2011 Aviation Events – My Year In Review
2011 Aviation Events – My Year In Review
In 2011, my main focus in aviation photography was to cover the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) from both the air show side of the celebration as well as some day-to-day operational coverage. I attended six out of the thirty five CONA Tier One events, plus a few others that contained Navy, Marine and/or Coast Guard participation. I took photos of all but one of the 27 official CONA “retro” painted aircraft, plus more than a few other colorfully-painted military aircraft. It was a great year for warbird watching too, with many aircraft teamed up at CONA events with active military aircraft. On the civilian side of things, I travelled to nearby Manchester NH and Boston MA airports to record some of the comings and goings of airliners, general aviation, and some special military operations – both Executive One and Air Force One operated into Manchester this year. Here are some quick reports, and a few favorite photos…
February 9-12, 2011: CONA Kickoff, NAS North Island CA
My first event of the year included four days in southern California. The weather was CAVU all four days; I spent time at MCAS Miramar and Brown Field to see the CONA Parade of Flight participants, as well as two days aboard NAS North Island. As far as I’m concerned, there are not enough superlatives to describe the main event that contained 87 static and over 200 aircraft in the air over San Diego Harbor. This show didn’t include aerobatics, but the two-hour long Parade of Flight, with warbirds and active military aircraft, was in my opinion the best display of military aircraft in the U.S. since (and arguably including) the Air Force 50th anniversary celebration at Nellis AFB in the 1990s.
April 4, 2011: Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force CONA Reunion, NAS Jacksonville FL
This was a one-day trip to attend the opening ceremonies of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force reunion and CONA celebration. The weather was perfect for photography; and although this was not a flying event, a number of aircraft participated in a mini parade of flight before all landed and parked for a static display. All three CONA-painted P-3s were in attendance, as well as the Navy’s only WZ-3A blimp. I met two blimp crewmembers from the 1950s during a tour of the airship too. The P-8A Poseidon arrival later in the day was a highlight for all.
April 21-23, 2011: Marine WTI, MCAS Yuma AZ
The weather for the three days I was in Yuma AZ was spectacular. The first two days of my trip allowed for photographs of participants on the Marine’s Weapons and Tactics Instructor’s course (WTI), featuring a large cross section of AV-8 Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets, C-130s, and EA-6B Prowlers. There were F-5Ns and a pair of Hawker Hunter aggressor aircraft too. One of the highlights of the trip was to be able to interview and photograph Marine Staff Sergeant Robert Wise, a WTI instructor on UH-1Ns, for an upcoming article. The noncombatant evacuation exercise in the city’s Kiwanis Park featured CH-53Ds, -Es, and CH-46Es, and offered some great photo opportunities of Marines employing their hardware. Although the Marines flew the majority of operations from the airport, I was treated to a pair of Boeing B787s and a B-747-8F jet operating daily from/to the Yuma airport doing pre-certification test flights. Of course, I took lots of photos of these new Boeing jetliners.
May 20, 2011: Joint Services Open House, Andrews AFB, MD
An overcast Spring day was the backdrop during my one day visit to the sprawling military air base outside our nation’s capital. The Thunderbirds solo jets used a 50/50 biofuel mixture during their show, and a planeside press conference that included the Undersecretary of the Air Force was an exclamation point on the day. Static display aircraft included a Russian Volga-Dnepr AN-124 that was used to transport military mine-resistant vehicles from the U.S. to Iraq and Afghanistan. Augusta Aerospace Corp. showcased two AW-139 helicopters that are in the running for military contracts too. Unfortunately, the runway nearest the crowd line was under reconstruction, limiting some photo possibilities.
May 21, 2011: Wings and Wheels, Stratford Sikorsky Airport, Bridgeport CT
A foggy and hazy Saturday morning scratched much of the early flying; a Piaggio Avanti made a missed approach and was barely visible as it climbed away. Visibility got a bit better by noon, and some great photo opportunities existed with old cars interspersed among some classic civilian planes such as the Berlin Airlift C-54, a Howard DGA-15P and assorted corporate jets and props.
June 25, 2011: Rhode Island National Guard Open House, Quonset Point RI
Another weather-impacted event, the Tier One CONA air show was missing some aircraft in the beginning that couldn’t arrive in time for the weekend due to lousy weather days before the show. On the one day that I could attend, fog and low clouds gave way to a surprisingly beautiful afternoon, which flew in the face of many local weather forecasts. A great afternoon flying program was salvaged from the morning’s fog-out. The Horsemen in their F8F Bearcats made a spectacular photo-pass entrance around noon, inbound from their weather-divert airport from the day prior. The Rhode Island National Guard’s Combined Arms demonstration, complete with pyro effects, was fun to watch and listen to.
July 27-28, 2011: EAA AirVenture Navy Day, Oshkosh WI
What a difference a day makes with weather conditions! My first afternoon was drenched with sunshine as I tried to take photos of as many aircraft as I could at the EAA’s AirVenture 2011. Day one included the salute to Bob Hoover, and an opportunity to interview the record-setting Sikorsky X-2 helicopter team. The morning of my second day, which was EAA AirVenture’s Navy Day, was washed away with continuous heavy rain and thunderstorms. Luckily, the afternoon improved to marginal photographic conditions. Many of the national CONA staff were present to talk to, and astronauts Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell (both former Naval Aviators) were interviewed by David Hartman in the evening.
August 10-13, 2011: Boston-Portsmouth Air Show, Portsmouth NH
Weather went from great to overcast through the weekend, but rain held off until after show ended. The second year of the show in its present format offered a much improved static display over the year before, and most of the first year issues with traffic and concessions were resolved this year too. I was a media liaison and photo tour coordinator, allowing for some great “behind the scenes” access for photography. I flew on a media ride aboard a NHANG KC-135 that refueled the Thunderbirds enroute to Pease. The Heavy Metal jet team sure turned heads, especially during their Friday practice show!
September 3, 2011: NAS Patuxent River Open House, Lexington Park MD
The air show was blessed with wonderful weather for the first day of the show, which I attended. There was a great static display full of specially painted CONA aircraft as well as some one-of-a-kind Navy test aircraft too. This was the Navy’s turn to highlight biofuel; all six Blue Angels jets and the V-22 Osprey in the show flew on 50/50 fuel blends. Art Nalls in his civilian-owned Sea Harrier flew a great routine, his opening pass was awesome. The opening flyby was a loose formation of an Osprey with the Curtis Pusher replica!
September 21-22, 2011: NAS Oceana Open House, Virginia Beach VA
The weather unfortunately went from bad to worse for this Tier One show. There was a decent static display with numerous CONA-painted aircraft, plus a New Orleans-based Air National Guard F-15 Eagle that wore triple Iraqi Air Force kill markings. Friday afternoon, the practice show went on, featuring the famous fleet flyby. The aircraft threw vapor across the sky. The Blue Angels hadn’t gotten too far along with their routine when an epic series of thunderstorms drenched the airport, ending the practices. How that CONA T-39 made it into the field during the heavy rain I’ll never know. Saturday morning’s low clouds and visibility were conquered by the inclusion of a C-9 and a C-40 making flybys after concluding PAR approaches that were broadcast over the PA system.
October 20-22, 2011: WTI, MCAS Yuma AZ
As was the case in the Spring, the weather was great all days. I had excellent access for the Kiwanis Park exercise again. I got to fly on a CH-53E media ride… it smelled and felt like I was in a radial-engined World War II bomber. Before the flight we received an excellent presentation on what the MAWTS-1 Weapons and Tactics Instructors exercise we’d see consisted of, and how it would unfold. We were escorted inside the MAWTS-1 operations building – no photos were allowed, but let me tell you – they have more big screen TVs on the walls with information on them than a well-equipped sports bar!
November 10-12, 2011: Blue Angels Homecoming, NAS Pensacola FL
Thursday’s cold, blustery overcast conditions gave way later in the afternoon to clear, calm and cold as the sun set. Friday’s weather was perfect for an air show, and Saturday continued to be decent. The Friday night show featured clear skies, but it was cold on the Florida Panhandle! An excellent group of 11 CONA aircraft marked the finale to the 35 Tier One events across the country during the year. There were lots of Navy warbirds that flew too. The unplanned flag jumper parachute cut away Saturday morning (successfully !) was the only safety-related issue I witnessed all year. I talked with F-35 crew, helicopter flight instructors and Air Force Navigator/Weapons System trainees. An excellent air show; and a great way to end the year!
Airliners, Airports, Etcetera:
Even though I flew to most of the above events, plus lots of unrelated business travel in 2011, my airport time was short and I had to plan ahead to take in some airliners and airport operations this year. My stops included Los Angeles International in February, Atlantic City in April, Boston Logan in September, Washington Regan National in October, plus multiple visits to the local Boston – Manchester airport, once to see the First and Second Ladies fly back to D.C., and twice to watch some of the “NASCAR Air Force” operations in conjunction with their auto races in July and September.
In all, I traveled to 10 states, and endured almost 30,000 miles of flying and driving just between sites and my home in New Hampshire. I spent as much or more time traveling to and from events as I did at them! Looking back, it was worth every moment, and every bit of sunburn and sogginess from the varied weather conditions this year. I’d do it again if I could… and I will because I’m already looking into events in 2012 surrounding the Marine Corps Centennial of Flight, the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner celebrations along the East Coast, plus a lot of local air shows.
I can’t wait to see what next year will bring… Ken Kula