Greece & USA October 2014 Part II
Continuing on from the Greece report... from Athens it was straight over to the US, and although having visited Florida many times over the years, this would be a first visit to the 'Panhandle' area up in the NW corner of the State. Flying via JFK to Pensacola, most services operate via Charlotte, so the chance was taken for a full day there, to visit the nice Carolinas Aviation Museum. On to Florida, the fantastic museums at NAS Pensacola and Eglin AFB were visited, along with the 'salvage field' at Crestview. Then it was on to the hotel in Panama City, to join up with the Phancon 2015 group for two days on base at nearby Tyndall AFB, visiting the last US unit operating the mighty F-4 Phantom... the 82nd ATRS. From Tyndall it was then straight off South into Florida for the last two days of a very busy week, with a day in Orlando for the NBAA 2015 show. While here, a very special helicopter ride was taken, to photograph a now rare classic nearby, before it was then up to Jacksonville for the airshow and flight home...
DAY 3 SUNDAY 19TH OCTOBER
Having arrived into JFK just before midnight, there was then a long wait for the flight on down to Charlotte. Eventually boarding US1943 operated by A321 N510UW, departure was at 0645 for the 1.25 hour flight, arriving at 0810. Picking up the day rental, there was plenty of time for a good look around before the museum opened at 1pm (on a Sunday), with FedEx MD-10F N366FE caught first, parked in cargo. This was the 8th DC-10 built and is the 3rd oldest still airworthy. From here, it was over to the East side of the airfield, to shoot what was possible on the ramps there, as well as the airport movements at this very busy US Airways hub. With glorious weather all day today, some of the highlights then included... very nice Gulf 4SP N777KK of The Kohler Company (with company slogan 'The Bold Look' on the fin), resident Challenger 300 N26DE of Duke Energy, Learjet 45 N55DG, Gulf 200 N816JW of GC Air/Jeld Wen Inc, Ameriflight EMB-120RT(F) N258AS, and three US Airways A319 logojets... N709UW ('Philadelphia Eagles'), N717UW ('Carolina Panthers') and N828AW (America West retrojet) among the masses of regular 'Cactus' movements.
One nice military movement, was brand new unmarked US Navy MH-60S 168571, which was caught departing. Reported to be operated by HSC-6 'Screaming Indians' at NAS North Island, with code NH-611 allocated (but not worn). No sign of any action at the ANG base though today, which is also located on the East side here. The 156thAS/145thAW operate the C-130H-3 fitted with the MAFFS (Modular Airborne FireFighting System), which was introduced in 1985. A couple of shots managed included the pair parked on their ramp, 92-1453/8 and 93-1459/9, as well as gate guards C-130E 61-2367 (marked as '59-528/CG') and F-86D 52-4142 ('N.C. Air Guard'). Then, over at the museums old hangar and ramp on the North side, sad looking C-47B N12907 is parked, painted in USAAF markings with D-Day stripes as 43-49926/D8-Z. Flown by the RCAF in combat in Burma, it was later operated out of here by Saber Cargo Airlines, who's titles are still visible through the faded paint. Its flying days ended after a right gear collapse on landing here in 2000, being later donated to the museum in 2004, who 'hope to display it one day'.
And so on to the Carolinas Aviation Museum, where shots of the aircraft outside are better in the afternoon, with 'escorted tours' only, being airside. The five aircraft on display outside, include some nice classic and historic aircraft, with USAF EC-130E 62-1857 'Republic 5' a survivor of Operation 'Eagle Claw', the failed mission in Iran to rescue the US diplomats held hostage following the Islamic revolution in April 1980. Then, YF-102A Delta Dagger 53-1788 is the second of ten 'Deuce' prototypes, marked as 'FC-788' of the 157thFIS/169thFIG SC ANG (previously on display at McEntire and Florence, SC). Two classic airliners are the last Delta 'Nine' to fly, DC-9-51 N779NC, which arrived from Atlanta on 23rd January, and the very familiar HFF 'Eastern' DC-7B N836D. This of course made a very well publicised emergency landing here back in Nov 2011, and due to the huge cost of replacing the blown engine, has remained here since as 'a guest' of the museum. Almost three years later, there is still no definate news on the aircraft's long term future, although she remains in great looking condition.
Moving inside, obvious highlight is the 'Miracle on the Hudson' US Airways A320 N106US. On 15/1/09, US1549 from LaGuardia to Charlotte with 150 passengers and 5 crew onboard hit a flock of migrating geese a few minutes after takeoff, causing both engines to shut down. Captain Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger was then able to glide the aircraft to a successful 'water landing' in the Hudson River, with only a few minor injuries. On 11/6/11 the aircraft finally arrived here by road, to go on display along with many artifacts from the final flight, after being re-assembled as much as possible (minus the engines). Then, among the others on display inside, C-47-DL N44V looks great painted in Piedmont Airlines colours, while of the military stuff, the Vietnam and Gulf War vet CH-46E 153389/EG-16 was w/o after a hard landing in Iraq in 2004. Rebuilt using the rear fuselage of 153335, it was then restored into the Vietnam-era green CH-46D scheme, with HMM-263 'Gopher Broke' markings. Then also here, AV-8B 161397 was the second prototype built for USMC testing. This was also on the US civil register as NX1167D for Naval Air System Command (reg expired in 2011), and has a 'McD/BAe V/STOL Technlogy Demonstrator' badge on the nose, as well as being marked as '5,530 Flight Hrs'.
Finally, after a very good day here, on driving around to return the rental, one more shot managed, was of classic B727-100 N504MG. This has been wfu here for quite a few years (over ten) now, and is parked on the main East cargo ramp. Fairly complete apart from missing engines, it is still in basic MGM Grand Air colours (though now very faded) with a star logo on the fin. Last operated by Roush Racing, it was reportedly used for parts for the other Roush 727's, all of which are now thought to be retired (including N502MG at Oscoda). So, checking in for US4784 to Pensacola operated by a CRJ-900, take off was at 1945 for the 1.35 hour flight, landing at 2020. Hopefully my checked bag, stuck in JFK, wouldn't be too far behind!
DAY 4 MONDAY 20TH OCTOBER
Without a doubt, one of the major aviation attractions in this part of Florida is the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola. As well as the amount of high quality aircraft preserved here in the two main display hangars, this place is also well known for the amazing collection of aircraft parked outside on the storage/restoration 'Flight Line' ramp. These can be seen by taking the 'Flight Line Trolley Tour', though it is also possible to arrange access by contacting the museum restoration people, which is what i had arranged for this morning at 8am. Arriving slightly early, i first drove the half a mile or so past the museum East on S Blue Angel Pkwy, to photograph US Navy T-39G 160054/F-22 of VT-86/TAW-6 on display, next to the entrance road to the unit's facility. Nice old classic to shoot, though having only just been retired, it was a shame to have not caught these in service at their home base here.
So on to the museum, where there is just way too many well known aircraft on display to detail here! A couple to mention outside though, which could be worked first, are the early YF-14A outside the main entrance. 157984 being painted up as AJ-01 of VFA-41 'Black Aces'. Then, parked at the back of the car park, F/A-18A 161955 is painted in Blue Angels colours, while outside between the display hangars, was nice E-2C 164494/AB-600 of VAW-123 'Screwtops'. Interesting to note a few months later, the Hornet was on display in the place of the Hawkeye, which has presumably been moved inside. First then, it was on to the restoration hangars and 'Flight Line' ramp, where obviously there just isn't the space to display all of these inside, and although a few may be fully restored and moved inside, most will just remain here, while some already in poor shape will sadly be scrapped. Inside the restoration hangars, a few aircraft having major work and rebuilds done, included the prized 1943 built F4U-1 'Birdcage' Corsair BuNo 02465/(F-21), which was pulled from Lake Michigan in 2010 after 67 years there, and is still in the very early stages of restoration. Needing a lot less restoring, USCG HH-52A 1355 (previously stationed at Mobile, AL) was also present here, looking 'ready to go'. A very impressive place, and although like a lot of museums, there is some cramming of aircraft inside, it is generally not so bad, with the lighting being mostly very good. Of course, outside it was typical Florida weather... glorious, which was to last the rest of the week!
After the full morning here, there was still a very busy day ahead, with a lot of miles to cover. The next stop though wasn't on the original plan... back to Pensacola Int to pick up my missing bag which had thankfully turned up. This did lead to a very nice catch though, which i would otherwise have missed. To the North of the terminal, on a ramp outside a hangar, a very nice chopper was parked up... an Mi-17 marked with the serial '13-7309'. Painted in a light brown/sand desert camo with no other markings, it was missing both main and tail rotors. While it was known about the Special Ops Mi-17's N175RU and N176RU operated by the 6thSOS/919SOW at nearby Duke Field (registered to Simplex Corp), apparently this has nothing to do with them. Instead, this is reportedly an Mi-171E (or Mi-8AMT) with US Army serial 13-07309, and is similar to another photographed in the same spot just over a year earlier (13-07308, fitted with rotors). Presumably both were prepared here for operations in Afghanistan/Middle East, though that needs confirming...
Now getting back with the plan, unfortunately the next hoped-for stop had to be missed out, with access to the Air Park at Hurlburt Field, where around a dozen mostly former Special Ops aircraft are on display, needing a military id-holder escort. A no-go then, so straight on to the next stop on the agenda... Eglin AFB, around 40 miles to the East, and the nice Air Force Armament Museum there. Wishing i had more time, to maybe spend a full day shooting at this excellent base, two F-35's on a pairs approach to Runway 12 passing right overhead while driving past to the museum, certainly reminded me of that! Into the museum then, plenty of highlights here, including the famous first production Herk, AC-130A 53-3129 'First Lady' (retired in 1995, forty years after its first flight), and the former Mildenhall based MH-53M 73-1652.
Then, from here, with time and sunlight now starting to run out, it was on to the final stop of the day... Crestview Airport, around 22 miles to the North. Here, Qwest Air Parts have their aircraft 'teardown' and parts salvage facility, with five aircraft on site receiving 'the treatment'. Getting there just in time before the sun dropped out of sight, shots over the fence at this quiet airfield were easy, before access was then given. Present were... former Air India A310-300F N430AL (ex VT-EJH), still in full colours with only the engines removed. Registered to Apollo Aviation, it had arrived on 5th March. Then, former Air Niugini B767-300ER P2-ANA was now in basic colours, with the reg only visible under the wing. Arriving on 2/11/13, it now had the engines, rudder and other parts missing. Next, former KLM MD-11 PH-KCA was now in basic colours with the reg painted out. Arriving on 22nd September from Schipol via Atlanta, it already had the engines and some other parts removed. Then, former Korean Air A300B4-600R N692XD (ex HL7243) was now also in basic colours, with engines, rudder and other parts missing. Registered to IAP, it was the longest 'survivor' here after arriving on 8/6/12. Last but not least, former Avient Aviation DC-10-30F N495DC (ex Z-ALT) was still in full colours, with engines and a few other parts removed. Registered to Southern Aircraft Consultancy, it had arrived on 13/7/13 from Liege via Bangor. Plenty of familiar history with this classic 'Ten', being previously operated by Caledonian Airways as G-LYON, before freighter conversion for Das Air as 5X-ROY.
At the end of a long, busy, but very good day, it was then straight on to Holiday Inn in Panama City, around 90 miles to the SE, for the next two nights. Here, the Phancon group were staying for their 2014 gathering, an event which was a 'must' for any serious fans of the iconic F-4 Phantom, for the final chance to visit the last USAF unit operating the mighty Spook, with two full days on base at nearby Tyndall AFB... the home of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron.
DAY 5 TUESDAY 21ST OCTOBER
With the 'sundown' now in sight for the QF-4 in service in the US, as the 'line transition' to the QF-16 continues, this event was inevitably very popular, for the rare chance to visit the 82nd ATRS, with fantastic photo ops over the next two days. A first time for me with this group, who have been holding similar annual events for years now, apparently this was the largest Phancon meeting in recent times, with two coaches needed to cater for everyone now gathering in the hotel lobby this morning. As well as the more usual enthusiasts and photographers, Phancon members are also made up of former Rhino drivers and ground crew, with no less than 17 former F-4 pilots in the group, including 'Mig-killer' 1Lt Joe Latham. Now, setting off for the short ride to Tyndall AFB, the first stop was a security check, with both coaches then joined by military escorts, as we moved on into the base for the Phancon 2014 briefing...
The 53rd WEG is responsible for conducting the Air-to-Air Weapons System Evaluation Program known as 'Combat Archer' and the Air-to-Ground version known as 'Combat Hammer', with the 82nd ATRS providing QF-4 and other drone targets in the Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) role, along with the MQM-107 Streaker and BQM-34 Firebee as Sub-Scale Aerial Targets (SSAT). To perform Sea Surveillance and gather Airborne Telemetry data during shooting over the Gulf of Mexico, the unit operates the only two 'Team Target' E-9A Widgets (heavily modified Dash 8's) in the USAF inventory. Then, also called 'Tyndall Navy', the Watercraft Branch of the 82nd ATRS operate three 120ft MR-120 drone recovery vessels, providing range safety patrols and salvage operations to recover the MQM-107 and BQM-34 aerial targets. As well as home base at Tyndall, the 82nd ATRS also has Detachment 1 at Holloman AFB, NM, which is responsible for FSAT operations at the nearby White Sands Missile Range.
While the QF-16's are being modified by Boeing at Cecil Field, FL, the QF-4's were modified by BAe Systems at Mojave, CA. This included installation of Automatic Flight Control Systems, Command/Telemetry System, VDOPS Scoring System and Flight Termination System, with manned QF-4s (fitted with advanced countermeasure systems) as well as unmanned 'NULLO' (Not Under Live Local Operation) FSAT drone versions, which have both ejection seats removed. NULLO flights always require at least three drones, the one to be shot down, a spare and a manned QF-4 (or QF-16) flying as chase plane. Noticeable differences between the two versions are the six antenna for the VDOPS scoring system, the hump on top of the fuselage, the box on the side of the left intake and a fairing in the left forward Sparrow III missile well. For this mission, the 82nd operate the Full-Scale DroneWay 'Death Row', which is a smaller runway with a small ramp, around 2-3 miles to the South East and almost seperate to Tyndall AFB, linked by a road. Most QF' flights are flown from here, with manned missions taking off and landing, whereas NULLO flights (that return) will land on the larger main runways, for safety reasons. With the official 'sundown' on the QF-4 at Tyndall set for June 2015, actual flying operations here should end just before then, with full transition to the QF-16. According to the unit, three of the final Tyndall QF-4's (including two 'heritage birds') will relocate to Holloman, while the rest here will be shot down. Then, the Phinal Finale for the USAF Phantom will be the end of operations with Det 1 at Holloman in around two years time. For this event, the F-4 Phantom II Society plan on holding Phancon 2016 at Holloman, for what will be a very, very special and sad occasion...
And so, following the very informative briefing, it was back on to the coaches for what we had really come to see... the QF-4 in action, as we headed off to the nearby DroneWay. In the end, we would spend all day here, with a break for a BBQ lunch, so more than enough time to photograph the six QF-4's and single QF-16 parked up, as well as the awesome show provided by the operational aircraft today. Flying both in the morning and the afternoon from the DroneWay, was 'manned' QF-4E 74-0643/TD (camo marked '82ATRS') which also gave a cable demo for us, following the morning flight. Also involved was E-9A 84-0048/TD, while both sorties were accompanied by pre-mod F-16C 85-1562/AC 'New Jersey', still in its former 119FS/177FW NJ ANG (Atlantic City) markings. This was also still carrying its AMARG PCN number, after spending four years in storage at Davis Monthan, before departing there nine weeks ago to join the QF-16 program. As the 82nd transitions to the QF-16, several 'new' pre-modified aircraft were now present with the unit, with the modded aircraft painted in the 'anonymous' QF-scheme (as on some QF-4's), with orange day-glo fins etc, though some were still wearing their former unit markings, which was more interesting to see.
As well as the flyers, todays haul had included modded QF-16C 84-1286 'QF-006' (stored at AMARG 2007-2010) parked up on the DroneWay ramp, along with QRF-4C's 66-0478, 67-0429, 68-0589, 69-0369 (all day-glo scheme) and QF-4E's 71-0237/TD (camo with day-glo fin '82ATRS') and 73-1167/TD (grey '53WEG'). A phantastic first day here then, as '643 returned at the end of its afternoon sortie, to perform some formation and low passes with the 'chase' F-16, before landing and parking back at the end of the DroneWay runway.
DAY 6 WEDNESDAY 22ND OCTOBER
Day 2 at Tyndall, and with the planned visit to the 325th FW F-22A Ops cancelled, it was straight back to the DroneWay this morning, for more QF-4 action. The same aircraft still over here, the manned flyer from yesterday, QF-4E 74-0643/TD ('82ATRS') was now parked up on the ramp, replaced by QF-4E 73-1167/TD ('53WEG'), which had already departed on the morning sortie. Landing back and parking at the line-up end of Runway 18, awaiting the afternoon sortie, it was followed by 'chase' F-16C 85-1562/AC, which again used Runway 31L to park back on the main base ramp. As well as these, also recovering was one of the resident Mu-2B's N487AF, which are operated as ECM platforms for the USAF by Air 1st Aviation Companies Inc. Then, seen away in the distance, an unmanned drone (a BQM-167?) was seen dropping into the Gulf of Mexico by parachute, to complete the 82nd's morning mission package.
Following the lunch break, it was back to the DroneWay for the final time, to catch the afternoon QF-4 sortie, again flown by QF-4E 73-1167/TD ('53WEG'). On departure, the same 'chase' F-16C 85-1562/AC made a low pass to join, after departing 31L. Then, while waiting for their return, a pair of USMC F-35B's inbound for 31L were a nice bonus... 168311/VM-10 and 168839/VM-00 (previously coded VM-13) both of VMFAT-501 'Warlords' at MCAS Beaufort. And so to the phinale of our QF-4 experience here, as 167 returned for several low passes before landing. Awesome stuff, to be followed by a taxy in to the ramp with chute still deployed, passing our group at very close proximity, with the crew then leaving the aircraft to a big thank you from the gathered audience. PHANTASTIC.
Following some group shots here, thankfully there was still more to come, with our final visit being to the 82nd ATRS Ops and ramp at the main base. Restrictions here meant only the 82nd's aircraft could be photographed, though our guides were happy for some departing all black T-38A's of the resident 2ndFTS/325thFW to be shot, along with some Singapore AF F-16C's of the 425thFS/56thFW at Luke AFB, on detatchment at the time for weapons training. Unfortunately, the 82nd's hangar couldn't be accessed, which contained both E-9A's along with a few other aircraft, including three more Rhinos... QRF-4C 68-0551 and QF-4E's 74-1043/TD and 74-1638/TD. Outside the Ops facility on display is BQM-167A 06-0169, while inside is the fin of QF-4G 69-0246/TD ('82 ATRS') which is covered in hand written signatures etc. This former 'Peace Roll' (lease to Iran) Wild Weasel was not shot down here, but used for parts in Aug 2002, before being scrapped several years later. And so out on to the ramp, 82nd aircraft present were day-glo QRF-4C 68-0580 and camo QF-4E 72-1494/TD, along with day-glo QF-16A 83-1110 'QF-004' (AMARG 1996-2010) and QF-16C 85-1569 'QF-005' (AMARG March-August 2010). Then, the recently arrived pre-mod F-16C's, all still wearing their former unit markings, were the already mentioned 85-1562/AC, along with 85-1502/AC and the very nice specially marked 85-1500 'Atlantic City Jersey Devils' (both AMARG 2010-July 2014) all ex 119FS/177FW NJ ANG, as well as former 121FS/113FW DC ANG 85-1455/DC (AMARG 2010-Aug 2014). Some nice final shots then, which also included two Shaw F-16CM's and a two-seat F-16DM of 55thFS/20thFW (also on detatchment at the time for weapons training), brought this Phancon to an end, as it was then back on to the coach and a return to the Holiday Inn.
And so, with 'business' now done here, and already checked out of the hotel, it was farewell and straight into the rental, off on the long drive to Orlando... where tonight's hotel was! At around 365 miles, it was going to be a late night, though there was still time for a quick stop, on reaching Tallahassee just before sundown. As well as FLL based CL605 N726MF, also visiting was US Navy T-6B 166214/E of VT-6/TAW-5 at NAS Whiting Field, which was photographed out on the ramp.
DAY 7 THURSDAY 23RD OCTOBER
On to the next, very different episode of this busy trip, with a full day in Orlando, planned around a visit to the NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) show, being held this year at Orlando Exec. While in the area, Orlando MCO would also be visited, mainly to catch up with the old fire trainer and derelict classics there, while an unplanned helicopter ride would provide one of the highlights of the whole trip, when another, very special classic would be photographed...
Starting early at MCO, the area around the GOAA (Greater Orlando Airport Authority) Fire Department, at the SW corner of the airfield, is easily accessed. Here, there are three (and a bit) retired classic jetliners, include a now rare BAC1-11-215AU N1117J, still in fairly complete condition, almost 26 years after being retired by US Air. Still in their faded colours, with the engines removed, it was wfu here in Jan 89 before being moved to the fireground, where it is now propped up on metal stands in use as a non-destructive training airframe. Close by are a pair of derelict B727-200's, with former Planet Airways N69742 wfu here in early 2005 (now with engines and nose cone missing, in fading colours), and former Capital Cargo N286SC, which along with the rest of their 727's, was wfu following the merger with ATI back in 2008 (and remains here, with engines removed and titles/tail logo painted over). Then, also present is the wrecked nose section of what is believed to be former AirTran DC-9-32 N836AT (which has a section of what appears to be an American Airlines MD-80 next to it). Quite a few of these were retired and scrapped here back in 2002-2003, with this one surviving and reportedly used for testing in 2009 'to decontaminate passenger planes after a pandemic or bioterrorism attack'. Then scrapped by early 2010, the nose section was presumably kept by the fire dept for training. A very nice vintage selection here, that was great to finally catch up with!
With that done, it was then straight off to Orlando Exec, 10 miles up the road, for an early entrance to the NBAA show. My first visit to one of these, i had arranged 'media' access, and spent a good couple of hours photographing the many biz present, before the place filled up with guests. Among the highlights on static display were... Deer Jet Gulf 550 B-8126, Challenger 300 HB-JTB of Air Sarina, Learjet 60 XA-MGM of Transporte Aéreo MGM, Cessna 510 C-GDJG of Willow Bay Aviation and very nice FL Exec based L-39C N4313T of Jet AVIVA. Over on the Gulfstream stand, the new market leader G650ER was represented by N650ER, alongside other demonstrators G550 N550GD, G450 N450GD, G280 N280GU and G150 N150GD, along with very blue G150 N365GA which belongs to Gulfstream's FAST (Field & Airborne Support Team), which operate two G150's (the other being N247PS) for their award winning customer service, designed to attend any Gulfstream aircraft enrolled in their program. Then, one very familiar aircraft present, now for sale, was Global Express XRS N287Z, the former N288Z of Chamarac Inc, just registered to Stina Acquisitions LLC on the 21st. Having decided to go over to Gulfstream, Chamarac then registered their new G650 as N288Z on the 30th. Based at Westchester County and a regular visitor at Teesside Airport, N288Z is used by Robert Miller, a US billionaire and entrepreneur, who also being a British citizen, owns the 36,000 acre Gunnerside Estate in North Yorkshire, one of the largest sporting country estates in the UK.
On to Learjet, demonstrators present included new Lear 75 N40076 (registered in August) and the first Lear 85 N851LJ (the first all-composite business aircraft), while Lear 45 N45YF of Bombardier's 'You First' program is similar and their answer to Gulfstream's 'FAST' global support program. Then, a good turn out from Embraer, with EMB-190BJ demonstrator N981EE alongside EMB-135BJ N650EE (to be D-AFUN), EMB-550 PR-LFQ (to be N142GZ), EMB-545 PT-ZIJ (the prototype Legacy 450 MLJ- Mid-Light Jet), EMB-505 N588EE, EMB-500 N531EE (to be C-GDCC), and older EMB-135BJ N661EC (the former A6-SUN). As well these, other notable aircraft present included... Gulf 4SP N1PG of Procter & Gamble Co (for sale), Shell Aircraft's Falcon 900EX VP-BSO, Cessna 650 N650UA of Universal Avionics Systems Corp (with a large company logo on the fin), Vista Jet USA Global Express 5000 N500VJ (9H- ntu), Hyundai Motors Corp Boeing BBJ1 HL7787, Falcon 2000S demonstrator N716FJ in a nice green/grey scheme, Challenger 300 PP-BIR of Brasil EcoDiesel (for sale), Tyrolean Jet Service A319CJ OE-LOV, nice beige CL604 N880ET of Jet Charter Inc (for sale), P-180 Avanti II N405KT of Tierradactyl LLC, Falcon 900B N454AJ of Jones Airways (originally G-MLTI), very nice 1969 built Lear 24B N555LJ fitted with new hush-kits, as was 30 year old Gulf 3 N19H of Hubbard Broadcasting Inc (Hubbard QS3 conversion), Nextant Beech 400XTi demonstrator N400XT, nice DHC-2T Beaver N511CM (Viking Turbo conversion with big tyres) and Viking 400 Twin Otter N77TF with a very nice 'aquatic' paint job.
A great selection there, though one of the biggest surprises was a freshly restored Phantom Mig-Killer... F-4D 65-0747 was previously on display at the Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, and was transported here in July, still painted in 'Thunderbirds' colours. Now restored into 555thTFS (OY) Vietnam-era markings, it will be mounted in the Colonel Joe Kittinger Park next to the airport, to serve as a tribute to Vietnam War veterans. The Mig-Kill marking represents Colonel Kittinger's Mig-21 shoot-down in the aircraft during the war, with his other noteable achievement being the world record parachute jump... from a balloon at a height of 102,800 feet in 1960, a record that stood for 52 years. And so, with the NBAA ramp done, the remainder of the day would be spent adding more biz shots, on the West side of the airfield around the busy Sheltair FBO. More gems here included some very nice Latino's... Gulf 150 PR-FSN of Elite Aviation Taxi Aero (previously D-CKDM), very nice Falcon 2000LX PR-MDB of Moinho Dias Branco Ltda (demo colours), Falcon 7X PR-PCT of Agropecuária Santo do Deserto Ltda, Challenger 300 XA-VFV in an amazing scheme (covered in green dots!), and yet another Embraer demo aircraft, EMB-505 'Experimental' PT-ZHY (giving demo flights). Others included nice classic Sabre 65 N70SK of Dylan Dublin Air, which was pulled from a hangar and departed, PC-12 N409BG of Bison Air, Cessna 750 N770XJ (the '5000th Citation'), Astra 1125 N789CA, vintage Westwind 1124 N9RD of Dowdy Plane Aviation (wfu with part of the engine cowling missing), based Orange County Sheriffs Bell 407 N407KB and OH-58C N82844 'Chase Four' (ex US Army 70-15432), BAe125-1000A N707HD (nice reg!... previously used by the famous B707 TY-BBW now in Belgium), CL800 (CRJ-200) N1800C (the former VP-BCI and M-ABGH), Cirrus SR22 C-GDBZ, Lear 60 N160EM (ex EI-REX), 'City' Lear 60 N16CS, Beechjet 400A N450TM (ex NetJets CS-DMP), Lear 60XR N1JB, 30 year old Lear 35 N882SC and nice Jetstream 31 N723CA of Carpe Caelum LLC (based at Joplin, MO).
A fantastic day then, heading down to Orlando had been well worth it... but there was more! While over at Sheltair, helicopter company MaxFlight were operating from there, giving rides. Prior to the trip, i had contacted a couple of based companys, enquiring about an aerial charter, which had led to nothing. However, after enquiring with MaxFlight, it was game on! The charter... up to Ocala and back to photograph John Travolta's ultra-classic B707-138B N707JT, parked at his Jumbolair home there. Now, having only managed to photograph this once before, on slide film back in August 2002 at Edinburgh (when it called in for four days while on a Qantas-sponsored world tour), it has evaded me since, including more recently at Miami, when there on maintenance. So, now was the time to put that right, and although aerial shots of it at Jumbolair are not rare, they are not that common either, for such a great view and angle to catch the aircraft, parked at the mansion. Also, considering that at the time of writing, it is thought that the aircraft may well have been retired and pwfu, this could now be the only realistic way to photograph it, means it was a must-do. Infact, that last time seen at Miami in April 2013, could have been just prior to its final flight. As mentioned in that report, it was with Commercial Jet on maintenance, and presumably returned to Jumbolair shortly after, 'possibly' on its final flight. It would certainly be a real shame if such a rare classic, in fantastic condition, is now grounded, but despite a lot of interest in its future, unfortunately JT is not available to confirm his plans for the aircraft! Only time will tell...
And so, with the charter confirmed for a late afternoon departure, the ride would be 2004 built R44-II N443SH of Kissimmee based MaxFlight. My pilot, Adrian Lyon, had arranged for the doors to be removed, enabling the best photography and an even better view, as we lifted off at 1650, on a direct track to Jumbolair (17FL), climbing to around 1,000ft. At around 65 miles to the NW, we arrived 35 minutes later, with thankfully everything going to plan, dropping to around 500ft to circle the glorious 707 (and neat gaff!), catching every angle in the sweet afternoon sunlight. After around four or five orbits (can't recall!), our job was done, as we then headed off, back SE towards Exec. Also interesting to finally see Jumbolair from the air as well, this place was previously known as Greystone, with the main (7,550ft) runway built back in the early 80's to accomodate... Boeing 707's! Not so well known, that Jumbolair developer Arthur Jones, who established Nautilus Inc and developed home fitness equipment, registered three B707-300C's for a short time in 1983-1984... N8402, N8404 and N8405, all of which were connected with short-lived Premiere Airlines (who Jones was involved with). At least one of these (N8402) was painted in company colours (with 'Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries' titles), and was pictured operating from Greystone around 1984. Interesting to know that the blast screen built around the start of runway 36 was not built by JT (to keep the neighbours happy) but for Nautilus 707 operations! However, JT was to have some issues, back in 2007, when another of the airport's developers reported to the FAA on the condition of the runway, and that "The runway is unfit for large planes. The bottom line of this whole thing is, it's a safety issue. The runway is not designed for a 707". Litigation then prevented all the property owners from accessing the runway with their aircraft, which was later resolved when Jumbolair purchased the adjacent land and remaining airport rights. During this period, Travolta had been parking '7JT at nearby Ocala Airport, before returning home later in 2007. Just hoping its not a retirement home now...
Now, on the way back to Exec, our route would take us pretty much overhead Apopka Airport. As previously visited and reported on, this 'tin field' is the home to Convair 240 N1022C of the USAIMF (US Airline Industry Museum Foundation). As previously photographed and reported on, this former Trans Florida Airlines aircraft was moved here from Daytona Beach several years ago, and was then repainted all white with a Pan Am tail logo. Since then, the museum has not really 'got off the ground', with the aircaft then registered to the NMCA (National Museum of Commercial Aviation) in Jan 2014, so may be on the cards for a move to their Atlanta location for display soon? With my request granted (i was 'on the clock' after all!), we made on low orbit around the field for some nice shots. Then, to top off a fantastic photo flight, we made a low orbit over the NBAA show ramp for some final shots, before touch down at 1815. That made for a 1.25 hour flight time, longer than expected, but well worth it, despite the extra cost $! And that was the end of an awesome day, despite not making it to Sanford for any shots before dark... where tonights digs were.
DAY 8 FRIDAY 24TH OCTOBER
On to the final day, and with a fair bit of driving, up to Jacksonville, Sanford was given a miss first thing this morning as well, with the overcast conditions. So, an early start and straight off to the first of two stops along the way, with the cloud clearing by the time New Smyrna Beach was reached. Two expected long-term propliner residents here, had been joined by a third, which was unexpected. The well know DC-7BF N381AA had changed a bit recently, though actually not that much since last seen at Opa Locka. Of course, this was sold by Carlos Gomez back in June 2012, and moved here by road (as featured on Shipping Wars!) after being purchased by Danny Perna for conversion to the 'DC-7 Grille' restaurant. However, various issues have prevented that from happening, still to this day, although the plans are said to be continuing. In the meantime the aircraft has now gained an 'Epic Flight Academy' logo on the rear fuselage, and is sat on the grass in front of their facility, which is also owned by Perna. From an original American Airlines aircraft, to an original Pan Am aircraft, also still here is DC-3A N600NA. Registered to MC Flyers, this is still parked on the grass outside the American Aero Services hangar on the North side, and hasn't flown for over a decade now, apparently after very expensive wing repairs were found to be needed, so maybe only has one fate now... Then, also here now is C-54D N9015Q, formerly of Florida Air Transport at Opa Locka. Sold to Island Air Transport in May, this then unfortunately suffered a nose gear collapse after landing here while being ferried from Opa Locka on 20th August. Taken to the American Aero Services facility at the Southern end of the airfield, repairs are continuing to the nose gear doors and the bent inboard props, which were layed out on the hangar floor. Moving on, a quick stop was then made at nearby Daytona Beach, where another old propliner was photographed again, with the fuselage of F-27-200 N278MA ('Skylon' titles) still layed on the grass. Also while here, a quick request to photograph nice Cessna 208A Floatplane N810GA of Baker Planes LLC was granted, before it was off again, on to NAS Jacksonville around 85 miles further up the road, for a first visit here...
Now, with a flight out of nearby Jacksonville IAP at 6pm, i had most of the day here, at the full Friday practice show at the NAS Jax Air Show 2014. Gaining 'media' access at what is otherwise a 'families day', meant a smaller crowd compared to the weekend ahead, which helped with the static shots. Some highlights included the resident AGM-84 Harpoon-armed P-8A 168434/LN with a full colour fin unit logo, alongside older generation P-3C AIP 162770 of VP-30 (no unit marks). Also from the Navy, unmarked F/A-18C 164954 (ex VFA-106) appeared to be freshly painted, while from the Marines, very welcome EA-6B Prowler 163397 from VMAQ-3 was also unmarked, so may have also recently gone through PDM. Also nice to see the local F-15C, with 78-0476 from the 159thFS/125thFW FL ANG just up the road at Jacksonville IAP, while another Navy highlight was the resident MH-60R CAG-Bird 167007/NA-700 of HSM-72 'Proud Warriors', parked alongside unexpected, very nice RAN MH-60R N48-005 (168818). This is one of the first five of 24 on order, initially based here for training, shortly before being flown to their new home base at HMAS Albatross, Nowra to join re-formed 725 Squadron. Then, the US CBP/DHS provided some quite rare static aircraft, with nice Beech 350CER N716A having an extended nose and two large radar fairings, AS350B-3 N3934A and Cessna T210N N2306D. These are presumably based at nearby Cecil Field (alongside the CBP P-3's), with the modified Centurion having a more anonymous colour scheme. Finally, some nice vintage aircraft included Lagrange, GA based C-1A Trader N778SR/136778/16 'Mudflap Girl', Sumter, SC based Beech C18S N7381S/44-7696/CC-696 and immaculate, polished Lockheed 12A Electra Junior NC18097 of Barnstorm Aviation, which is based at nearby Jacksonville Exec.
Before having to leave, some of the flying display was caught, including fly-bys by resident P-8A 168757 (no unit marks) and P-3C-III 157329/LL, both of VP-30. Apparently, these operated from nearby Cecil Field, where others had also positioned to (as well as parking on the North side of the runway here) to make room for the airshow. Then, highlight was the always impressive Raptor Demo, with Tyndall F-22A 03-4041/TY of the 43rdFS/325FW doing the business, including with Mustang 'Crazy Horse' for the Heritage Flight. F-22A ground spare today was the bosses 03-4043/TY '43FS'. Finally for here, on driving out, a stop was made at the Heritage Park, where a very good collection of aircraft are on display. And so, straight off to Jacksonville IAP nearby, where a couple of final shots of the trip were of familiar 30 year old, hush-kitted Gulf 3 N975RG of RG Aviation, and Marines TH-57C 162044/E-80 of HT-8/TAW-5 'Eightballers' at NAS Whiting Field, which arrived. Now, returning the rental and checking in for Bahrain, the route home was going to be a bit different to the norm, on codeshared Qatar Airways via Doha. First flight was AA4322 to Chicago ORD, operated by fairly new ERJ-170LR N430YX of Republic Airlines (delivered less than four months earlier), off at 1810 for the 2.10 hour flight, arriving at 1920L. Then on to QR722 operated by B777-300ER A7-BAH, departure was at 2115 for the 12.35 hour flight, in to Doha at 1750L on the 25th. Finally, from one of the longest 777 flights to one of the shortest, with BA124 operated by a B777-200ER, dearture was at 2315 for the short 35 minute flight to Bahrain. Such an awesome week with so many highlights... Greek A-7's, Tyndall Phantoms, Travolta's 707. EPIC.