Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SARL Air Race at Terrell, TX

This year's Memorial Day air race was held in the shiny new terminal building at Terrell Airport. This is a great new facility that pays homage to the No. 1 British Flying Training School that trained British pilots before America joined the war, during 1940. The floor in here shows a replica of the maps given to the British, to show how big Texas is in relationship to the rest of Europe.

Texas is pretty big

The race was sponsored by Bobby and Ann Elise Bennett, who held a party on the Friday night at their private airstrip a few miles from Terrell airport. I flew up with Mike Thompson in his RV-6 and we landed in alongside another couple of RVs. The party was very cool :-)

Race 193: Bobby B

Next morning, I hitched a ride with Bobby in his Beech Bonanza. The flight took all of about three minutes, but it was fun. We landed in at Terrell and were soon followed by lots of racers. The ramp filled up until about thirty planes were present. Not quite all of them were in the races, some just came to watch. I am always impressed with the variety of types that take part in these events; there was everything from an Aeronca Champion to the Swearingen SX300 that always leads the charge.

Race 391: Jason doing a burnout!

The race started; I stood by the taxiway and got loads of shots of the takeoffs. Those with smoke systems -especially new smoke systems - love to use them! Stand up Race 391 and Race 77... It takes about 20 minutes to launch everyone, and it is not long after the last one has gone that the fast guys are back. It takes about an hour for everyone to complete the course and land back in. The slowest guys can opt to run the short course, and on this day the Aeronca and an Ercoupe did so.

Mike Smith was first back in his SX300, which is a very sweet airplane, and it was my lucky day, since he kindly agreed to take me for a flight in it :-) We snuck off before the prize giving, while the race organizers were determining everyone's times.

Race 35: The SX300

The SX300 is a kit plane, although only very experienced builders constructed these things as they are very complex. It has a Lycoming IO-580 engine that makes 380 horses at 2900rpm, which is about as big as it gets for normally aspirated single engine planes. It has a retractable undercarriage which looks like it's been stolen off an F-18. It is sleek and fast even standing still, with thin wings, a raked tail and few exposed aerials or other lumps or bumps.

Getting into the beast takes some balancing; you put one foot on the step and then climb up onto the wing, which in this case has been waxed and polished, so don't lose your footing! Step into the seat, ducking under the raised canopy, and slide down until your bum hits the leather. At this point, Jason came over and took a few shots of us in the cockpit.

Jason took this picture of Mike and I in the cockpit

Mike started the engine and we taxied down to the runway. He closed the canopy, lined us up and pushed the throttle forward. There is a proper throttle quadrant in this plane, and once we had some speed, he slid the ram air control forward as well, to add two inches of manifold pressure for extra power. We shot off the runway and into the air in no time at all. This aeroplane seriously moves! It has a 3,000ft/min climb rate without even trying. Mike pointed the nose up at a pretty steep angle and we took an elevator ride up several thousand feet in short order. This SX300 is a little rocket ship.

We leveled out at around 4,000ft and flew around the clouds a little, doing around 230-240kts. Mike regularly sees 300mph (260kts) in a race situation; this is a fast aeroplane. Mike explained how much he loves the airplane as a rapid cross country machine. He can cruise at 10,000ft doing 240kts indicated air speed, burning 15.5 gals per hour. It is very stable in flight, no vibration from the engine, and he can trim the controls for hands-free flight if he wishes. It's very comfortable too.

The panel; we're just at the top of the climb-out, here

Mike asked me if I would like to fly it, and not being one to turn down such an opportunity, I took the controls with delight. He warned me it was very sensitive in pitch, and he wasn't wrong. I tried some turns, and found the aircraft very willing to go into a steepish turn, but heavier on the controls when leveling out again. I also found myself climbing in the turns more than in other aircraft - there's that sensitive pitch, again. I enjoyed having my own set of controls on the right side of the panel - Mike has his instruments set up with the standard six-pack duplicated either side, and it's pretty much all analogue. My kind of panel! Nothing wrong with modern digital displays, but I like round dials and needles. His airspeeed indicator has an impressive amount of green arc before the yellow starts at around 245kts. Red line is at 272kts (313mph). I spent an excellent ten minutes chasing down cloud streets and valleys, before Mike took it back again.

Sleek Machine

He then demonstrated a couple of aileron rolls, which were beautifully stable and totally positive-G, so I did not fall into my straps at all, but could enjoy the view of the world spinning under the top of my head. Then he went for a barrel roll, which was very cool. I really could do these all day, I just love them! More and more these days, I am thinking that if I ever do get my pilot's licence, I want to do two things - take people for rides, and do aerobatics (not at the same time!). Lots of aerobatics. But I digress...

Ramp O' Racers

Pretty soon we had to get back to base, for the race prize giving. We made one pass over the airfield before landing, during which I was able to get some shots of the ramp full of race planes. I love to be able to do that, it is such fun to see them all together. The ramp was devoid of people though - they were all waiting for us inside so that Mike could be awarded his prize - oops! We dashed in and the prizes ensued, so I got busy taking photos of the winners.

Race 55: The Elyminator; Team Ely

After the ceremonies, Linda needed some filming done, so we rigged a couple of my GoPro cameras into Bobby's Bonanza and one in Linda and Mike's (yet another Mike) Grumman AA5A. We took off and made a couple of circuits, with Linda on the ground taking ground-to-air video. I rode in the Bonanza to make sure the camera angles were right. Linda wanted to get some footage of the Bonanza passing the Grumman over the airfield. It was fun to fly with Bobby again, he really knows his airplane - actually, I could say that of all the racers I have flown with, they are good pilots.

Race 26: Mike T

We landed back in and then it was time to leave. Mike T and I loaded up his RV-6 again and we set course for home. It had only taken us 40 minutes to fly north thanks to a stonking great tailwind, but going south it was on our nose and took an hour to fly back. We climbed to 6500-7000 feet where the air was cooler, just above the cloud tops. I was quite happy, watching the cloud banks slide up alongside us and drop away below. I looked at Mike and he threw in an aileron roll to liven the proceedings up... Oh yeah! So if anyone looked up in the Temple area, and watched a small plane do one solitary flip en route, that was us...

Chalk another very fun race day into my books, at least. I may not see the SARL guys until later in the season now; they fly races elsewhere in the country during the summer season and don't come back to Texas until October. So until then, I wish them happy, safe and successful racing.

Here's a video of several assorted clips from the day's flying:

I could do aileron rolls all day...

ISAP 2012 - Norfolk, Virginia

As some of you may know, I belong to the International Society of Aviation Photography, more commonly known as ISAP. This is an organization of some of the best aviation shooters in the world, and they still let the likes of me in!

ISAP has been running for over ten years now, and I have been a member for six of those years. Each year there is an annual symposium; three days of presentations, showcases, tutorials and the ever popular field trip day, in which we get to visit interesting places that one might not ordinarily be able to visit. In past years I have attended symposiums in Pensacola, FL; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV and San Diego, CA. This year, we headed east to Norfolk, Virginia.

It was really great to see everyone again, I have made a lot of friends in the years I've been going to ISAP symposiums. Although the numbers were a little down this time - some folks couldn't make it - there were plenty of new members, including some who joined after attending the Thursday night public session.

We had some excellent speakers, too. Scott Kelby boosted Adobe's profits by showing us all the new stuff in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6 - I came home and upgraded to LR4 because of this, and I know of several other folks who did similarly.... Carolyn Wright went over copyright law, while RC Conception explained lots of things regarding social media and maintaining an online presence. Scott Slocum demonstrated in-flight video techniques, Lyle Jansma showed his 360-degree cockpit photography. Jim Koepnik and pilot Bruce Moore showed their work from the last 20 years or so - Jim is the ISAP 2012 George Hall Lifetime Achievement winner this year, and his work showed why he deserved this. Canon and Nikon were both on hand to show their latest wares too, and both provided complimentary camera cleaning which I took advantage of.

A brace of FA-18s at NAS Oceana

The field trip day was a lot of fun. We started the morning at Naval Air Station Oceana, one of the main US Navy bases of which there seem to be many on the east coast here. Look on the map and the whole Norfolk and Virginia Beach area is a mass of military bases. Here at NAS Oceana, there were F-18s. Lots and lots of F-18s! More than I ever knew existed... We were guests of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-31, the 'Tomcatters', who fly FA-18/Es. The squadron really looked after us. They let us go all over the ramp, as far as the last parked jet, which was very close to the taxiway. There were F-18s from many other squadrons taxiing past to the hold points, one of which was directly in front of us, and the other was down the far end of the runway. So we got to shoot jets at various points in their takeoff sequences. We could also get plenty of shots of parked F-18s, with the only stipulation being that we didn't take pictures directly down the air intakes. Everyone enjoyed being around such intense noisy action, and the Squadron sold plenty of T-shirts and challenge coins, too :-)

An F-18 in CONA colours

The VFA-31 squadron bird

Next stop was the Military Aircraft Museum in Virginia Beach, which is home to a startlingly large number of WW1 and WW2-era aircraft. They were gearing up for holding an air show at the weekend. We visited on the Friday, with the hope that we'd see some aircraft practising their displays. Unfortunately the wind that day exceeded their airfield crosswind limits, so not much flew, although a C-46 did a fast, low pass down the runway which was very cool. Personally, I hardly noticed the lack of flying aircraft, since there was so much on the ground to keep us busy. I have never seen so many WW2 re-enactors, and the line of aircraft along the runway was seriously impressive.

A FW-190 starting up

It would have been easy to miss the WW1 hangar. In fact I did walk past it, before someone told me to go inside. I am so glad I did! There were all kinds of things in here. Three Fokker Triplanes! A Sopwith Camel, an SE-5A, a DR-7.... The building itself was a replica of an original French hangar of the period, built to modern standards and with hurricane protection - not really a factor in northern France.

Hangar full of WW1 aeroplanes

The C-46 on low approach

On Saturday it was back to the classroom, before the banquet which finishes the Symposium. This is always an entertaining affair, with a paper airplane contest and plenty of door prizes. This year's guests of honour were two Tuskegee Airmen, O. Lawton Wilkerson and Hilton Joseph, who spoke about their wartime experiences in the only Black squadron of the time. These two gentlemen had spent the entire weekend with us, and were taking pictures and enjoying themselves as much as anyone else was doing. It was an honour to spend time with them and to hear their stories.

Normally, that's it for ISAP, and everyone scoots off home on the Sunday morning. This year, about thirty of us stayed, in order to attend the Virginia Beach airshow. As it turned out, although they had very fine weather on the Saturday, the rain and storms had closed in on us for Sunday. We got over there in the dry, but it was overcast and threatening. Not much was going on, except the re-enactors were staying busy keeping all their stuff dry. However, the grey and damp conditions in the re-enactor camp looked a lot like 1940s Europe... so what is a pack of photographers to do? We took some of the most unusual pictures to be had all weekend!

A pilot leans on the Hawker Fury wing

About two hours after we arrived, the rain started to come down, and most of us took shelter in the main hangar. However there were still plenty of pictures to be had, of passing aircrew and wet aeroplanes with reflections in the ramp concrete. The C-46 made a reappearance and landed in out of the mist, which was a sight to behold.

A wartime photographer

We finally bailed around lunchtime, but we all had some great images, of the kind we would never have taken were it not for the damp conditions. Just goes to show that a rainy airshow is not necessarily a disaster! We repaired back to the hotel and spent much of the afternoon and evening talking as a group about ISAP and photography and friends, which was a thoroughly pleasant way to finish a great weekend. Roll on ISAP 2013!

The C-46 in the mist