The Adversaries – P-51 Mustang vs Fw190 Würger

At last the day I was looking forward to dawned. I was looking eagerly for it since our targets will be the Fw190 – the gal I came here for – and the P-51 Mustang. This was a dream come true and it almost put me back into my kid days – where I read Commando comics which had stories of Messerschmitt Me109s, Bf110s, Focke-Wulf Fw190s tangling with Spitfires and Hurricanes and Mustangs over the skies of Europe. It was again the same schedule for Saturday – get up at 0430 and hit the airfield by 0530. Saturday was clear skies and since the pilots had to be back for a briefing for the airshow at the airport – it had to be a perfectly orchestrated script we would run by. Everyone was there and as soon as the hangar opened, everyone got busy. On this hop, we would have Brent Conner in the Fw190 and Greg Anders piloting the Mustang. Scott again briefed the pilots – with the opening line to Brent – “we will be shooting you down all morning long” :) We will be re-creating history again over the skies of Madras. Scott said that he would like to recreate a kill scenario – the formation would slow down so the Fw190 would get into the speed range where it would extend flaps and drop the undercarriage as if its hit, and Greg in the Mustang will come up from behind and bank away to the right simulating a kill – straight out of a WW-II scene. The skies were clear so our time to altitude and back would be quicker than the previous day. After the brief was done the pilots along with the ground crew were busy pulling aircraft out of the hangar and going over the checklist. I strolled along and got some static shots of the warbirds in their hangar.

We were again #3 on this hop. Bonanza was the first to get out on the taxiway followed by Brent with the Fw190 and P-51 with Greg Anders. We caught them taxing out in the rising sun of the morning.

After the first pair of Greg M and Rick came in, the second pair went up with Chet and Steve. The whole flight would come back to refuel at the end of this hop so Brent Clark and I wont have to do a hot unload-load. While the second pair were up, Lyle went to see the situation about the fuel truck. He came back gunning his golf cart and had a very frustrating look on his face – as he approached, he said “Guys there is a snafu (situation normal all effed up) in a very unexpected place – the folks did not put in the order for the fuel, so the tanks are all dry” He almost had us – when he broke the news that he was kidding and the fuel truck was coming in shortly. Phew – and damn you Lyle for doing that ;)

The flight came back, refueled – Brent Clark and I got strapped in and away we went. We took off followed by the Fw190 and Mustang. While the Fw190 was taking off the air boss for the air show chimed on the frequency and asked – what type was the German aircraft taking off – Scott Slocum responded it was a Focke-Wulf 190. At that the air boss said it will sound ridiculous in him attempting the pronunciation of that :D – to which Scott responded – well you can call it the Fw190 keeping it simple :)

Since the fighters were faster than us, they went ahead to the position that was planned. I saw Greg Anders passing us from the starboard side, a little lower than us – and he had this cool background of the hills partly lit up and partly under shade – I almost thought it was like one of those air superiority missions when the Allied fighter pilots had a break from their bomber escort duties and had a free run at any Luftwaffe airfields or fighters they came across. I immediately clicked some shots of him as he passed us by. One can appreciate what a sleek looking aircraft the Mustang is when seen from the side profile.
Scott expertly guided the formation so we could get some breathtaking views of this formation with the background of Mt. Jefferson. Most of the time it was a scene right out of those Commando comics where the Fw190 was constantly harried by the Mustang on its tail. We had a myriad angles of shots as Scott once again made it feel effortless as he positioned the Mustang around the Fw190′s rear quadrant – up and below, level, turning the formation.

It was almost time to setup the recreation of the Fw190 kill by the Mustang. Scott ordered the formation to slow down. I was in the right hand seat this time and I did not want to miss this for my life. As I felt the Bonanza slow down, my brain went through some decisions – wide-angle or zoom = wide-angle. Since it was going to be a fast break by Greg, increase shutter speed so I could capture the Mustang not exactly sharp but at least not a blur as it broke away from the formation. Change settings. It is amazing sometimes how fast your brain races through these configurations – its One Hundred Percent focussed at the task at hand. At least in my brain, time slowed down – I could see Brent Conner lowering the flaps and extending the landing gear of the Fw190; Greg by this time had vanished from my field of vision as he lagged further back from the formation, to come in at a greater speed and bank away. I was blind in the 5-o-clock quadrant since the Bonanza fuselage was in my field of vision at that angle. I will have to be ready and time my clicks in order to capture Greg’s Mustang pulling away from behind the Fw190. Then suddenly the Mustang appeared in the scene from behind the Fw190 – “GO TIME” – click, click, click and BOOM its done. Then in those seconds, history was recreated. What happened next is a great example in maximizing the time for everyone – the pilots, aircraft, and the photographers. Scott had briefed Greg that when he rejoins the formation, the photographers can take additional shots if they missed his break from behind the Fw190. He told him to rejoin keeping level with the Fw190. Greg would come in with a right bank behind the Fw190, with the formation turning to starboard (right) – this resulted in the shot at the right where I got another crack at the break – although technically this was a rejoin. Greg was turning left (and not breaking away to the right) – but in still photography it still appears as if he is breaking away, while the Fw190 is dropping its gear ;) Scott has an advantage of being a photo-pilot as well as a photographer and he applies these skills and his vast experience to great effect as can be seen here.

With that, it was time to head back to the field for us. He told Brent and Greg to break off formation – which they did it in style. When Brent broke off formation, I saw that the background was of Mt.Jefferson again – so got one great shot as be broke off high and to starboard. Brent and I were chomping away as we made our way back to Madras Airport. As Lyle unloaded us, and loaded the next pair, I was smiling from ear to ear. Lyle asked me “Was it worth it?” And I was like “Dude, that was awesome – more than worth it!!!” The exhilaration one gets from an air-to-air hop with the warbirds is an experience in itself – it cannot be described in words – it has to be felt.

I strolled over to the airshow that was happening couple of hangars over. It was a cars and planes show – so lot of vintage and new cars. We went inside for a short lecture by Scott again on other topics like formations, safety, etc. Jay Beckman gave a nice presentation on post-processing using Lightroom and some tips and tricks from the Nik tools and Photoshop. It was a crash-course and I guess I will be picking his brains on some of the topics he demonstrated :) We were back to the EAC in our stash room. After that because of some change in schedule, Glen Tagami and Matt Booty would go out in the evening. This time Super Dave flew the Bonanza, so Scott could sit reverse in the seat next to the pilot and take out his camera and shoot some. The formation again took off and when they came back, Brent and Greg in the Fw190 and P-51 came back in formation and did a circle to land over the airport. They taxied right up to the place where the party was being thrown – sort of a kick-back-and-relax, now that the event was coming to a close. I went over to where the party was and got myself a beer. Dave and Greg were engaged in friendly banter – Greg calling Dave the “photo-ship pilot” or it was shortened to “photo-shipper” and Greg asking Dave whether he was ready to fly the photo-shipper Bonanza, and Dave replying “You are not ready yet”. It was also the point when a lady walked in and Greg introduced her as the author of a book on Robin Olds, and his daughter – and I was like ohhh – nice to meet you m’am – it was Christina Olds. I had read that book – twice in fact when I bought the hard cover. We reminisced about the book for some time and then I went over to my peeps who were having a good time. Lyle came by shortly and mentioned that this was it, and there was nothing planned for the next day. I decided that I better bug out the same night – instead of driving back Sunday night, and end up in commute traffic when I enter the Bay area on Monday. I bade bye to all the folks and thanked them for their support and company, and back to hotel it was. Fuel up the car, load everything in the bags – had a shower and hit the sack. I got up at 0130 and started driving back to San Jose. I must say, the Oregon Highway Patrol also operates in the night at around 0200 as well. Since I saw almost three cars – with one of them pulling over a vehicle for some infraction. I made the 200-odd miles over SH (State Hwy) 97 South to Weed California and refueled. There was another 200-mile stretch over Interstate-5 South until I hit 505-South. After the first 30-odd miles, my eyes could not stay open and I decided that the best course of action is to take the next exit, and pull over and take a nap for 1 hour – and thats what I did. After waking up, got refreshed, had some coffee, and away I went. This time I will make home in one stretch :)

In my opinion, these two shots were the “money shots” for me – the Fw190 (left) creeping up closer as it formed up on the starboard side of the Bonanza. What a lovely moment it was as Brent piloted the Fw190 into position. I am trying to recall a term they used back then when US Air Force pilots were secretly made to fly with MiG-21s and MiG-23 and the first time “brain freeze” they had when they saw an adversary flying in the air converging on them from head-on. That was it for me looking at the Fw190 since this was the first time I was looking at a Fw190 not only on the ground, but up in the air as well. The other shot is on the right. It shows Greg Anders’ Mustang literally on the rear of Brent’s Fw190 – that photo screams “YOU CANNOT RUN, AND YOU CANNOT HIDE – YOU ARE MINE”. It shows the compression that is caused by using the zoom lens between two aircraft. The lateral separation is compressed forming the illusion of proximity as seen in the picture. It was a great time to spend – new friends, new stuff to learn, awesome instructor and photo-pilot, Scott. Apart from the air-to-air time, its the time that is spent in like-minded company, and some highly experienced and awesome yet approachable and humble folks like Greg Anders, Brent Conner, Dave Mathieson, Christina Olds and others -that is also equally educational, fun, and gives the brain a refresher. I came away with many a lesson learnt from the Air2Air experience. It was truly an awesome job that is done by the Erickson Aircraft Collection to keep the warbirds in top shape and keep them flying. Lyle was a rockstar coordinating our flights, logistics, lectures, etc – he was running a mile a minute when he was on the ground – as things were always rolling. One thing I need to give Lyle credit – it is very easy when things are running smoothly to drop things, get a camera and participate in the shooting – it is very very hard to resist that feeling and Lyle did it catering to more important things of management rather than get in on the action.

That is all for now – next up – will be an awesome experience I had with an equally entertaining and highly experienced and skilled Aviation Photocrew from Belgium. That will have to wait for another day. In the meantime folks, be safe, have fun, enjoy life!! Until next time :)

One Response

  1. Wayne Arbour says:

    Would love to get there one of these days.