Past and Present – All in one day in Madras – Part 2
The next day we met at 0500 and had brief introductions outside the hangar. After it was opened we all met for briefing as decided – we first complete the creative brief followed by the safety brief. Our targets for the day would be the Japanese Oscar Ki-43 and the FM-2 Wildcat. The pilot for the Ki-43 Oscar was Brent Connor, who flies with Erickson Aero Tanker for firefighting operations and for the FM-2 Wildcat was Mike Oliver, the Director of the Erickson Aircraft Collection. I would go with Brent Clark in the third sortie in the morning. The Creative Brief consists of what the photographer wants – what formations, 2nd aircraft positions in relation with lead aircraft that stays with the photoship. We went over the various formations we planned – echelon, low 5-o-clock, high 5-o-clock, low-4-o-clock, high-4o-clock, etc. After the creative brief was the safety brief – its more about for pilots by pilots. So start-up times, taxi out, take-off sequence, formation procedures, frequencies, flight codes/descriptions, safety procedures in case of radio failure, any other failure were discussed. After that the pilots immediately started the job of readying the warbirds for the photo operations. The morning started out with some low clouds over our target area but it was pretty okay weather wise. The Sun was creeping up from the East and this time it provided some nice light on the MD-87 aircraft that were parked in front of the hangar. After the briefing I had some time, so strolled over to get some nice shots of the scene.
The first guys up were Steve and Jay – as they got ready in Scott’s Bonanza, the Wildcat fired up and was ready to go. Brent fired up the Oscar (below center) but was having some comm issues. We had the customary shot of Scott “posing” in his office (below left) giving a big smile – although it was early in the morning Scott was born in Dallas, Texas and still lives there today. A frustrated artist in school, drawing airplanes on everything he owned, he took a photography class in his senior year in high school and fel1 in love with it! His love of aviation and warbirds goes back to his father and uncle taking him to CAF air shows when he was young. He started flying since 19 and has about 3,000 hours. His company operates an A-36 Bonanza for travel and as a photo platform, flying over 250 hours per year. After 22 years in the graphics arts business he retired in 2004 and purchased a small aviation magazine franchise. He started shooting for the magazine and developed a knack and love for Air-to-Air photography that he continues doing even after he sold the franchise, 6 years ago. Aero Media Group, specializes in creating aviation-based media content including photography and cinematography as well as illustration and graphic design. In 2006, AMG started a project called mybombshells.com, bringing yesterday’s illustrated pin-up and aircraft nose art to life using modern day photography. 9 years later, MyBombshells.com is a growing brand dedicated to bringing awareness in keeping warbirds flying and supporting the museums and collections that do so.
There were some moments where JJ, the Ground crew, Brent and Lyle spent conferring, while Mike in the Wildcat (above right) looked impatient After some moments to resurrect the comms situation, it would prove to be a no-go. Brent and JJ switched to Plan B. They scampered over to the F4U Corsair and try to get it going. It was some sort of a electrical load problem on the Oscar that prevented it from flying in the formation – thats what happens with warbirds – these are precious aircraft and things still go south after doing everything right. So the US v Japanese flight became an all US Naval Heritage flight with the Wildcat and the Corsair as our targets. The photo flights will be a hot unload/load operation – where one pair of photographers get out, the next go in and the photo ship goes out again. For us fortunately we were #3 and both the target aircraft had to come in with the photo ship to refuel. As the first pair and the formation got airborne, we all made our way to the runway to get some shots of the Wildcat and Scott’s Bonanza taking off. We also stood by for Brent to taxi out and take off in the Corsair. After that it was still chit-chat and try to get some shots of the changed lighting. As the sun rose slowly from the East lighting up Mt. Jefferson in front of us in totally different colors. The second pair along with the flight came in to refuel. The Wildcat came in first, followed by the Corsair, in-tail was Scott in his Bonanza. I had decided to experiment with the Nikon V1 mirror less camera I had. I had used that back in 2012 in India to an okay extent – at the time, there was no auto-focus with panning in the camera. I had done a firmware upgrade that allowed auto-focus to work even with moving objects tracking them as they move. The Nikon V1 is a great camera, don’t get me wrong – but I think I was expecting too much out of it for what I was doing. I tacked on the FT-1 adapter on it, and put the 80-400 AFS lens and decided that I wont come with great stuff but at least I would be able to experiment with the camera + lens combo and get the experience of shooting with it.
All the above shots were taken by this combination of camera and lens. The only thing that I observed was the throw-away to keep ratio for panning with subjects was 11:1 – Ok I am exaggerating a bit – but it is difficult trying to acquire the subject at extreme ranges, and pan with the subject and keep it focussed. So out of a set of 5, I would get the first frame not focussed right, the second would be right, the third probably, but the rest of them were throw-aways. Partly the reason for this is the image preview keeps popping up after every shot you take using the Electronic shutter option – there is no option to disable the image preview right now. The image preview as far as I remember does not occur with Electronic (Hi) but in that mode the auto-focus lock and other parameters are locked from the first frame onwards. The other advantage of the Nikon V1 is the crop-factor. With a whopping crop factor of 2.7, my 80-400mm lens became 216-1080mm. There is no quality loss at extreme ranges as you can see from some of the above pictures that were taken at 1080mm – but the camera needs cajoling to get subjects under focus and then if it is moving, the panning and taking multiple shots becomes difficult. Sometimes I call this usage of the Nikon V1 as “shoot and pray” mode, since you acquire focus, pan with the object, and when you press the shutter for multiple, you pray that at least one frame is a keeper
So after refuel, Brent and I got into Scott’s Bonanza. I went around once again checking all my camera settings – Shutter priority, ISO, White Balance, image quality RAW, Auto-Focus Continuous – most important VR settings on both the lens. There was a lot of talk about carrying only the 70-200 for this hop and that it is sufficient. I had brought the D800, and D7100 camera bodies. I had also bought the D4s as the new camera to experiment at Madras AirX. I decided to take both literally at the last minute – the D800 with the 24-120mm and the D4s with the 70-200mm – my notion being that even if I took a wide angle with the 24-120 and if I had to crop the photo I would not lose so much detail especially with the D800 having 36MP. I kitted the D4s with the 70-200 since at 16MP the 70-200 lens gave me the reach for it. Our formation rolled on Runway 16 – Scott was the first to go – FM-2 Wildcat took position to the right of us with the Corsair waiting behind. The Wildcat came up our side just as we were climbing out to altitude. The Bonanza suffered from a degraded performance at that altitude, was slower. As we go higher the air density thins out and this on an average degrades the performance of any non-turbocharged aircraft by 10%. Madras Municipal Airport is at a height of almost 2500 feet above MSL (Mean Sea Level). And because of the low cloud ceiling we had to form up at an altitude of almost 9000 feet MSL. The Wildcat and Corsair decided to head out to the target area ahead of our Bonanza. As the Corsair whizzed past, Brent Connor pulled up the stick, taking it above and slowly behind us and then sped past us. We slowly climbed and we formed up at our designated spot. Scott kept moving the Corsair around the Wildcat expertly telling Brent where to move his Corsair next. We got a lot of shots with the Wildcat and Corsair in formation. As we were flying with the formation, I noticed that the formation was turning away from the Sun – bringing it into a backlit scenario. I removed the camera from my face, and saw the scene – the Sun was almost 2-o-clock high, and the Wildcat and Corsair were around 8-o-clock in the circle in front of me. I suddenly thought of a scene in my mind and I tried to go in for the normal landscape frame shooting horizontally. It would not fit all three of them together in that frame. And then I recalled a tip that was shared with the group by Scott and Greg Morehead – that of shooting vertical using the battery grip – giving it a different perspective than the normal horizontal frame. I switched to the battery grip for a vertical shot and lo behold – all three of them were in the viewfinder – tweaking the focussing point, I took a series of shots. I was so glad I got the D800 with the 24-120 combination as otherwise I would not have been able to get this sun burst shot (right) as I had imagined in my mind. We went with the scheduled programing as planned by Scott. I got some formation shots with Mt. Jefferson in the background (below left).
The other one I got was the Corsair parked on the Wildcat but in this case I tilted the camera – giving an impression that the formation was climbing (above right). Don’t know why, but I love this angle a lot – and the lighting was really on the dot for this type of shot. The Sun was ahead of us, lighting the engine parts and nose of the two aircraft while the fuselage (bodies) stayed in the dark instead of the traditional Sun shining on the fuselages of the two fine ladies in formation . After some formation work, Brent C broke the Corsair from the formation – and for sometime it was just the Wildcat and us. I took several shots of the Wildcat – some wide-angle some closed-in and some medium loose.
Then it was the turn of Brent with the Corsair. Same procedure followed for the Corsair as well – wide, loose, and close-in shots.
Both subject aircraft were expertly piloted by Brent and Mike. After that Brent and I were all wide smiles coming down on the ground. The next pair went after a hot unload/load and the rest of the group followed. I was continuously chimping after my flight. It was great to see these birds fly formation with each other in the air. It was a great feeling and experience. After that it was a bit of lecture time with Scott debriefing all of us on various topics – Camera settings, Backgrounds, flight path, maximize time, creative brief, safety brief, etc..
Lyle introduced Greg Anders – who is the Heritage Flight Museum VP and Executive Director in Bellingham. He served in the US Air Force, Air National Guard, and the US Air Force Reserve for a 23 year period. Greg Anders was born on December 10, 1962 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; his father is MajGen Bill Anders, USAFR (Ret) who was an Apollo-8 Astronaut and the family moved often. In June 1985, upon graduation from the US Air Force Academy, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force. He went thru flight training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma receiving his wings in August 1986 he transitioned to B-52 training at Castle Air Force Base California qualifying in July 1988. First Lieutenant Anders flew the B-52 “Stratofortress” for 9 years, sitting Nuclear Alert in the Cold War. In July 1994 Capt Anders cross-trained in the F-15Es “Strike Eagles”, and in 1996 he went on several deployments supporting Operation Northern Watch at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and Operation Southern Watch at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, flying sorties over Iraq. On June 9, 2000 Major Anders was honorably discharged from active duty in the US Air Force at Seymour Johnson, Air Force Base, and then he transitioned to the Idaho Air National Guard flying the A-10 “Warthog.” In January 2003 to May 2003, Lt Col. Anders was activated for a four month deployment to Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait and Tallil Air Base, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He flew numerous combat sorties during the build-up to war and flew 27 missions during the primary combat phase of operations. The highlight of that deployment was being selected as a part of a small contingent that was forward deployed and flew sorties out of Tallil Air Base in Iraq during the war. Upon completion of Combat Operations he was awarded four Air Medals, two Meritorious Medals, an Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, the Combat Readiness Medal, and various campaign/service medals. In March 2004, Major Anders was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Idaho Air National Guard. In 2006 Lt Col Anders transitioned to the US Air Force Reserve where he was assigned as a Liaison Officer as the Civil Air Patrol Reserve Assistance Officer at Beale Air Force Base, CA. Lt Col. Greg Anders was honorably discharged from the US Air Force Reserves on February 19, 2009. Lt. Col. Anders is a third generation military officer; his grandfather, Cdr Arthur Anders, USNA’27, earned the Navy Cross and Purple Heart Medals in combat action with the Japanese Forces in China in WWII. His father, MajGen Bill Anders, served in NASA as one of three crew members of Apollo 8, America’s first manned mission to orbit the moon in December 1968; he subsequently had a career in Government Service in NASA, the AEC, the NRC, as the Ambassador to Norway, and culminating as Chairman of General Dynamics. In 1999, Lt. Col. Anders began working at the Heritage Flight Museum where he is the Senior Vice President and Executive Director. Lt Col Anders began his Warbird Career flying his own AT-6 “Texan.” He currently flies many early era Tail-dagger aircraft including type ratings in the P-51 “Mustang”, the A-1 “Skyraider, P-47 “Thunderbolt,” and the Spitfire. He is also a multi-engine Certified Flight Instructor (MEII). Greg volunteers as Commanding Officer and President of EAA Warbird Squadron 2, the “Cascade Warbirds.” This is the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA’s) the largest Experimental Aircraft Association Warbird Squadron (250 members). Greg is also an air show performer flying Warbirds for public demonstrations. Most notably, he is one of nine civilian Warbird pilots on the Air Combat Heritage Flight Demonstration Team, flying the old Warbirds in formation with the USAF’s front line fighters in an air show acts that demonstrates the USAF’s current capabilities, while honoring our Nation’s combat aviation heritage. Besides being a member of the USAF Heritage Flight Civilian Team his Air Show Qualifications include being a qualified Surface Level Aerobatic Performer and a Formation Check Pilot. While Scott was briefing over the safety aspect of photo flying, Greg chimed in since he has a huge experience flying the target aircraft in formation with others and photo-flying as a whole. He cited some experiences in the past where things went wrong, he also cited some other incidents where everything was done right; but since these are old machines and precious things, things can still go wrong. He exposed some valuable lessons of flight safety to us. While having a chat over his career, he was mentioning his transitions from the Buff to the Hog and I just mentioned my observation that he was downsizing all the time firing off air crews – on the B-52 he had a crew of 5, on the F-15E it was down to 2, and the Hog was down to himself. He was surprised at the observation and found it funny. We had a hearty laugh at that
After a boxed lunch, we were left to download stuff on our laptops, editing, etc. Lyle and Scott came with the good news. The aerobatic performers were ready to do air2air. There was the “Airshow of the Cascades” taking place at Madras Municipal airport, couple of hangars away from us. There were many aerobatic pilots who had flew in to take part in it. They were very interested to fly with us and we get their air2air photos. The initial plan was for them to fly with some of us – all will not fly with all of us so it was kind of hit and miss – but Lyle and his peeps managed to get what was best for all. All of us would get a crack at the performers – its just that all of us won’t shoot all of them – but all of us will get some of them And this will again be a strictly rehearsed and scripted flight – and as always a hot unload, load for us. Scott had briefed them on what shots we will go for and it was exactly that routine to maximize time for everyone. So away went the first pair to shoot a two-ship consisting of Jon Melby with his Pitts S-1-11B, and “Super” Dave Mathieson in his Scheyden MX2, then went the second – and we thought we will get someone else – when the second pair consisting of Steve Z and Jay told us to go fast since the two-ship was holding for us to return – !! YAY !!. So off we went – and what followed was a scene from an action movie – ok here is what we gonna do – formation a, formation b, c, d and lets head to the river for e and thats it – break and we will see you on the ground Bada bing Bada boom.
Jon Melby is an airshow pilot with over 35 years of flying experience. He is surface level aerobatic qualified, formation aerobatic qualified, and holds an Airline Transport Pilot rating. He has flown dozens of aircraft types and currently performs in a highly modified Pitts S-1-11B bi-plane. At the age of 12, he had the opportunity to meet the legendary airshow pilot Bob Hoover at a local airshow. Bob Hoover’s sincerity and great personality gave him the inspiration to pursue his dream of flying. When he was financially able, he made it a goal to solo in a non-powered glider before his 16th birthday. In only 8 flights, he achieved his goal by riding a bicycle 45 miles, on hot Arizona July summer weekends, to the nearest glider airport! It was this type of determination that inspired him to purchase an airplane at age 19, and then hired an instructor to learn to fly it! Receiving his pilot’s license by flying every day for a period of 3 weeks, yet eventually yearned to do so much more in an airplane. After owning several Cessna passenger type aircraft, in 1996, he purchased a Pitts S2B Bi-plane and spent 3 months training to compete in Aerobatic Contests. When not flying his airplane, Jon is a Technical Senior Manager for a major stock brokerage firm. Jon also enjoys many other activities other than flying. There are only two factory built S-1-11B aircraft flying in the world today. With a 330+ H.P. six cylinder Lycoming (AEIO-540) motor, Cold Air Induction, 10.5 to 1 High Compression pistons, and 3 bladed Hartzell “Claw” Propeller, this aircraft has all the ingredients for a great airshow performance. The S-1-11B has only a single seat and it is very light weight (1085 pounds dry), providing a perfect platform for flying high energy aerobatics! The Pitts bi-plane is made of metal tubing frame, wood spar/ribs, and mostly fabric covering. This helps keep the airplane light weight. This S-1-11B cruises at 195 MPH and can climb nonstop vertically from zero to 2,500 feet at sea level. During normal climb out, it does an amazing 4,000+ feet per minute climb rate!
Born in Hamilton Ontario, Dave Mathieson started flying with the Royal Canadian Air cadets at age 15 in gliders and got his first float flying job at the age of 18. With more than 16,000 hours of Commercial Flying; Dave has flown bush planes on floats for most of his career including Beech 18, Norseman, de Havilland Beaver, Otter, Twin Otter, Buffalo and Dash 8. He flew for AirCanada Jazz for five years but found the job too boring, and they frowned upon doing aerobatics with 100 people in the back of the airplane. Dave soon left AirCanada Jazz and went on to become the co-owner and president of Summit Air Charters based in Yellowknife Northwest Territories, Canada. Dave often faces the question: “Why do they call you ‘Super Dave’?”. The story is fantastic, and entirely true…On his first commercial job flying a Cessna 180 float plane, the control stick for the aircraft disconnected from the dashboard, losing both aileron and elevator. Dave managed to keep the aircraft flying by using the trim wheel, his body weight, and opening the doors to steer the aircraft back to his base. Dave flew the airplane like this for almost one hour before landing it smoothly on the lake. From that day on, his friends dubbed him “Super Dave”. A carbon Fibre, two seat tandem sport arcraft that offers greater performance and utility than any other aircraft in it’s class. In production since 2005; the Scheyden MX2 has accumulated thousands of hours of rigorous flight time and has proven itself a rugged design both in aerobatic competitions and air shows world wide. The Scheyden MX2 offers the capability of being a comfortable two seat, fast cross-country sport plane with cuising speeds in excess of 200knots and a range of 650 nautical miles. The MX2 is capable of performing competitively in any aerobatic arena from sportsman through the unlimited category.
Both pilots flew in formation initially, and then flew separately for some 1:1 time with the photoshop (as seen above). We almost got out own private airshow as seen below.
After that most of the photogs headed for the air show – and I decided to sleep early since it was tiring for me driving the previous day and getting like a 5-hour sleep before we were up since morning and going at it again. I came back to the hotel and decided to download stuff and maybe do a couple of edits before hitting the sack.
The warbirds were almost being turned around on a dime – similar to the airliners of today. They took off, did the photo-shoot, back for refueling, then back up again. It was really nice to see that these old warbirds are well maintained by Erickson Aircraft Collection – and that they could achieve these rapid turnarounds. In the end my decisions on the gear were well vindicated. I could achieve a variety of shots with both the wide angle and the 70-200 and the D4s was at its best. I had also put the MB-D12 grip on the D800 that gave me a good stable camera body to hold and work with. It is well worth the price to have some stability up there. The experiments with the Nikon V1 and 80-400mm also yielded good results in the end. I was happy It was a nice start of the day flying with US Naval history and then rounding the day out with modern day aerobatics aircraft – Not a bad way to spend a Friday
Next up will be the Focke-Wulf Fw190 – for which I came to Madras. That will have to wait for another day though – till then, take care and be safe!!!