330 appeared to have a golden finish and looked more alluring with its nose and main landing gears being tucked inside the nose and the belly – and the nose cone caps on the twin engines rotating at max speed to get up to altitude. As far as the United A320 was concerned, I have never looked at another Airbus A320 as I did at this one ;)

The nights were hit and miss. There I was – almost appearing like a stalker with an almost darkened room, 80-400mm lens, and only a table lamp, with my improvised tripod of the flipped-over ice bucket. The table lamp used to go off for the time I was clicking long exposures of the aircraft that held short of the runway waiting for other arriving aircraft to land. Sometimes the runways and arrivals were not busy, and so aircraft used to come by, turn onto the active, and just start the take off roll – leaving me no chance for a slow exposure. I still got some decent action, considering. A DHL Boeing 757 holding short of Rwy 27 (below left), an Airbus A340 in retro colors of the Aerolineas Argentinas (below center) and a TAB Cargo MD-11 (below right) were my favorites from this catch.

 This shot (left) also has a very funny story behind it. It was Day-2 and me and Krishna were coming back from a hard day’s work at the office – he was driving. To cut some time and also scout whats going on at the airport we drove up the Perimeter Road – and I saw this tricolor tail – white, blue and red – and my brain went into data retrieval mode – I have seen these airline colors somewhere, not able to place it exactly – and darn suddenly it dwelled on me – its an Aeroflot (Russian Airline) colors. I told Krishna just drive and get me to the hotel – we drove up to where the valet was – I rushed into the hotel, up through the elevator, rushing towards my room that was at the far end of the floor, frantically trying to get the door to my room opened – bag on the bed, camera out, lens cover somewhere – camera at the ready – and man that thing was fast – it had taxied to holding short of Rwy 27 – I had couple of moments to gather my breath – go calm and then stabilize my hands and push the trigger 3-4 times trying to get a good focus and a sharp shot. The problem was I had a slow lens and to add to my woes, I was shooting from behind a thick glassed window leading to more loss of light for the gear – but anyways caught my life’s first Aeroflot aircraft – I thought it would be the Tupolev or Ilyushin or something but figured it might not be cleared for American skies ;) was content for the time with the Airbus A330.

It was the second last day and Krishna and I had to go to office in our own cars since he was going back home in the afternoon. I had just gotten back from my morning shoot and changed into formals, and was about to join him for breakfast thinking there will not be much action anyways. Casually I opened the curtain of my room and there she was – the Argentine beauty which had eluded me constantly in previous days was taxing into position for Runway 27. I decided to get couple pictures as she taxied into position and the start of takeoff roll. I bided my time, the A340 held short for several minutes. To my surprise, an Atlas Air 747-400F taxied behind a TAM Boeing 777, following MD-80 that was following the Argentine A340. I decided to drop breakfast and wait for the Atlas 747  to get into position. The Argentine was taking too long – and after what seemed as an infinity – rolled onto the active and went for takeoff. I knew I had like 2 minutes before the lil fella MD-80 could takeoff from Rwy 27 and another 2 mins for the TAM 777 to take off and then would be the turn of the Atlas 747.

I thought maybe I should just rush down to my spot towards the approach end of Rwy 9 to catch the Atlas Air rotating out. I texted Krishna to go to office whenever he can and not wait for me after I reached the spot. Krishna texted me he was having breakfast and will move out soon. I had heard the TAM 777 taking off but there was no sign of the Atlas 747 and I could not see at the far end of the Rwy since I was looking into the Eastern Sun. After several moments as sweat trickled down my face, I saw the Atlas 747 – she had taken off Rwy 30 instead of Rwy 27 – bummer. I still got her as she banked slowly to her left.

Last day of my trip started nice – with a nice sunrise (above left), an Amerijet Boeing 727-200F (above center) flew over the rising sun to land on Rwy 30, as well as a TAM Boeing 777 (above right) blowing vapor on the leading edge of the wings trailing some wake behind. After that it was pack up, check out, and head to the office for half a day of training and then straight to the airport. Clicked a few other shots while waiting for my flight. A busy scene here as a Delta MD-80 heads out, with the American Express regional jet waiting in the taxi line, while an Air Berlin Airbus A330 holds short of Rwy 27, waiting for an incoming Cayman Airlines Boeing 737 to land on Rwy 30. A Bahamas Air Boeing 737 heads out, while an Avianca Airbus A330 comes in to land Rwy 30. And finally a LAN Boeing 767 taxies out after push back from the gate.

And that was it, was heading home after a great week in Miami – but really looking forward to some cool weather in California. When everyone thinks of Miami, its South Beach and partying and happening places. For me the happening places are the local airports – every day used to get up early in the morning to get some nice early morning departures, and then after a hard day’s work at the office, I used to look forward to come back to the hotel, change into casuals, grab the gear and then head out for equally nice evening departures and then there was the night life as well :D

If you want just want to enjoy the pictures from this trip, go over to my Smugmug site for the other pics

With that I leave you to whatever you were doing before reading the blog and enjoying the pics – till next time, take care and live life!!

5 Responses

  1. Norberto says:

    Great pics and a wonderful narration.

  2. SXD says:

    Great shots !!
    Excellent narration !!

  3. Tejas says:

    Superb shoot Kedar !! I got excited because I hadn’t seen Aeroflot myself. More when we meet in person..

  4. Lars says:

    Very cool Kedar.
    You should publish your stories and pictures ;-)