USA April-May 2012
After a week in the UK, it was back to the States for a further nine days, starting with a flight to Atlanta from Heathrow on 27th April. Centered around the major airshows at MCAS Cherry Point and Robins AFB, a good amount of time was also spent around the Atlanta area. Shortly before heading down to LHR, came the news of a rare classic visitor at Manston, with the arrival of Mali Government B707-3L6B TZ-TAC on the 24th. Actually operated by Tombouctou Aviation for the government of President Toure, it had arrived from Constanta, Romania, for attention by AvMan Engineering Ltd. The aircraft's arrival, and reports that it is for sale, with removal of the registration after a couple of days, may well be linked to the military coup in Mali a month earlier. AvMan were certainly remaining tight-lipped about the aircraft, and being quite hostile towards any enquiries! However, after finding out the aircraft was still present, and hadn’t been pulled into the AvMan hangar, Ian ‘Elbow’ Ellington had decided to join me for the ride down to the South Coast, as both being 707 ‘freaks’, this was a chance not to be missed, especially as neither of us had any shots of it. These pictures can be seen in the UK April 2012 gallery.
DAY 1 FRIDAY 27TH APRIL
Setting off very early, driving straight to Manston, the plan was to get there just after dawn, to photograph everything before heading onto Heathrow, where another ‘slightly’ younger Boeing of interest was due in this morning. The miserable low cloud finally gave way to some breaks, with the 707 and the other vintage airliners present getting worked in the morning sun… job done. The others present, among the usual old classics retired here, included Air Atlanta B747-300 TF-ARU which was new since our last visit. This actually arrived on 21st January last year, and is parked fully intact apart from the missing number 1 engine, painted all white with a Saudi flag on the front end, after being operated for Saudi Arabian Airlines. Also photographed was RAF Nimrod XV229, which was the last MR2 to fly when arriving here almost two years ago. Thankfully still active is Stars Away International DC-8-62F ZS-OSI, which was visiting and parked up, as was two months old Falcon 7X G-SVNX of Executive Jet Charter, based at Farnborough. Finally, Aeronova Metroliner III EC-HCH was also visiting, and departed while we were there.
Leaving for Heathrow, hoping to avoid any rush hour jams, the weather had turned nasty, with a downpour as we got in position for a couple of hours of landing shots onto runway 27R. Of interest were B737-400 SP-LLF in LOT Charters colours, BMI A330 G-WWBM in Star Alliance colours (maybe the last chance to shoot one of these before they are sold), and B787-8 Demonstrator N787BX returning after a visit to Manchester, while on its ‘Dreamliner’ world tour.
So, after dropping the Elbow off at Hatton Cross and returning the hire car, it was off to T5 and check in for BA227 to Atlanta. Operated by B777-200 G-VIIM, take off was at 1625, landing 7.35 hours later at 2000L. Arriving late was also bad timing, with the KLM also just landing… passport control was rammed full of angry Brits and Cloggies as the system went down. Awesome! Even without this… ATL… what an airport to go through! After around 2.5 hours I was finally sat in the rental car, not really with the energy to then drive two hours in the dark to Robins AFB! At least it was a half decent Camry with an easy enough satnav.
DAY 2 & 3 SATURDAY 28TH & SUNDAY 29TH APRIL
Warner Robins AFB, or just Robins AFB as it seems to be known these days, were hosting Air Show 2012 on 28-29th April, and as one of the US Shows that has gone to being held only once every two years, i didn’t want to miss this. The big interest here, is the base being home to the E-8C J-Stars (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) aircraft. These very busy, high asset aircraft are not suprisingly, rarely seen at airshows, with Robins certainly the only place to see one in a flying display, aswell as the static. E-8C’s involved in the show this year were 02-9111/GA (the last aircraft to be modified and delivered, in March 2005), which was open in the static, and 97-0200/GA, which flew on both days (after it’s appearance at the Barksdale show the previous weekend).
Currently there are 16 operational E-8C J-Stars, after one aircraft (93-0597) was w/o in a near-fatal incident in the Middle East in 2009. In addition, is TE-8A 86-0416, previously a development aircraft, which is now used as a trainer (and still thought to be flying), and E-8C 90-0175/JS ‘Eye In The Sky’ which is retained by Northrop Grumman as a flying testbed, based at Melbourne, FL. Operated by the 116th ACW (Air Control Wing), which is made up of Georgia ANG and active duty crews, the Wing consists of two operational squadrons, the 12ACCS and 16ACCS (Airborne Command and Control Squadron). With regular deployments and permanent detachments overseas, including at the main Middle East base at Al Udeid, Qatar, most aircraft are stationed away from Robins at any one time. During this show, a total of seven were seen on base, with six parked on their ramp on the opposite side of the runway, on the East side of the airfield. Built as ‘real’ (mostly civilian) B707-300’s, the airframes have been heavily modified to feature a large 40ft long canoe-shaped fairing under the forward fuselage, housing the 24ft long APY-7 phased array antenna. Aswell as this prominent external feature, the cabin contains 18 operator workstations, with video displays, similar in layout and appearance to the E-3 AWACS. The J-Stars mission… as trialled and tested in the first Gulf War, is to provide a battlefield management aircraft to monitor and track ground troops and vehicle movements. Basically, an AWACS monitors the sky and the J-Stars monitors the ground, hence the location of their respective radars. Because of the location of the J-Stars main radar unit, this has to be considered when planning upgrades to the aircraft. One important upgrade, to make the aircraft more reliable and efficient, is the engine replacement program. The plan to replace the original old JT-3D’s with ‘slimline’ JT-8D’s was decided after considering that larger engines (as on the RC-135 upgrade) would not be suitable, because of the close proximity to the radar. However, despite the JT-8D’s being fitted and tested on the ‘Eye In The Sky’ at Melbourne (and first flown in December 2008), the program may have been put on hold. With still no sign of the new engines on the operational fleet, the Air Force continues to consider other options for the J-Stars mission. Firstly, there was the B767-400 based E-10A, which was cancelled, with a new version of the Boeing P-8 now a possibility. So, the planned in service date until 2025 may now be looking optimistic, though it would certainly be a shame to see these real classics go.
Also of interest at Robins is the WR ALC (Air Logistics Center), which provides major overhaul facilities for the C-5, C-17A, C-130 & F-15 (and apparently U-2?). Some of these aircraft, mostly stripped to bare metal, can be seen around the many large hangars, though very difficult to photograph, being well away from the airshow ramps. However, ‘those folks’ like to be involved in the airshow, with stripped down aircraft, aswell as some finished, post-PDM (Programmed Depot Maintenance) aircraft usually appearing in the static and ‘Robins Parade’ flying display. Those Brit’s present at this years show may have had a wry smile, after seeing the F-15E’s involved in the show included 48FW Lakenheath aircraft, with 91-0303/LN & 01-2004/LN both finished and painted (though without unit markings), with the former in the static, and the latter in the flying display on both days. Aswell as these, the static also featured F-15E 87-0204, stripped without wings and engines, among many missing parts. This was last operated by the 389FS/366FW (MO) at Mountain Home. AC-130U 89-0514 was even more stripped down, with wings and fin removed, and empty bags where those brutal guns usually live. This was last operated by the 4SOS/1SOW at Hurlburt Field and named ‘Maximum Carnage’. Finally, three other ‘heavies’ (post-PDM) displayed were AFRC C-5A 69-0006 from Kelly, C-17A 00-0180 ‘McChord’ and AFRC C-130H 89-9106 ‘Youngstown’. In addition to the F-15E and E-8C, the ‘Robins Parade’ flyers also included AFRC C-5B 87-0031 from Westover and C-130H 84-0209 of the Delaware ANG at Wilmington (both post-PDM), aswell as C-27J 07-27011. This is one of several currently based here with the JCA (Joint Cargo Aircraft) School, run by L-3 Communications, training crews on this new aircraft. Another, 07-27010 was present in the static, with both just painted overall light grey, still wearing US Army titles. Following the abandoned plan to have the Army operate the aircraft, the Spartan is now being operated by USAF ANG units, with around 7-9 different bases receiving or planned to receive the aircraft.
Also on static display, highlights were Columbus T-1A 95-0048/CB ‘48FTS’ and T-6A 99-3556/CB ‘Flying Buzzsaws’, US Army C-23C 93-01331 of the GA ARNG (based here with H Company of the 171st Aviation Regiment), 20FW F-16DJ 90-0842/SW of 55FS & F-16CJ 91-0376/SW of 77FS (bosses aircraft with tiger fin band) from nearby Shaw AFB, Barksdale AFRC ‘Dogpatchers’ A-10C 79-0105/BD with ‘Daisy Mae’ nose art, Civil Air Patrol Airvan N471CP (along with the more usual Cessna 172), FedEx A300-600F N721FD, Delta Airlines B757-200(WL) N650DL, Berlin Airlift C-54E N500EJ ‘Spirit of Freedom’ and B-25J N62163/44-86697/3L ‘Killer B’ flown in RAF markings by the Flying Tigers from Kissimmee, FL. Also from Florida was KC-135T 60-0335 from MacDill, while from Offutt came TC-135W 62-4129/OF, the 55Wg Rivet Joint Trainer. Finally, a pair of US Marines choppers displayed were UH-1N 158269/MP-12 and AH-1W 165324/MP-04, both from HMLA-773 ‘Red Dogs’ based here.
In addition were a couple of aircraft retired for display, with what appeared to be 76-0043/GA, an F-15C partly sanded down (including the serial), from the old ANG unit when operated here. Another, recent arrival at Robins, and probably a surprise for many to see at a show like this, was Gulfstream 2SP N492JT. This very special aircraft also has a very sad story to tell. Recently donated to the nearby Museum of Aviation by John Travolta, the aircraft is an early production Gulf 2 (086) built in 1970, and is named ‘Jettson’ after his son Jett, with the 492 representing his birthdate (April 92). Just after New Years Day in 2009, John used the aircraft to rush back to the Bahamas, where the family were on holiday, after Jett had suffered a seizure, and died as a result. Following arrival here, the aircraft will be transported by road to the nearby museum for display, being chosen for its location in Georgia, the birthplace of Gulfstream (at Savannah).
On the flightlines and flying were T-33A N933GC/21306 ‘Ace Maker’ (ex RCAF), C-47A N99FS ‘Jungle Skippers’, Sky Soldiers UH-1H N104HF/68-16104 & AH-1F N766HF/67-15766, P-51D NL351DT/41-3806/DS ‘Crazy Horse’ (really 44-74502), the famous Red Tail Project P-51C NX61429/A4-2 ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ and Blue Angels F/A-18C’s ‘1-6’. Also flying, but parked under shelters out of sight, were Langley F-22A’s 09-4177/FF & 09-4179/FF, with the former flying on the Saturday and the latter on the Sunday. Following the recent issues with the aircraft, airshow appearances have been reduced, so the chance to see the powerfull performance that these put on was the highlight of the show, especially when joining with Mustang ‘Crazy Horse’ for the Heritage Flight formation display. Speaking with the F-22 guys here, they didn’t put one of the Raptors on static display in case it needed to be pulled out quickly, in the event of any problems with the flying aircraft. At least those that came both days got to see both aircraft fly, with the few (i only saw one other photographer) that didn’t rush off after the show on the Sunday, getting to see both aircraft put on spectacular departures, when returning home to Langley. Parked close to the flightline, but not flying, was temporary support aircraft for the Blue Angels. USMC KC-130T 162310/QH from VMGR-234 ‘Rangers’ at Fort Worth has been nicknamed ‘Ernie’ and retains the regular squadron colours, but features the Blue’s badge and crew names on the left nose next to the crew door. This is being used while the usual Herk ‘Bert’ is on a maintenance check. Normally the ‘Fat Albert’ display is also done at Blue Angels shows, but maybe ‘Ernie’ had an engine problem, as it didn’t fly during this show, though taxied to the end of the runway for engine runs after the show on the Saturday. On the Sunday another Herk then appeared, with AFRC C-130J-30 02-8155 ‘Flying Jennies’ from Keesler called in to support the Blues return home.
Finally, after the Saturday show, US Army medevac HH-60M 08-20138 took off from around the far hangars, while similar 08-20136 departed after the Sunday show. These are operated by the 185th AVN Georgia ARNG from nearby Winder, and were presumably returning home after providing medevac cover for the show. Also on the Sunday after the show, based AH-1W 165290/MP-02 was noted inbound, landing back at the HMLA-773 ramp over the runway. After the Saturday show, i continued to shoot the static, on the near empty ramp, in great light. Problem was, by the time I’d finished, the final shuttle bus had left on the park and ride run. Thanks to those great USAF folks though, one of them gave me a lift back to my lone rental sat at the local football stadium car park!
Despite the late departure, there was still a couple of hours of fantastic light, so decided to nip up to the local regional airport at Macon, ten minutes away. No schedules to mention here, but the airport has a couple of MRO’s, aswell as an FBO handling a couple of biz-jets present, with highlight being classic Westwind 2 N870BA. At the TIMCO facility, a US Airways B737-400 was parked outside (retired or for maintenance?), while at the Bombardier facility, a couple of Delta Connection CRJ-700’s and executive CRJ-100SE N601LS were present. This may currently be stored, and previously had huge ‘Victoria’s Secret Angels Across America’ titles, unfortunately now removed!
After a long, very hot day, the first day at the Robins show was a great success. Temperatures were up around ten degrees on average, getting up to almost a hundred, bringing out record crowds of around 110,000 people. Sunday also had fantastic weather, with around 70,000 in attendance. After the Sunday show i had a quick drive to the Museum of Aviation, very close by. Knowing it would be closed, i still got a couple of quick shots ‘over the fence’ in the great light, before returning first thing the next morning to have a proper look around…
DAY 4 MONDAY 30TH APRIL
After the drive straight from Atlanta ATL on the Friday night, todays plan was to head back there at a more leisurly pace, taking in a few airfields of interest along the way. Again, the weather was perfect, with first stop back at the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation, which is just to the South of the base, right on the highway. Getting in early as the gates were open, i got everything outside done first, while there was nobody around, before having a look inside.
Highlight for me is the classic EC-135N 61-0327. After operating as an ARIA (Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft) with large radar nose conversion, the aircraft was then converted to an airborne command post in 1987, based at Robins with the 19ARW. During this time it was assigned to USCENTCOM (US Central Command) for both General’s Norman Schwarzkopt and Tommy Franks, during the Gulf War’s in 1991 and 2003 respectively. Then, after retirement in 2003, the aircraft arrived here in March 2006.
Again, only mentioning a few of the highlights at this large, very well kept museum… B-1B 86-0098/GA ‘Midnight Train’ from the old 116BW based at Robins, B-52D 55-085, C-141C 65-0248 ‘March’, C-130E 64-0496/RS previously based at Ramstein (before use as an instructional airframe at Robins), RF-101C 56-0229 displayed in Taiwan AF markings as 41518/5656, RB-66D 55-0392, USAF/NASA WB-57H 63-13293 (which operated as NASA928 as an air sampler for the Dep of Energy), and Lightning F53 ZF593/L displayed with 5Sq markings in green/grey RAF camo (though is actually ex R Saudi AF). This is infact the only Lightning displayed at a museum in the States. Another one-off here is YMC-130H 74-1686, the only remaining ‘Credible Sport’ Hercules. This was the ill-fated project to highly modify three C-130’s with extreme STOL capabilities in 1981. The mission… to land in a Tehran football stadium, rescue 53 American hostages (held after the Islamic Revolution), and get out. Of the three converted, this was the prototype, another crash landed during testing, while the other was converted back to a standard C-130H, after the project was cancelled. A third Herk here is AETC C-130E 63-7868 ‘The Rock’, while other ‘big stuff’ includes AMC C-124C 0-10089 (this now rare double-decker came long before that French rubbish!), KC-97L 53-0298 (N2987W), EC-121K 141297 in USAF markings (though an ex US Navy Research Lab aircraft), MATS Atlantic C-54G 0-50579, Vietnam vet C-7B 63-9756/KN, C-119C 51-2566 and ancient AC-130A 55-0014 ‘Jaws of Death’, which last saw action in Desert Storm (with 21 mission marks on the nose). Other, smaller transports present include CT-39A 62-4461 (previously a common sight when based in Europe) and AC680F N37948 (painted as USAF ‘37948’).
A recent historic aircraft to arrive, infact present in the restoration compound (normally) out of bounds for the public, being worked on prior to display, was F-15C 79-0078/MA ex 104FW MA ANG. With two green ‘Mig-21’ kill marks on the nose, the aircraft took out two Iraqi Mig-21’s in February 91 at the start of the Gulf War. Flown by the 53TFS/36TFW at Bitburg (BT) at the time, the same pilot then wasted an SU-22 (when flying 84-0010/BT six weeks later) to make him a top ‘ace’ in the conflict. Among other bits and pieces in the compound, was RQ-4A fuselage 02-2011 (AF-4). This Block 10 Global Hawk was operated by the 12RS, and retired after 357 missions (more than any other), being only the second of the type for display in a museum (following the first at Wright-Patterson), arriving here last September, with plans to hang it inside when restored.
Of the two large hangars here, the Century of Flight hangar was hosting a special event, with a large seating area layed out. A bit difficult to start taking shots, with the national anthem and speeches going on! So missing out on the SR-71A and U-2 etc, i headed to the other hangar, to find a real jem… VC-140B 61-2488, previously operated by the 89MAW at Andrews. Among the other classics here, a C-46A was impossible to get a shot of, while a pair of Phantoms were being worked on, with an interesting story involved. The guys working on the aircraft, who kindly let me into the restoration area to photograph them, explained… F-4C 63-7485 is ex 163TFG CA ANG, and was restored & painted as Vietnam Mig-killer ‘37-485/FG’ for display here. After all that work, it has now been taken off display and will be used for parts in the restoration of another Phantom here, with the remaining airframe then offered to another museum as a project or parts. Meanwhile, F-4D 66-0554/DO is still marked as 906TFG AFRES from Wright-Patterson, and has just been brought in after display outside here. As a real double Mig-killer, taking out two Mig-17’s using its 20mm cannon in November 67, it will now be restored as such and painted back into 8TFW (FP) markings.
Finally getting away, heading back towards Atlanta, first stop was another quick look at Macon, with no change since Saturday evening. Next stop was Griffin, previously a bit of a propliner haven (including Carvair’s based), but now a shadow of that. Three (almost) DC-3’s are now present here, with the familiar N143D ‘Herpa Wings’ still having the 75th anniversary badge on the fin, from the big event at Rock Falls and Oshkosh in 2010. Lance Toland has N173RD in his hangar, which is in bare metal with ‘Everlast’ logo on the right side and ‘Algonquin Airlines’ on the left side. Still also visible are the Trans-Canada Air Lines titles, when operated as CF-TEG many years ago. This Dak has an intersting history, with unusual large rectangular windows, from when used by the FAA for flight calibration work. Later, it flew around the world in 1986 as C-FGXW, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the DC-3 and the World’s Fair at Vancouver. The third Dak present, is just a few sections left of CF-CUG. Actualy registered as N9891A, this was recently dismantled, with the fuselage taken to the Omni Film Studios near Vancouver last summer, to be used as a prop in TV series Arctic Air. What remians here are the centre-wing and rear fuselage sections, with the fin still showing the old faded Air North colours and Canadian reg. Aswell as his Dak, Lance Toland has a couple of other aircraft present here, being a very keen aviation enthusiast. In addition to his personal ride, an all black EC120B N421PB, his hangar also contained 1955-era Pilatus P3 N820LT, still in original bare metal Swiss AF markings as A-820. Also, parked outside, looking a bit tatty, is Jet Provost T3A N6204H, still in the original RAF 1FTS markings as XM461/19.
Finally for Griffin, next to the airfield is the large compound belonging to Atlanta Air Recovery. This company specializes in aircraft accident site clean up, and subsequent storage facilities for such wrecks, aswell as retired aircraft. Suprisingly, because of the circumstances behind a lot of these wrecks (some of which were involved in fatal accidents), they don’t mind photographers walking around their site taking shots. There is however, one fenced off section that they ask no photos are taken, which contains wrecks now owned by insurance companies. Apart from light aircraft, this smaller area only contained a couple of biz-jets anyway (which I won’t mention!). The main site really is amazing to walk around, with who knows how many aircraft remains present (and small warehouses containg thousands of parts). Only the most serious (or deranged) spotter would try and log everything here, with most airframes/fuselage sections tightly packed together, so needing a lot of clambering around to get some identities! A look at the companies website shows a slideshow of some amazing images taken of their wreck recovery work… http://atlantaairrecovery.com/
For most, the presence of a lot of biz-jet wrecks are the main interest here, with a few exotic reg’s on some smaller stuff. First thing I spotted was the remains of a familiar old Gulfstream, which brought back memories from my first trip to the States, to Florida at the end of 1999 with the Elbow. Gulf 2 N901WG with large ‘Wings of Justice’ titles, was seen at Stuart-Witham Field back then, doing some low smokey overshoots! This was owned by Willie Gary and his law firm, based in Stuart, who have since upgraded to a B737. The Gulfstream was WFU at Savannah by 2008, before being roaded here. Others photographed (and identified) included Falcon 20C UR-NIK ex Sirius Air (with ‘Techno-Centre’ titles), Falcon 10 N945MC, Learjet 55 I-KILO (w/o at Sevilla on 4/4/94), id jet Cessna 501SP 9A-CHC, Cessna 421A I-LIOS ex Air Sardinia, Cessna 425 OE-FBH, Beech A100 OO-TLS (w/o 8/1/94), S-76A++ N22342 ex Petroleum Helicopters (w/o 22/10/06 while attempting to land on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico) and Beech 99A N491BB (w/o at St. Barts on 31/12/99, as another victim of a dodgy landing there) which has the now ironic sounding titles ‘Think Smarter, Fly Charter’! Also present, was an Argentinian twin, which I can’t recall as it was impossible to get a decent shot, while the latest biz-jet arrival was probably Gulfstream 150 N480JJ of Jimmy Johnson Racing. This was w/o on 31/10/11 at Key West when it came off the runway due to brake failure. A recent picture shows it being trucked here on 5th December.
One more quick stop before reaching ATL, was made at Hampton-Tara Field. This is located next to the large Atlanta Speedway Stadium, and worth a look for a few tasty old classics. First thing seen was nice old Learjet 25D N842GL, which was parked outside a hangar where a couple of Twin Otters were being worked on (that i forgot to go back to… doh!). 1967 built classic Sabreliner 60 ‘N-36RZ’ (306-2) was also parked up. Last flight tracked on flightaware was Opa Locka to here on 8/1/10, so may not have flown since then? Another classic, in nice condition which does still fly , was all silver Beech C-45H N231SK of Jim Hankins Air Service. This is a Volpar Turboliner I conversion, with turbine engines, which certainly gave this 1954 built aircraft a new lease of life. This was parked outside a hangar which contained similar Beech G18S N81CK, being worked on. Also owned by Jim Hankins, this is a Volpar Turboliner II conversion, painted all white. Finally, also located here is the Sky Soldiers hangar. The Army Aviation Heritage outfit operates a few Vietnam-era choppers at airshows, and has a lot of old airframes here, obviously used for parts etc. This was closed during my visit, but aswell as around a dozen old UH-1 fuselages in a compound around the back, UH-1H 72-21481 was present in front of the hangar. Complete, though without rotors, and painted in a brown and white US Army scheme, the data-spec on the side also had ‘Dyncorp Ft. Rucker, AL 5-10-96’.
From here it was straight onto Atlanta ATL airport. This first visit, for the remainder of this afternoon and overnight, was at a hotel which was recommended by a local photographer (while chatting with at the Robins show). Everyone knows about the Renaissance Concourse Hotel here (more on this later), one of the best ‘spotter’ hotels in the world . However, certainly not as well known is the Best Western, located on the North East perimeter, around 1.5 miles directly East of the Renaissance, which has very good views of aircraft landing on runway 26R. This much cheaper alternative hotel has ten floors, with rooms facing the airport, which have outside balconies, so are ideal for photographers. The advice to stay here was spot on, and I would recommend it to other photographers. The only negative point to be made regarding both hotels though, is they are South facing, looking towards the airport, so the sun is never perfectly on the sides of the aircraft. However, maybe only around mid-day could the sun be a problem, with the morning and afternoon/evening lighting fine (during the Summer). Atlanta ATL has a few aircraft of interest for those chasing older classic aircraft, and not just coming here for the hoards of Delta. Aswell as the NMCA & Delta Heritage Museum’s (more on these later), for not much longer there are the Delta DC-9-50’s. Being the home town of Delta, this major hub is obviously the best place to catch most of these before they are all gone, especially with the good ‘photo hotels’ enabling great shots. The same goes for Air Tran, with their B717’s & B737’s which are also very busy here and will soon be gone. If your gonna shoot the common stuff, this is a great place to do it! Including ‘26R, which is a regular landing runway, there are 5 active runways here, in fairly constant use. These are all parallel, so its quite a sight to see the three rows of aircraft on approach simultaneously. Why does it need so many runways? Simple, ATL is the busiest airport in the world, and has been since 2000 (with over 92 million passengers last year)! So, as well as the three landing runways, there are the two departure runways, with ‘26L also being close to the two photo-hotels, although only the Renaissance is good for ‘26L rotation shots. Of course, with three landing runways, this means the majority of landing aircraft can not be photographed. Not much you can do about that!
Today, including the Delta DC-9-50's photographed: N401EA, N764NC, N767NC & N786NC, a couple of other highlights on ‘26R were Swift Air B737-400 N737DX (which commonly operates sports charters) and Delta Connection CRJ-700 N740EV, which has ‘Silver & Soaring, Celebrating ASA’s 25 Years’ logo’s. This was painted as such when delivered new in July 2004, as the company celebrated its 25th anniversary. Since then, ASA (Atlantic Southeast Airlines) was rebranded as ExpressJet Airlines on 1st Jan this year (so the ‘ASA’ has gone off the nose). Not a ‘retro-jet’ as such, the aircraft still retains the previous Delta ‘Wavy Gravy’ scheme, otherwise known as ‘Deltaflot’!
DAY 5 TUESDAY 1ST MAY
Taking advantage of the good photospot, I continued shooting from the hotel for the first few hours today, before checking out. More Delta Nine’s photographed on ‘26R were: N600TR, N766NC & N767NC, while other highlights included FedEx Express B757-200F N995FD (ex F-GTIB), World Atlantic MD-82 N803WA, AirTran B717 N936AT (‘Indianapolis Colts’ logo-jet), Southwest B737-700 N713SW (‘Shamu’ logo-jet) and the other Delta Connection ‘Silver & Soaring’ CRJ-700 N738EV (in the same scheme as N740EV).
Todays plan then… after Atlanta ATL, was to Atlanta-Fulton, before on to Marietta-Dobbins AFB (where the next two nights digs were). Fulton is ten miles to the North West of ATL, and a reasonably busy GA airfield, with a few biz-jet movements, so worth calling in for a short time. Just to the left of the small terminal here is a nice grassy viewing area with a few picnic tables, looking down over the fence onto the ramp where most visiting biz-jets seem to park. Better for shots in the morning, following the perimeter fence around to the left will also provide good views over most of the ramps there. Nothing amazing seen, with seven US biz-jets photographed, including based Hawker 800XP N107CE and Gulf 5 N108CE of Coca Cola.
Onto Marietta-Dobbins AFB, ten miles further North, this is of course the home of Lockheed-Martin’s production facility for the C-130J and F-22A Raptor. As well as this, the airfield is also home to the AFRC 94AW flying C-130H’s, aswell as a US Army UC-35B unit and a GA ARNG unit with Blackhawks & Lakotas. First stop though was the Aviation Museum on the North East perimeter of the airfield. Not suprisingly this mostly features Lockheed built aircraft, with highlight for me being classic Jetstar 8 N428DA. Other highlight is C-141B 66-0186, which is painted in a white & grey ‘VIP’ scheme after being assigned to the CINCMAC (Commander In Chief, Military Airlift Command). Prior to this, the aircraft was designated YC-141B, when used as the prototype for the 23.5ft stretch modification on the Starlifter, first flying as such in March 77. Now looking weathered, the aircraft needs some work, with engines, flaps and leading edges missing. Also present are four ex US Navy aircraft, with A-6 155648/AF and A-7E 157452/AF-500, both ex VA-205 ‘Green Falcons’ (from NAS Atlanta here), S-3B 159743 ex VX-20 ‘Force’ (test aircraft from Patuxent River) and F-14A 160909/AF-101 ex VF-201 ‘Hunters’ (from NAS Fort Worth).
Driving around the Marietta perimeter, there are a few locations where the C-130 test flight ramp and US Army Guard ramp are visible, but shots are very difficult. Landing shots are also difficult, from either end of the runway, with no ideal location to shoot from. Probably the best spot is from a car park in the industrial estate, to the South of the final approach on runway 29 (in the afternoon), although the airfield can’t be seen because of trees. In any case, this place is very hit and miss, and can be dead at times. Talking with one local photographer present, he didn’t expect much flying today, with no C-130’s taken off on test flights (so none due to return). So, after shooting based US Army UC-35B 99-0103 in the circuit, i got bored and decided to head off, to another airfield i wanted to fit in over the two days while in this area…
Cartersville Airport is 25 miles to the North West of Marietta, and is the home base of Phoenix Air. With a fleet of Learjets and Gulfstreams, the company’s main business is the ‘Phoenix Force’, providing similar services to the US Military (and occasionaly other nations) as Cobham do for the UK Military. The aircraft can be fitted with various pods and equipment on underwing hard points for real-time threat training, providing realistic electronic attack, radar jamming and target towing services etc. Learjet 35/36’s present, lined up on the ramp today were: N32PA, N54PA, N71PG, N80PG, N527PA/VA, N544PA, N545PA/GA & N547PA/GA. Of these, the three ‘coded’ aircraft were painted in matte grey military-style scheme with Phoenix Air titles, with the two ‘GA’ aircraft also having tiger-style stripes. A ninth Learjet present was N56PA, which was in a hangar, with an underwing pod fitted (looked like an ALQ-167 ECM pod). It seems the aircraft are not fitted with any external stores until a particular mission is known, with all the Learjets outside being ‘clean’.
The company also operates the Gulfstream 1 on similar duties, and is now the world’s largest operator of this classic aircraft. Among the missions flown by these, they include launching the Northrop BQM-74 Chukar Aerial Target Drone for the US Navy, from an under-belly hard point. Unfortunately, the guys here were not too keen on the Gulf 1’s being photographed from airside, so lets just say I was ‘discreet’. As well as a couple in a hangar being worked on, two outside appeared operational: N190PA (c/n 195) and N193PA (125). The latter still retains basic NASA colours, after operating for them as N5NA from 1976-1997. Two others outside were certainly WFU, with engines and other parts missing: N167PA (117) reg canx March 05 after being WFU, and N820CB (093) in ‘Aero Marti’ colours with a SatCom antenna on the roof. This aircraft has a very interesting story behind it...
Following Radio Marti and TV Marti, the US OCB (Office of Cuba Broadcasting) set up ‘Aero Marti’ and started flights out of Key West in October 2006 using this Gulf 1, operated by Phoenix Air. This replaced the USAF EC-130 ‘Commando Solo’ flights, with the intention of broadcasting live ‘accurate and objective news and programming to the Cuban people, avoiding the electronic interference and information blockade from the regime’. Named after Cuban national hero, Jose Marti, previously TV Marti was only able to broadcast recorded TV. Flying six days a week, prime time between 6pm and 11pm, even the aircrafts registration was personalized, with ‘82’ being the year that Reagan approved the creation of Radio Marti, and ‘0CB’ for the US OCB. However, in reality, its reported the broadcasts were pretty much a total failure, being successfully jammed by the Cubans, with the flights thought to have ended some time ago. Subsequent controversy has been the US Governments continued payment to Phoenix Air for the contract, costing $80,000 a year for an aircraft that has now been grounded since 2011!
Cartersville certainly is an interesting little airfield, and quite unusual that there are no fences between the main road that goes right past it (the Dallas Hwy SW) and the main ramp! Of course, Phoenix Air monitor cameras (as does a security guard overnight), so its still best to ask before just walking out, as you will be seen! Aswell as the Phoenix aircraft, occasional biz-jets and GA call in, with new Cessna 510 Mustang N378CM ‘High Sierra Edition’ demonstrator arriving during my visit. Also, one ‘interesting’ tin present is 1947 built Seabee N6314K, derelict without wings (reg cancelled in 1996). From here it was straight back to the hotel at Marietta.
DAY 6 WEDNESDAY 2ND MAY
Today was a special day for Lockheed-Martin at Marietta, with the official handover of the last F-22A Raptor built. An official ceremony had been arranged for this, with a few visiting VIP’s, seeing 10-4195/AK destined for the 525FS at Elmendorf, Alaska. Infact, the last two were being handed over, with 10-4193/AK also being readied to leave. Unfortunatly, their departure was planned for Friday 4th, when I would be on my way to Cherry Point, so was unable to catch it (in the end they actually left on Saturday 5th).
Following a USAF C-21A, which had arrived very early, another ‘VIP’ arrived in C-20B 86-0202 from the 99AS/89AW at Andrews. This is one of those ‘discreet’ USAF Gulfstreams, painted all white with a thin beige cheatline and no national insignia. Aswell as these, Kalitta Charters Falcon 20C N995CK also arrived and departed, but that was it! Watching from the perimeter, any hope of a little display by the last Raptor was forgotten, as the two VIP jets departed and the Raptor was towed back across the runway to the factory. OK, the Gulf was nice to shoot, but a bit of a wasted morning really. So, not wanting a possible full day of boredom, i gave up on this place and decided to spend the afternoon at the next place on the agenda… Atlanta-Peachtree.
Peachtree certainly can’t be described as boring, being one of the busiest GA airfields in the country, with a lot of biz-jets present and fairly constant movements. As well as this, the other great thing about this place, are the excellent viewing facilities. Located next to the tall control tower, there is a grassy area with picnic tables and toilets, and a little stadium-shaped raised seating area next to, and overlooking the fence. Perfect! Ideal time to visit here is certainly the afternoon, when the sun will be behind you for the rest of the day, with the main runway quite close, and the near taxiway very close with a wide-angle needed for some biz-jets taxying from/to the various FBO’s. A good decision to have the afternoon here, with highlights being ‘QS3’ hush-kitted Gulfstream 3 N500GF of the Waffle House, classic 1975 Gulf 2 N468HW of Night Flight, Vegas (painted all green with large red dice!), old Falcon 200 demonstrator N200FJ, Avanti N164SL, Phenom 100 N629JJ and star visitor, new Hawker 900XP LV-CTE of Traido Desde La Fabrica (delivered new in January) being worked, among the hordes of ‘regular’ US biz.
DAY 7 THURSDAY 3RD MAY
Todays plan… another, quick look around Peachtree, then on to the two museums at ATL, before checking in at the Renaissance. So, a couple of nice aircraft photographed at Peachtree this morning included Air Falcon PC-12 N94FE in a nice scheme with ‘Falcon’ titles, Beechjet 400A N500TH (the 500th built), all black classic Learjet 25D N125JW, and another classic, Westwind 1124 N942WC of HMV Aviation. I’d noticed this on flightaware, and caught the take off for Jacksonville.
From Peachtree, heading back to the ATL area, next call was to the NMCA (National Museum of Commercial Aviation). This is quite a new museum, with a temporary shop unit close to the South East perimeter at ATL (located just off I75). The NMCA has long-term plans to set up at their future permanent site, which is even closer, just across the I75 from ATL, to feature restored vintage airliners. At the moment, the future site, where their first two aircraft are already located, can only be accessed with prior arrangement with the museum. The shop unit is worth a visit as well, with in addition to a couple of simulators, many airline artifacts and a gift shop, there is also the cockpit section of Martin 404 N9234C (c/n 143). This was originally delivered to Eastern as N452A in 1952, and was later the private aircraft of Ray Charles in the 60’s, before ending its days derelict in bare metal at Sheridan, Wyoming. Last year, the museum acquired the cockpit section (with the rest of the airframe to be scrapped), which will be restored into the original Eastern livery.
Heading over to the future site with a museum member, this was previously a large car park (and is surrounded by a fence), with two aircraft present donated by FedEx. After being WFU at ATL for several years, B727-100F N113FE was towed the short distance here by road in May 2011. This joined F-27-500F N718FE, previously operated by Mountain Air Cargo as a FedEx Feeder. Both aircraft remain partly dis-assembled, with the F-27 having the outer wings and tail fin removed, and the 727 in a similar state, but with all the engines removed aswell. Future plans for the aircraft, are for the 727 to be restored with one side painted back into the original United colours, as when delivered new in 1968. Also, at the time of my visit, plans were being discussed for a DC-9-10 being offered to the museum. This was said to be an ex AirTran aircraft, currently located at an Engineering school somewhere in Georgia. However, as far as I know, AirTran never operated the -10 series, so either its somebody else’s (maybe ex Airborne Express?) or it could be a -30 series. We’ll see, and good luck to them, a very friendly group.
From here, it was then the short drive to the Delta Heritage Museum, located in the historic hangars 1 & 2, within the Delta World Headquaters at ATL. Visits here also have to be prior arranged, with identification needed to enter through a security gate. Aircraft present, in this very impressive set up, are the forward fuselage section of L-1011 prototype N1011. Sadly, this was broken up at Ardmore in 1986, but at least this section was saved, and is now used here as the museum gift shop, painted in Delta colours with a non-original cockpit. The largest aircraft in the museum is B767-200 N102DA ‘The Spirit of Delta’. This was bought by employees, retirees and donations in 1982, and was retired here in March 2006, after a farewell tour. Re-painted into the ‘widget’ scheme, the interior now contains two exhibitions, and is open to visitors on Wednesdays & Thursdays. A real classic, also in mint condition, is DC-3 NC28341 ‘Ship 41’, which was Delta’s first Dak, delivered in January 1941. I guess this is grounded now, after last flying in 2004, and is open to visitors on the second Tuesday of each month. Finally, three real old-timers here are 1931 Curtis-Wright CW-6B Travel Air NC8878 of Delta Air Service (the first aircraft to carry Delta passengers), 1928 Waco 125 NC4576 of Northwest Airways (used for flight demonstrations and charters), and 1936 Stinson SR-8E Reliant NC16181 of Northeast Airlines (which was used as an instrument trainer). A great little museum, with a nice little themed café.
Leaving here, i then returned the rental car, to save having to do so the following day when flying out, and caught the free shuttle bus to the Renaissance Concourse, for the last night in Atlanta, and Georgia. As mentioned earlier, this hotel has fantastic views, from rooms facing the airport, with outside balconies enabling great photography. Other so called ‘spotter hotels’ that don’t have balconies, or windows that open, may be fine for ‘SBS spotters’, but certainly not for photographers. So, as well as aircraft landed on runway 26R, and rotating on ‘26L, some of the North side parking ramps are very close to the hotel, with great views looking down onto the Delta ramp to the right, and the charter/executive ramp to the left. Further around to the left are the ramps used by Omni International, FedEx, UPS and World etc. These latter ramps are mostly out of sight ‘around the corner’, though aircraft taxying in and out can be seen very well. The best rooms to try and get here are recommended as being 1016-1025 on the top floor, though note there is a $20 charge to secure an airport facing room. The cheek of it! Of course its worth it, even if this place is expensive enough as it is. My advice is… make the most of it. Check in/out is stated as 1600/1200, but if arriving around 1500, and requesting a late check-out at 1300, I’m sure they won’t say no. I got 1024 and arrived early, then left late, no probs. The only problem you might have here is getting to sleep! Even as a photographer, taking a tripod can get some very nice night shots, if you can catch anything parked or stopped on the taxiway for long enough.
First highlight phographed this afternoon/evening then, was interesting B737-400 N416BC of Xtra Airways. Only recently delivered in January, the aircraft is ex JY-SOA of Solitaire Air, and retains their basic colour scheme with titles and tail logo painted out. After landing, the aircraft came and parked on the ramp just to the left, in front of the hotel… then i found out why! With three or four prison coaches waiting nearby, these then drove up to the aircraft, with the ‘passengers’ about to get a free flight! Surrounded by armed guards, the prisoners were all then frisked, and photographed/filmed as they boarded. Xtra are known to be one of the companies involved with such JPATS (Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System) flights, including taking ‘illegals’ out of Miami etc. A similar flight operated the following day (see later), so I guess the ‘relocation’ of prisoners around the States is big business, especially from a big city like Atlanta. JPATS (nicknamed ‘Conair’), is indeed a major operation, with over 350,000 prisoner/alien movements a year. Callsign for the flights is ‘Justice’ (DOJ), which not suprisingly are blocked on flightaware etc, with the aircraft essentially flying as military flights, using UHF frequencies and TACAN routes. As a sign of their importance, they were the only non-military flights allowed to continue flying in US airspace during ‘ATC Zero’, immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
Today also saw a good haul of Delta DC-9-50’s photographed: N600TR, N675MC, N676MC, N764NC, N767NC, N773NC, N774NC, N784NC and N787NC, with other highlights including AirTran B717 N946AT (‘Baltimore Ravens’ logo-jet), Omni B767-300 N396AX, Air France B777-200 F-GSPI, Lufthansa A340-300 D-AIGW, AirTran B717 N891AT (‘Atlanta Falcons’ logo-jet) and Omni B777-200 N918AX, while biz-jets included Falcon 50EX N901TF and NetJets Gulfstream 5 N507QS. This came in from Teterboro, NY and, as with most biz-jets, came and parked on the exec FBO ramp close by the hotel. Waiting for the aircraft was a black limo and two black SUV’s, all with blacked-out windows… wonder who it could be? First off, was a guy probably not that well known to Brits…Nick Cannon, an actor & comedian. However, he’s the husband of somebody much more famous, as his wife eventually stepped out… Mariah Carey! Doing the paparazzi thing, she got well and truly worked!
DAY 8 FRIDAY 4th MAY
After some rain overnight, there was more to come, with a huge downpour producing some interesting conditions to photograph in. Things then brightened up, with blue skies before I checked out. Highlights photographed today then, included AirTran B737-700 N354AT (‘Dolphin One’ logo-jet, promoting the Georgia Aquarium), six months old Gulfstream 450 N494EC of Eastman Chemical Co, Air Canada Express/Jazz CRJ-705 C-FKJZ, Georgia Skies Cessna 208B N307PW ‘Ecojet’, Korean Air B777-300 HL8208 and all white MD-83 N969NS. This ex-Alaskan (N969AS) aircraft is now operated by Ryan International for JPATS, being the second ‘Conair’ prison-jet here in two days, taking out another load of ‘scumbags’!
Finally, Delta Nine’s photographed (and not seen yesterday), were N779NC, N780NC and N786NC. That makes a total of 14 different 50’s photographed, after less than two full days at ATL. At the time of the visit, its thought Delta had 20 DC-9’s still in service (with the last heading to Marana being N677MC on 20th April). The final out of service date of around the end of 2013 will probably still hold, despite the AirTran B717 deal maybe bringing the retirement date forward? So, after checking out of this very nice hotel, I took the shuttle bus to catch DL5398 to New Bern, North Carolina. Operated by a CRJ-200, the 1.05 hour flight was off at 1515, landing at 1620. Then, after collecting the rental car, it was short drive to MCAS Cherry Point, for the first visit over this Air Show weekend.
The ‘Celebrate the Heritage’ airshow was commemorating the 100th anniversary of Marine Corps Aviation, aswell as the 70th anniversary of Cherry Point Air Station, starting with the Friday night show, with gates opening at 1700. After collecting the media pass, this gave access to the media platform and tent for the flying display, with arrangements to stay behind after the show had finished, to get some clear night shots.
As well as the usual warbirds and aerobatic fodder, the evening flying display included USMC AV-8B 163876/WH-17 of VMA-542 ‘Flying Tigers’, MV-22B 167909/YS-07 of VMM-162 ‘Golden Eagles’ from nearby MCAS New River, AV-8B+ 165001/WH-08 of VMA-542 ‘Flying Tigers’ (which flew in formation with CAF F4U-1D N9964Z/92468/530 for the Heritage Flight formation) and KC-130T 162310/QH of VMGR-234 ‘Rangers’ at Fort Worth, on loan to the Blue Angels as ‘Ernie’ (as mentioned in the report for Robins Airshow last weekend). However, unlike there, Cherry Point was treated to the fantastic low level ‘Fat Albert’ display. After that, the photographic conditions got very difficult, with the ‘afterburner’ show by the pair of Marines Hornets in the dark being pretty much impossible to shoot! Having tried using a monopod at previous night shows, i find it easier to crank up the ISO instead, to try and get a half decent shutter speed, with hand-held freedom of movement for moving subjects being much better. No amount of practice though can deal with some subjects, like Hornets with a shift-on! Following the flying display then, which was ended by fireworks, i managed to get night shots of around half the static, before finally getting thrown out at around 2300!
DAY 9 SATURDAY 5th MAY
Getting into the show early, after not much sleep, the weather today certainly didn’t help, with an energy-draining high of around 100 degrees! No complaints though, with fantastic light to work all the static before the public got in. Overnight, an Atlas B747-400 had arrived from Yuma, but was parked at the far end of the airfield, so obviously not connected with the airshow. Also, the FedEx A310-200F N427FE, was obviously only here for the night show, as it was now gone.
That left the following static, with Marines aircraft… UC-35D 166715 of VMR-1 ‘Cherry Point’, KC-130J 166380/BH of VMGR-252 ‘Otis’, bossbird AV-8B 163867/KD-20 of VMAT-203 ‘Hawks’ (with a specially painted fin), AV-8B+ 164562/CG-01 of VMA-231 (with ‘Ace of Spades’ on the fin, and the ‘Marine Aviation Centennial’ logo on the nose), CH-53E 161183/HH-01 of HMH-366 ‘Hammerheads’ (if not already, this unit will be relocating to New River in 2012), CAG-bird MV-22B 168019/GX-31 of VMMT-204 ‘Raptors’ from New River (with high-viz markings and specially painted fin), preserved EA-6B 160432/CY-000 of VMAQ-2 and 164886/WK-00 F/A-18D of VMFA(AW)-224 from nearby MCAS Beaufort, SC. This specially maked aircraft with tiger stripes, has the ATARS system installed under the nose. The Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System is an electro-optical sensor package which replaces the nose gun.
Other US military included just a single USAF aircraft!... but at least a classic... B-52H 60-0051/BD of 93BS/917Wg AFRC (with ‘Belle Star’ nose art), with former USAF C-47D N2805J/43-10770/EN ‘Spooky’ of the American Flight Museum. And US Navy aircraft… E-6B 163919 of VQ-3, F/A-18F 166454/AD-223 of VFA-106 ‘Gladiators’ from Oceana, EA-6B 159908/NJ-907 of VAQ-129 ‘Vikings’ at Whidbey Island, MH-60S 166352/HU-33 of HSC-2 from Norfolk, T-6B 166088/E-088 of TAW-5 from Whiting Field, and Blue Angels F/A-18C’s ‘1-6’ on the flightline, with F/A-18D 163464/7 parked out the way at the end of the flightline. Also, parked very close by on the flightline were two based USMC Rescue HH-46E’s 156476/00 and 157692/03 of VMR-1 ‘Cherry Point’, which provided medevac cover for the show, aswell as one taking part in the flying display. The units other two aircraft were also present, with 157678/01 in the static, and uncoded HH-46D 151912 parked nearby outside one of the hangars. This was without rotors, so either on maintenance or retired (which is probable being an older D model?). A bit further down on the same ramp (not part of the show), were a pair of based Harriers, with AV-8B 163881/KD-21 and two-seater TAV-8B 163860/KD-16 of VMAT-203 ‘Hawks’.
Of the flying display, AV-8B+ 165001/WH-08 of VMA-542 ‘Flying Tigers’ kicked things off, again flying in formation with CAF F4U-1D N9964Z/92468/530 for the Heritage Flight display (which was repeated later). Of the other warbirds, highlights were the ever popular CAF Tuskegee Airmen P-51C NX61429 and B-25J N9079Z/44-30734 ‘Panchito’. Next were the same MV-22B and AV-8B solo displays as yesterday, with the Harrier taxiing by very close to the crowd (shame they all couldn’t do this), before the Marines really got things crunked, with their MAGTF demo.
The Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration is a simulated use of close air support, coordinated with ground forces, combined with some serious special effects and explosions! This started with based KC-130J 165809/BH of VMGR-252 ‘Otis’ simulating AAR with two F/A-18A+’s… 163124/VE-214 and 163169/VE-203 of VMFA-115 ‘Silver Eagles’ from nearby Beaufort. This KC-130J is one of the Harvest HAWK (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit) conversions, with interchangeable fuel tanks and hose & drogue pods that can be quickly replaced by a target sight sensor and pylon with Hellfire or Griffin missiles. Obviously for this role demo, the AR-configuration was fitted, although the mount for the 30mm cannon on the fuselage was visible, as a permanent fixture. Now the Marines have a bad-ass Herk for close air support! With the Hornets then coming back to ‘bomb’ the place, others involved in the demo were based EA-6B 161348/RM-05 of VMAQ-4 ‘Seahawks’, and the following from nearby New River… UH-1N’s 159195/HF-.. & 160…/HF-33 of HMLA-269 ‘Gunrunners’, MV-22B’s 167909/YS-07 & 167918/YS-12 of VMM-162 ‘Golden Eagles’, CH-53E 162010/EN-49 of HMH-464 ‘Condors’ and AH-1W’s 160742/TV-48 & 161017/TV-43 of HMLA-167 ‘Warriors’.
The show was concluded as usual by the Blue Angels Hornets, and another great ‘Fat Albert’ display by KC-130T ‘Ernie’. By this time, the extremely hot weather had began to change, with the forcasted storm front starting to move in. Fortuntely it didn’t spoil the final displays, with just some cloud starting to appear, though by dark the rain had started and was ‘bouncing down’. By morning it was still overcast, so at that point the plan changed…
DAY 10 SUNDAY 6TH MAY
The final day in the States, with a flight out of Raleigh-Durham (RDU) at 1810. This was the closest airport to Cherry Point where I could get a direct flight to Heathrow, and being around 100 miles to the West, was in easy driving distance of less than two hours, with one or two places to take in en route. The original plan of going into the show for the morning, was quickly changed after seeing the weather. After shooting everything in fantastic weather yesterday, there wasn’t much point in going back in to shoot all the same stuff in bad light. So, there was now no rush in getting to RDU, and could maybe spend more time when there instead.
Heading off, first stop was New Bern, where I had flown into. Noticing it was very quiet when arriving, I didn’t expect much, apart from one or two things worth getting the camera out for. C-123K N9692N/54-0592/NE of Northeast Aviation Group (with ‘Ponderous Polly’ nose art), looks in good condition apart from a missing rudder. Also, nearby at the small Federal Express facility were FedEx Feeder’s ATR-42 N918FX and Cessna 208B N740FX.
The major F-15E base of Seymour Johnson was right on the highway, around half way to RDU, but with not much chance of any shots on a Sunday, obviously i gave it a miss. There was one place though, not far off the highway, worth a quick look around. Kinston Regional Jetport, otherwise known as NC Global TransPark (great name!), is a large airfield but very quiet. The big business here though is Spirit AeroSystems, who have a huge new factory, producing aircraft sections. After starting with the Airbus A350XWB centre fuselage and front wing spar, the company has also added the new Gulfstream 280 wing production here. Aircraft present, on a small Mountain Air Cargo ramp, were three of their aircraft. Nice to see the Shorts 330 these days, with N2679U and N26288 in similar colours, with the former possibly active? The latter is preumably not, with engines removed. As well as these, the company also operates FedEx Feeder Caravans, with Cessna 208B N979FE also present on the same ramp. With the prop removed and engine cowling taped up, this was WFU and sold a few weeks later as N106BZ. Also present, PWFU on the other side of the runway were a pair of retired FedEx F-27’s, presumably ex Mountain Air Cargo. With all logos and registrations painted out, these remain unidentified (looking on Google Earth there were three here, so I guess one has been scrapped recently?). One note on N26288, regarding a bizarre incident the aircraft was involved in… Back in 1983 when operating for Pennsylvania Airlines, the aircraft was boarding at Harrisburg for a flight to Washington. One passenger was asked where he was going, to which he replied ‘DC or someplace in between’. When boarding he then requested a seat near the rear door. You can guess the rest!... After climbing through 3,500ft he then opened the door and jumped out…
From here, it was straight on to Raleigh-Durham. With a couple of hours before I needed to return the rental and check in, a quick drive around bagged a few based biz-jets, including nice old Learjet 25D N25PW (an air ambulance painted all red), along with Learjet 55 N55AR and Premier 1 N998PA, all operated by Jet Logistics here. The remaining spare time was then spent at the purpose built Observation Area, which is a covered seating area, in a nice elevated position looking down on the Northern GA ramp and Runway 5L. RDU has two, parallel runways, with ‘5R used mostly by Southwest (as nearer their terminal), with ’5L used by everyone else. Aswell as the usual US majors, with CRJ’s up to B737 size aircraft, highlight was classic Sky King B737-200 N252TR. Maybe the last aircraft still flying in Hooters Air colours, though with titles & tail logo painted out, this was a real surprise, even though its been flying as such since 2007. Also now fitted with what looks like an ex US Air nosecone, it looks like a real odd-ball (which was then retired in August). Another on borrowed time, though certainly not as old, was Delta Connection/Comair CRJ-100ER N964CA, which was also retired three months later. Finally, as well as Air Canada Jazz CRJ-200ER C-GKFR, the other highlight was Southwest B737-700 N714CB, which is painted in ‘Southwest Classic’ golden retro colours (the ‘CB registation being personalized for former Southwest President Collen Barret).
And so, onto AA174 operated by B767-300ER(WL) N39356, departure was at 1815, arriving 6.45 hours later at Heathrow on the 7th at 0700L. Connection was then onto BA125 to Bahrain, operated by B777-200ER G-VIIS, off at 1045 and landing 6.15HR later at 1900L.