USA August 2011

This fifth trip to the States in a year was planned around the airshow at Offutt AFB, for a first visit to the home of the 55th Wing. As well as this, a great opportunity to photograph an enthusiasts flight in a now very rare, classic British built aircraft, was possibly the last ever chance to fly in a BAC1-11, at Dallas Love Field. While in Nebraska, i had decided on driving on down to the Kansas and Missouri area, before back for the Offutt show. Catching some of the aircraft leaving after the Kansas City Airshow, Forbes-Topeka Field was then visited, before on to Whiteman AFB. The home of the iconic B-2 Spirit, just over a day was spent here, hoping to catch some flying action. Heading back to Offutt, three days were then spent there, leading up to the airshow. While here, a few retired classics in the area also needed to be photographed, including a pair of EC-135's.

As well as the fantastic, very interesting resident aircraft at Offutt, the airshow attracts a good amount of quality aircraft, at this hugely important base. These included a Barksdale B-52H, which was involved in an emergency after landing, closing the runway for a while. Gaining media access to the base the day before the show to photograph the static and catch the practice displays etc, this at least made up for not being able to be present for the show itself the following day, having decided to head down to Dallas to catch the BAC1-11 pleasure flight. Something i certainly didn't want to miss, i was able to fit this into my plans. After the memorable day at Love Field, i could then head straight back to the UK from Dallas DFW.


Flying American Airlines from Heathrow to Omaha, first flight was AA87 operated by a B777-200ER. Departure was at 1040, arriving at Chicago ORD 7.25 hours later at 1305L. Connection was onto AA3927 operated by an ERJ-145, off at 1600 for the one hour flight to Omaha. Today was mostly a travelling day, though i did manage a couple of shots at Omaha before heading to the hotel nearby, with an early start in the morning.


The very early start today was to get to Kansas Downtown Airport by early morning, after a drive of around 200 miles. Unfortunately, the main I29 highway was closed due to flooding, so taking the I75 South added around 45 minutes to the journey. The Missouri River floods were caused by record snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, along with near-record spring rainfall in Montana, causing the major problems downstream. Still getting to Downtown reasonably early, several airshow aircraft were still present, and just preparing to leave. These including a good selection of A-10's, with two from nearby Whiteman AFB and two from Davis Monthan AFB. As well as these, a good selection of biz-jets present were photographed, including classic resident Jetstar II N77C. The Airline History Museum was closed today, though their Tristar N700TS, which arrived around 18 months ago, is parked outside (awaiting restoration), and was also photographed.

From here, Topeka is 70 miles to the West. On passing, along I70, Lawrence Municipal was called in on, seeing a Citation outside. Just the fuselage, with no id visible, this appears to be a Cessna 550 used by an engineering school. Also present, inside an open hangar, was very nice Beech H18 N777XJ. On to Topeka Forbes Field, this place is well known for the Combat Air Museum, and their rare USAF EC-121T (one of only four left in the world), among others. Also on display, as gate guards at the nearby Kansas ANG base (flying KC-135R's) is a nice RB-57A and the tail fin of KC-135D 63-8059 with special markings (as displayed at RIAT Fairford 1997), which were also photographed. Visiting military was a black T-38A from Whiteman, which departed, while among the couple of biz-jets present, Falcon 7X N250LG was just arriving. Highlight though, was retired BAC1-11-422EQ N789CF (registered to Kori Air), which still looks in great condition.

Heading back towards, and past Kansas City, Whiteman AFB was around 140 miles to the East. With the rest of today and all day tomorrow planned here, it was with great anticipation that the visit would produce some flying shots of the resident B-2A Spirits. Checking out the possible photospots around the base, there were several which appeared to be ideal, though it was unknown if strict security would be an issue. Realising it was taking a chance coming here, somewhere that i had never heard of aircraft photographers visiting before, there was no information or advice to go on. As well as being the home of the B-2A, with two operational squadrons, the 13thBS 'Grim Reapers' and 393rdBS 'Tigers', the 509thBW also have the 394thCTS T-38A's as proficiency trainers. Then, also resident are the A-10C's of the 303rdFS AFRC, though unfortunately none would be seen on this occasion. So, landing from the North today onto runway 19, i found a good photospot just along NE75 for the last few hours of the day. No issues with security here, with no patrols seen, there wasn't much in the way of aircraft movements either, with just a couple of resident T-38A's inbound before the end of the day. What would tomorrow bring though...


With arrivals continuing onto runway 19 today, i found a good photospot just to the East of the final approach, and again, was very discreet with the camera, being more visible on this side. Three local T-38A's and a visiting T-38C from Vance were photographed in the circuit, before a couple of other very nice visitors. An F-16C of the DC ANG from Andrews AFB, was followed by an even bigger surprise, with DC-9-15F N166DE inbound! Operated by Ross Aviation for the US Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, presumably it was visiting with Whiteman being a 'hot' nuclear bomber base? Classic! And then, just before mid-day, the unmistakable shape of a B-2A was heading down the approach, with 13BS 89-0129/WM 'Spirit of Georgia' gliding straight in for a full stop, to finish off a great morning here.

Then, heading back to the same photospot as yesterday, the afternoon wasn't to dissapoint either, with the nice weather continuing. Another three local T-38A's were joined by another Vance T-38C in the circuit. Interestingly, the two Vance aircraft were using what looked like a canvas cover on the inside of the rear cockpit, so as to totally block the outside view. Presumably part of the back seat training. Finally, to top it all, not one but two B-2A's inbound... to join the circuit! Both former test aircraft, 13BS 82-1066/WM 'Spirit of America' was followed by 393BS 82-1069/WM 'Spirit of Indiana'. Of these, 82-1066 was the first B-2A to fly, on 17/7/89, named 'Fatal Beauty'. Based at Edwards AFB for testing, it was later placed into flyable storage at Palmdale in 1993, before upgrade to Block 30 standard and delivered here to the 509BW on 14/7/00 named 'Spirit of America', as the units 21st and final aircraft. 82-1069 was the fourth test aircraft, named 'Christine', and after similar upgrade was delivered here in May 99.

With these amazing aircraft full-stopping and with a lot of driving ahead, i then called it a day here, being more than happy with what i'd managed to shoot. Heading off, back via Kansas City, a quick look around Downtown airport before dark bagged a few old Aero Commanders and a few more biz-jets, including nice old Gulf 2B N511TL, before continuing the long drive North back to Offutt. After the 300 mile trek back, at least the next three days would be a lot more chilled, at the home of the Fightin' 55th Wing, Offutt AFB, Nebraska...


Before concentrating on Offutt AFB, there were a couple of other things i wanted to get done, which were planned for first thing this morning. Firstly, heading over to the SAC Museum, 30 miles to the East of Offutt, i had arranged access to the storage compound there, to photograph a couple of classics present. Former 55th EC-135C 63-8049 is stored here, with wings removed, alongside complete C-54D 0-72724, which was last assigned to the 3902ABW at Offutt, before arriving here in 1970. The EC-135C is special in being the aircraft to operate the very last continuous 'Looking Glass' mission on 24/7/90, after 29 years of continuous airborne operations! From then on, a ground alert was maintained, before the aircraft was finally retired in 1993 and moved here. Of course, hopefully both these fine aircraft will be restored and displayed here in time. As for the museum itself, this impressive place needs a lot more time... so another time.

Heading back to Offutt, another classic on display which needed to be photographed, was former 55th EC-135A 61-0287, which now guards the main gate. From here, it was down to the landing end for the rest of the day, and with runway 30 in use (with landings from the SE), an ideal photospot here is the area around Harlan Lewis and Cunningham Roads, with the farmers here not having any issues parking on the edge of their land. Here i met up with Cary, possibly the only local aircraft photographer (and maybe the only one in Nebraska?!), who i had been in contact with prior to this visit. Movements this afternoon then, in really glorious weather, included based 55Wg aircraft TC-135W 62-4127/OF and RC-135V 64-14846/OF (both crew training), and US Navy E-6B's on detachment 164404, 164406 & 164408 of VQ-3/CSCW-1 (all inbound). Visitors were A-10C 80-0269 with no unit marks (last noted as 107FS MI ANG), inbound for the airshow, US Army UC-35A 97-0104 of DC ArNG/OSACOM Det.4, and C-130H 90-1791 of the 180AS/139AW MO ANG (no unit marks on the nose/fin) which visited for a few circuits from its nearby Rosecrans base.


With runway 30 still in use this morning, i returned to the same photospot as yesterday. From along this road, views across the runway over the fence enable some distant shots of the main 55Wg ramp, with the large E-4B hangar and ramp at the very Southern end. Today, E-4B 73-1676 was parked here. Aircraft then departing were US Navy E-6B 163919 and RC-135V's 64-14843/OF as 'Topcat 32' (training callsign, returning six hours later for the circuit) and 63-9792/OF, the specially marked Wing Commanders aircraft (with 'Fightin 55th Wg' on the fin and left side forward radar fairing, along with the 'Lets Roll' badge on the left side nose), which returned over seven hours later.

Meanwhile, the first of the airshow arrivals for today appeared, starting with a real classic... E-8C 92-3290 of 16ACCS at Robins AFB, inbound as 'Peach 21'. One of the few J-Stars with nose art, it is named 'Dog House'. This was followed by KC-135R 59-1463 of 173ARS NE ANG at nearby Lincoln Airport as 'Husker 15', A-10A 78-0614/FS of 184FS AR ANG 'Flying Razorbacks', KC-10A 83-0078 of 60AMW at Travis AFB, F-15E 87-0184/SJ of 334FS (with 'Lets Roll' nose badge) and EC-130H 73-1580/DM of the 43ECS.

Then, an aircraft taxying for departure, was WC-135W 61-2667 heading out as 'Cobra 67'. Sounding sweet, still fitted with the old TF-33 engines, the two Constant Phoenix 'weather birds' based here, along with the two Open Skies OC-135B's are the only remaining 55th '135's still fitted with the old engines (with all the others now upgraded with CFM-56 engines). Shortly after this, a runway change, with inbounds now from the NW onto runway 12. Not so good for photospots around this end, access to a private field was given, as one of the highlights of the show was inbound. Only just photographed at Whiteman, B-2A 89-0129/WM 'Spirit of Georgia' made a straight in approach, with the other Rivet Joint trainer, TC-135W 62-4129 also inbound as 'Topcat 29', to finish off a great day.


Gaining media access today, along with Cary and a couple of other photographers from Kansas City, we were escorted around the static, before catching the practice displays. Also in the static, not already mentioned arriving, were Ellsworth B-1B 86-0121/EL of 37BS, E-3B 75-0560/OK of 960AACS and C-17A 98-0055 of 97AMW AETC at Atlus AFB. Of the practice displays, the F-15E was awesome as usual, with others including Randy Ball in Lim-5 (Mig-17F) N217SH/1611 also doing the business.

On leaving, the rest of the day was then spent at the roll-out end of runway 12, which was still in use. Not expecting much more, as the B-2A was rolled into the E-4B hangar for its overnight stay, there was still one more show arrival to come... with some drama! After touching down, Barksdale B-52H 60-0022/LA of 96BS (with 'Deuces Wild' nose art), arriving as 'Doom 96', rolled to the end of the runway. As it neared, smoke could be seen coming from the nose gear, and on stopping, the six crew then evacuated the aircraft via the crew hatch (just in front of the smoking gear), running off the runway, towards our position next to the fence. With fire crews then attending, checking out the aircraft wearing full protective gear, the smoke was clearing. Exactly 90 minutes later the Buff was towed off the runway (and into the static!), as the base was re-opened. Presumably, relying totally on the brakes, with no chute used on landing, led to the overheating?!


After a great trip so far, there was still one more highlight to come, as i made a very early start, returning the rental and checking in at Omaha for American Airlines to Dallas DFW. Operated by MD-83 N961TW, departure was at 0615, landing 1.20 hours later at 0735. Picking up the day-rental, it was straight off to spend the day at Love Field, in glorious weather, before a flight back out of DFW to the UK later. Arriving at Love Field, it was straight to the Business Jet Center, where BAC1-11-419EP N999BW of Business Jet Access was awaiting its moment, as the group of enthusiasts who had booked with Classic Jet Tours for a 2 hour pleasure flight, were gathered awaiting this very special flight, in this now extremely rare, classic British airliner. Infact, N999BW has been an executive aircraft since delivery back in 1967, to Engelhard Industries as N270E, passing between various companies until being purchased by Jet Place Inc in September 97 (and re-registered as N999BW for owner, Bob Wright in January 98). With the aircraft not expected to stay operational for much longer, and with dwindling BAC1-11 numbers worldwide, this could well have been the last chance to book a flight on this classic type.

Also present here, to photograph the event were photographers (and aviation journalists) Paul Filmer and Paul Dunn of Global Aviation Resource. Having been in contact with Paul Filmer leading up to this event, i knew he had been arranging with the airport authorities to gain airside access to shoot the 1-11 on take off and landing etc, and i was gratefull to be able to join them. As it turned out, the people at BJA layed on a couple of MPV's, with owner Bob Wright, his son and the lovely Chaney (who had helped with a lot of the organization for today) joining us, as we headed out to photograph the 1-11. Having already started up, with the 21 very happy punters onboard, we first stopped to catch the aircraft taxying out, before heading down to opposite the expected rotation point on runway 13L (after confirming this with the pilots). Then, as planned, the 1-11 powered down the runway, with Captain Ward Abbs pulling the stick back just as they reached us, rotating off the runway with that classic sound and smoke from the Rolls-Royce Speys... Epic stuff!

With the 1-11 headed off for a couple of hours, there was time to have a look around more of Love Field. Of the many biz-jets present, those photographed included smart Falcon 50EX N150RJ (previously LX-IRE) and Gulf 200 XA-MDK, with bigger stuff including Ameristar MD-83 N786TW and B727-200's N104HR and N698SS. Of these, N104HR is all white, being ex Houston Rockets, while N698SS is still in Texas Rangers colours, with both now thought to be out of service. Then, at the SE corner of the airfield, is the Frontiers of Flight Museum, where outside (with the nose inside) is Southwest B737-300 N300SW ‘The Spirit of Kittyhawk’. This was the very first B737-300 to enter service, back in November 84.

Heading back to the Business Jet Center to catch the 1-11 on return, we headed out to the expected touchdown point to shoot the landing. Following the flight around Amarillo, the Palo Duro Canyon and along the Red River, '9BW then made a low gear-down pass on return, along runway 13L, before a tight left hand circuit to land, 1.52 hours after take off. After parking, a few group shots followed, including with the crew and owner standing proudly in front of their aircraft. Finally, as the aircraft taxied away, back to its hangar on the other side of the airfield, past all the gathered enthusiasts for some final shots, there was one more chance to listen to the sound of those Speys. Classic.

So, heading back to DFW, returning the rental car and checking in with American Airlines, it was onto AA50 to Heathrow. Operated by B777-200ER N786AN, departure was at 1705, landing 8.30 hours later at 0735L, before connecting onto BA125 to Bahrain, operated by B747-400 G-BNLM.