An experience of a lifetime…
Almost all aviation photographers have one dream, crave one chance, an event that can make or break a career, and that is to be able to shoot Air 2 Air! Shooting an aircraft while up in another aircraft. This is where the magic really happens. Most photographers never get the chance at this, but on April 27th, 2012, I did.
Now, while I have flown in C-130’s, CH-53’s and CH-46’s, when I served as a grunt in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was really excited about the opportunity that was to befall me.
The Collings Foundation is a historical group based in Massachusetts, and they own several World War II, Korean and Vietnam Wars era aircraft that are available for Air Shows, and other events. Every year, the Foundation puts on a Country-wide Tour called the Freedom Tour, where they travel from State to State, from airport to airport, and attendees, are given up-close tours of the planes, and even the chance to go for a flight on them for a fee.
The planes include the B-17G Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” , the B-24J Liberator “Witchcraft”, the only one left in the world that’s capable of flight, and of course, the P-51C Mustang, named the “Betty Jane”.
Finding out about the tour in March, I made contact with Hunter Chaney of the Foundation, and I was able to secure a flight on the Witchcraft, when they would be moving the planes from Gillespi Field in El Cajon, CA. to Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, CA.
Arriving at Gillespi Field, I met many of the great volunteers and employees, who keep the show going. Wonderful people who all share a love of these warbirds, their histories, and love of Country. I also met several men who were former P.O.W.’s from WWII, some of which had actually been shot down by the Germans while flying in a B-17 or B-24. Truly as said before it’s our Greatest Generation of Americans.
Once, I was in the B-24, and we were ready for flight, we rumbled down the tarmac, and everything seemed to be shaking and creaking as the old girl made her way to the end of the runway. Suddenly, the roar of the engines drowned out any other noise, and we were rolling down runway, and then suddenly we were airborne and quickly climbing in attitude.
After several minutes, we given permission to stand and move from our seats, and the Mustang came along side of the B-24, and I started shooting away. Now I will say this, thank god for the Vibration Reduction (anti-shake) device in my lens. I shoot with Nikon, and I was using the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. While the bomber was a fairly steady platform to shoot from, it still was bouncing quite a bit, as I stood at the waste gunners windows, while the Mustang flew along side. Sure I could have shot at a very fast shutter speed to get sharp images, but the propellers on the Mustang would not have looked natural, and the VR helped me get sharp images with slower shutter speeds.
We flew towards the ocean passing MCAS Miramar along the way, and finally out over the Pacific and then north along the coast, even if the P-51 had not been present, it was still a beautiful day to fly along the coastline. After 20 minutes in the air, we landed at Palomar Airport, with a big bang, and standing, waiting for the those planes to arrive, were several hundred people, who wanted to tour the planes.
I want to thank Hunter Chaney and the rest of the Collings Foundation for giving me my first Air 2 Air experience, but for also preserving these wonderful warbirds, and to Joe Kates of Photorecon, who’s advise I sought and used while in the air.