Air to Air with History in Madras – Part 1


It all began when I received a ping on Facebook from my good friend and an awesome photographer, Jose “Fuji” Ramos of an air2air workshop called MadrasAirX happening in Madras (pronounced Mad as in mad, and Ras as in Russell) in Oregon. It was being organized in partnership with Erickson Aircraft Collection. The Erickson Aircraft Collection is located in Madras, Oregon and is one of the top privately owned aircraft collections in the world. I looked the event agenda and it was the Focke-Wulf Fw190 that I was sold on. It was being organized by Lyle Jansma, another great photographer and if Fuji was going, so I decided that I was in.

After a busy first half of this year doing business trips and preparing for the dreaded Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert for Wireless LAN (CCIE-WLAN) – that I successfully cleared in July – I guess I needed to gift myself a weekend of having a good time. Just to keep costs low I rented a car and had myself a road trip that took me around 10 hours to get to Madras.

I started in the wee hours of Thursday and reached at noon. After a tiring drive squashing insects and liberating their souls from this life and onto the next – I reached the Best Western motel in Madras. It was amusing to me – since Madras is another metro city in India in the state of Tamil Nadu – that got renamed to Chennai recently – and here it is another city in the US named exactly like the one in India. Obviously there are no Indian restaurants in Madras ;) After napping for sometime, I went down to see what was happening at the City County airport. There was a party at the Erickson Aircraft Collection where there was a new paint scheme being inaugurated on the B-17 that was formerly known as Chuckie. Going over to the hangar I could not help but notice – there was an awesome collection of different warbirds in the hangar and some were parked outside. They had the Lockheed Neptune used for firefighting, PBY Catalina amphibious, C-47 Dakota, a Japanese Ki-43 Oscar, FM-2 Wildcat, F4U Corsair, Lockheed Harpoon (variant of the Lodestar), and a line of DC-9 airliners that were retired from service and used for cannibalization of DC-9 parts for Erickson Aero Tanker’s DC-9 operational fire-fighting tanker. There was other stuff in the hangar – P-51 Mustang, Focke-Wulf Fw190 (the beauty that I came to Madras for), AD-4 Skyraider, B-17 and many other warbirds. There I met Lyle and Brent Clark (from Salt Lake City) for the first time. Lyle brought my little badge over that could get me onto Erickson’s museum and also at the local airshow that was being held on the weekend. After initial introductions I was by myself so decided to walk out and take some shots while I was there.

The C-47 Skytrain more popularly known as the Dakota (RAF designation) was the most successful military transport and civilian airliner at the time. The civilian version was known as DC-3, and was built by Douglas Aircraft Company. It was used in all the theaters of WW-II, from Europe, to Asia and Africa. There are still some transport companies that use the C-47 and there is even a turbo-prop version that flies in South Africa called the Super Dakota. The C-47 at Madras Airport was nicely sitting facing West with the Sun shining on the fuselage. I took some shots from the rear of the DC-3 showing the nice blue sky with some clouds (above left), and the Sun shining off of the fuselage of the DC-3 (above center). I wanted a wide angle shot with the sun burst happening as it looked down on the DC-3 (above right), so I moved into position accordingly and pressed the trigger :)

Erickson Aero Tanker is an aerial fire-fighting company and has tankers in its fleet to drop flame retardants via aircraft. In front of their hangar, were four MD-87/DC-9s (left) stripped off their engines and kind of bandaged as in storage. These were from Span Air – and are used for parts for their fleet of MD-87 tankers. There was Tanker #105 that was parked outside the hangar. The way the retardant dumping system works on an MD-87 compared to other tankers is a bit different. Other aircraft have doors in the belly that open to dump the retardant whereas the two openings in the belly of a MD-87 operate like spades – it is to ensure smooth dumping of retardant over a larger area than dumping all of it on a smaller area. Tanker #105 (above right) is the second MD-87 tanker to enter service in Erickson Aero Tanker’s fleet.

The Grumman FM-2 Wildcat (right) was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy in 1940. First used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II in 1941 and 1942. With a top speed of 318 mph, the Wildcat was still outperformed by the faster 331 mph, more maneuverable, and longer ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But the FM-2′s ruggedness, coupled with tactics such as the Thach Weave, improved kill-to-loss ratio. U.S. Marine Corps Wildcats played a prominent role in the defence of Wake Island in the Pacific in December 1941. USN and USMC aircraft formed the fleet’s primary air defense during the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, and land-based Wildcats played a major role during the Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942–43. It was not until 1943 that more advanced naval fighters capable of taking on the Zero on more even terms, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, reached the South Pacific theatre.
The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. The Corsair was designed as a carrier-based aircraft. However its difficult carrier landing performance rendered the Corsair unsuitable for Navy use until the carrier landing issues were overcome when used by the British Fleet Air Arm. The special approach to a carrier at an angle so the pilot could see the landing deck till the very end was perfected by the British. As well as the U.S. and British use the Corsair was also used by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the French Navy Aéronavale and other, smaller, air forces until the 1960s. Some Japanese pilots regarded it as the most formidable American fighter of World War II, and the U.S. Navy counted an 11:1 kill ratio with the F4U Corsair. After the carrier landing issues had been tackled it quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter-bomber of World War II. The Corsair served almost exclusively as a fighter-bomber throughout the Korean War and during the French colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. Corsairs were flown by the “Black Sheep” Squadron – VMF-214, led by Marine Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington – in an area of the Solomon Islands called “The Slot”. Boyington was credited with 22 kills in F4Us (of 28 total, including six in an AVG P-40).
The Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) was a single-engine land-based tactical fighter used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War II. The Army designation was “Army Type 1 Fighter”; the Allied reporting name was “Oscar”, but it was often called the “Army Zero” by American pilots for its side-view resemblance to the Mitsubishi A6M Zero that was flown by the Japanese Navy. Like the Zero, the Oscar initially enjoyed air superiority in the skies, but as the war progressed, light armor and less-than-effective self-sealing fuel tanks, caused high casualties in combat. Its armament of two machine guns also proved inadequate against the more heavily armored Allied aircraft. As newer Allied aircraft were introduced, such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, North American P-51 Mustang, Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F6F Hellcat and late-model Supermarine Spitfire/Seafire, the Japanese were forced into a defensive war and most aircraft were flown by inexperienced pilots. Like most Japanese combat types, many Hayabusas were at the end expended in kamikaze raids.
The Consolidated PBY Catalina is an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations. During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. In 2014, nearly 80 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber (or airtanker) in aerial firefighting operations all over the world. The designation “PBY” was determined in accordance with the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing “Patrol Bomber” and Y being the code assigned to Consolidated Aircraft as its manufacturer. In their role as patrol aircraft, Catalinas participated in some of the most notable naval engagements of World War II. The aircraft’s parasol wing and large waist blisters provided excellent visibility and combined with its long range and endurance, made it well suited for the task. A RAF Coastal Command Catalina located the German battleship Bismarck, which was attempting to evade Royal Navy forces. This sighting eventually led to the destruction of the German battleship. A flight of Catalinas spotted the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway. I waited for the sun to get into such a position that it would appear in between the two engines and went for the sun burst shot over the Catalina, as seen at left.
The Madras airport is also scenic – with the mountain range of Three Sisters, a little to the South West, Mt Jefferson to the West, Mt Hood to the North – all snow-clad peaks. Looking in the westerly direction, its all flat jungle land until it rises at the foot of the above mountains. About time, the sun started to set – and what a beautiful day it was – the atmosphere changing colors as the Sun’s position changed. I again tried some sun burst shots since the sun was low and mellow. The first aircraft I tried was a Lockheed Harpoon (below left) – a variant of the Lodestar transport aircraft that was used for anti-submarine operations initially. I tried to get the sunburst on the PBY only but the only angle I could really shoot was with the abandoned MD-87 – so got the sun bursting over the MD-87′s tail along with the PBY for company (below center). And then I got one with the Sun dancing around one of the MD-87′s cockpit (below right).


As I was roaming around, I saw the other members of our adventure who had driven up from Portland. There was Matt B from Seattle, Chet W from SFO Bay area, Glen T from Orange County, Mike R from Yosemite. The unveiling party for the B-17 nose art “Madras Maiden” was getting ready to do the honors – but outside, the sunset was so inviting that I had briefly gone inside to have a beer – but quickly came out to get some sunset shots – the last light of the day. I caught the Tillamook Air Museum C-47 (above left) looking at the sky as the Sun went by. The clouds on Mt. Jefferson had reduced to a large extent, and so I took my next one – that of a MD-87 waiting permanently into the already set Sun with Mt. Jefferson in the background (above center). The last one was a nice mellow sun set light reflecting off of the Catalina (above right).

After the inauguration of “Madras Maiden” – the B-17 Flying Fortress’ nose art – we all assembled outside the hangar – where we all met collectively for the first time. There was Jay B, Steve Z, Rick B, Steve S, Greg M. Lyle started the brief and then Scott Slocum who would be our photo-pilot took over. Scott is himself a aviation photographer and a pilot. We went over some details of the photoship aircraft – the Bonanza A36 with the door removed. We all took turns sitting inside and getting a feel of what the view would be like, logistics and so on. After that, we split up – the next day was gonna be hectic – we would be up and early at 0500 hrs at the airport and our targets for the tomorrow would be the Japanese Ki-43 Oscar and the FM-2 Wildcat. I was tired after all the driving and inspite of my power-nap my eyes were about ready to hit the sack ;) I drove back to the hotel and I was out before I even knew it. Set the first alarm, then the second one, 10 minutes ahead – just so I don’t miss it. And it was sweet dreams within no time.

Sleep tight fellas, the next entry will take all of us in the world of air2air photography with the Erickson Aircraft Collection’s warbirds!! Be safe!!

5 Responses

  1. Great stuff, Kedar!
    Can’t wait to see more from this event :-)

  2. Group Captain(Retd) BN Ganesh says:

    Kedar- just no words-awesome -keep going!

  3. Parry says:

    Awesome pictures .. You are seriously gifted … Keep on clicking and sharing with us. :)