As a big fan of classic propliners, one of the most noteworthy aircraft on the scene in recent years has been DC-7B N836D. With its restoration to flying condition at Opa Locka, there had been several chances to photograph the aircraft, though i had still yet to take the opportunity of a flight... until now! Following several flights within the States, including local pleasure flights, Ian Allan then announced a tour with the aircraft. The most ambitious plan to date, would involve the aircraft's first overseas flight, to St Maarten! Infact, being the first international passenger flight of a DC-7 in decades, this was 'the big one', and a chance not to be missed.
Combining a DC-7 flight with a visit to St Maarten, was certainly a 'dream ticket', with the tour actually involving four flights, after en route stops in Puerto Rico. Certainly testing the reliability of the aircraft, with the longest legs being 4 hour flights, surely this was going to be an opportunity that would never be repeated? And so, with a place on the tour reserved, this would now involve the third visit to Florida in six months! Then, looking at any other options to consider as part of the trip, the airshow at Langley AFB would also be included, being held a few days before the DC-7's departure. Following the return from St Maarten, a few more days in Florida would then complete the trip... game on!
DAY 1 THURSDAY 12TH MAY
Travelling straight to Norfolk, Virginia for the show at nearby Langley, was certainly going to be a 'long haul', with the three flights and long lay-overs taking all day. First off then, was BA125 from Bahrain to Heathrow, operated by B777-200ER G-VIIU. Departing at 0130, the 6.30 hour flight was in at 0600L. Connecting onto BA207 to Miami, operated by B747-400 G-CIVJ, departure was at 1130, with the 8.50 hour flight in at 1520L. Then onto AA3523 to Norfolk, operated by an ERJ-145, departure was at 2155, with the 2.05 hour flight in at midnight. Phew!
DAY 2 FRIDAY 13TH MAY
'Air Power Over Hampton Roads' at Langley AFB is one of the big US shows that has now gone to being held only every two years, and as the original, main F-22A Raptor base, it is certainly worth trying to catch. The 27thFS here was the first combat F-22A squadron, receiving their first aircraft back in 2005, with the 1stFW (tail code FF for 'Fighting First') also having the 94thFS on strength, being another of the USAF's oldest fighter squadrons. As well as the Raptors, the Wing recently received the first of seven T-38A's for the Adversary Air Program on 1st April, with the all black Talons previously used at Holloman for F-117A pilot training. Unfortunately, following the recent problems with the Raptor, thought to be a defective OBOGS (On-Board Oxygen Generating System) issue, the aircraft was then grounded on 3rd May, for four months. This bad news, in the lead up to the show, meant that we now wouldn't see the awesome flying display this thing puts on, though there would still be several aircraft in the static.
With media access granted, my first visit, today on the Friday, was to catch some arrivals and practice, as well as the first chance to shoot the static, mostly clear of people. Highlights so far included the 55th Wing Cobra Ball trainer from Offutt, TC-135S 62-4133/OF (with its matt black right wing and engine nacelles, as on the RC-135S Cobra Ball), US Navy E-2C+ 164496/AC-601 from nearby NAS Norfolk (with nice high-viz markings), the always welcome Hog, with a pair of A-10C's from Moody AFB, classic QF-4E 74-1638/TD from Tyndall AFB, and ATAC F-21 Kfir C2 N403AX from nearby Newport News. Also in the static, from their facility on the other side of the airfield, were a few aircraft from the NASA Langley Research Center. These included the modified Cessna 206H N504NA, OV-10A N524NA, and Beech B200 N529NA. The day then ended with a night airshow, to kick off this airshow weekend.
DAY 3 SATURDAY 14TH MAY
While in the area, i had also wanted to take in a few other places over these next two days, and decided on doing this today, before heading back into the show later (and catching the full show tomorrow). First stop then, was the Virginia Air & Space Center nearby, which has ex AirTran DC-9-32 N803AT on display inside (donated after being WFU in 2003). Others include USAF F-4E 67-0392/JJ with two Mig-kill markings from Naam, the first YF-16 prototype 72-01567, which first flew in Jan 1974 (accidentally during a high speed taxi run), and NASA Langley XV-6A Kestrel NASA521. Also nearby, is the roadside Hampton Air Power Park, which has a few aircraft on display outside (with the indoor museum closed for renovation). These include another NASA Langley XV-6A Kestrel, NASA520 (not the original 520, which crashed), US Navy A-7E 157506 (painted as 157500/AC-300), and former Zweibrucken based RF-4C 69-0372/ZZ.
From here, it was on to Newport News, around 10 miles to the NW. Gaining ramp access, those present included Gulf 5 N1956M, BAe125-800A N999JF and based Beech 1900D N843E. Others included three retired aircraft, with ex NASA Langley T-34C N510NA, ex Holloman AT-38B 63-8117/HM, and ex Hampton University instructional airframe, Sabre 40 N88 (previously operated by the FAA from 1973-1993). The main interest here though, are the companies contracted to provide EW/ECM 'tactical air support services' to the US military (in a similar way that Cobham do for the UK military, with their Falcon 20's). Of these, Flight International have their main facility here, with a fleet of old Learjet 35A/36's, including N10FN, N12FN, N50FN, N51FN, N83FN and N84FN present outside today, with some 'kitted up' with pods etc. Also present were three retired, even older Learjets, with Lear 25 N21FN, Lear 24D N48FN, and 1969-built Lear 24B N58FN. Then, detached from home base Cartersville, was Phoenix Air Lear 35 N541PA, while also operating a similar role, is based ATAC Hunter F58 N331AX, which was present outside. One of up to five based here (with another at the Langley show), along with up to three F-21 Kfir's (one at the show), this is part of the largest operational Hunter fleet in the world now, with ATAC/Hunter Aviation operating 14 of the 21 aircraft (mostly ex Swiss F58's) belonging to Lortie Aviation in Quebec City. N331AX has quite an unusual recent history, being returned to service from a museum. Retired by the Swiss as J-4072 in 1994, it then went to the Speyer museum in Germany, for display the following year. However, it was then purchased by Hawker Hunter Aviation as G-HHAB and restored to flying condition at Scampton in 2003, before starting a new life over here in 2009! Finally, two other aircraft based here, also equipped to work with the US military, are Rick Aviation Beech C90 N973GA and Pa-31-350 N333EJ, both of which have extra antennas fitted under the fuselage, as well as 'expensive gear' inside.
Heading back to Langley, the crowds were just leaving at the end of the show. Gaining entrance to the clear static ramp, this then gave the best chance for shots, in the nice late afternoon sunlight. Told there was possibly a storm on the way, after the hot, humid day, they were just pulling the two static F-22A's into the safety of a hangar (doesn't matter about the rest?!). Both specially marked, 08-4162/FF is marked '1st FW', while 04-4082/FF is marked '192d FW'. This is an associate unit with the 1FW, and share their aircraft. Then, of the other static not already mentioned, further highlights were great looking ground instructional F-15A 74-0117/FF 'Spirit of the Virginia Peninsula' marked '1st FW'. Displaying the two active squadron badges (the 27FS and 94FS) from the 1FW, alongside is the 71FS badge, from the final F-15C unit here, inactivated last September. New with the 1FW, adversary T-38A 67-14939 was also in the static, along with F-15E 87-0190/SJ marked '307th FS' (though still with a 333FS badge). The 307FS was activated recently, as part of AFRC unit 414FG at Seymour Johnson AFB, to become operational by September. Another nice Eagle present was F-15D 82-0046 'Kingsley Field' of the Oregon ANG, while of the warbirds at the show, B-29A N529B/44-62070 'Fifi' was the obvious highlight, being the only airworthy Superfortress in the world. Finally, as mentioned, another vintage classic present was ATAC Hunter F58 N334AX. And just like N331AX at Newport News, this was also pulled from a museum! Retired by the Swiss as J-4006 in 1994, it later went to the Canadian Heritage Museum in Hamilton. Acquired by Northern Lights Combat Air Support (now Lortie Aviation) for spares by 2006, it was then restored and registered in March last year.
DAY 4 SUNDAY 15TH MAY
Todays plan was for an early entrance into the show, for some final static shots, catch most of the flying display, but then leave before the Thunderbirds, to avoid the mass exit. My flight back down to Miami wasn't until 2130, but of course didn't want to get caught up in the expected jams at the end of the show. Highlights of the flying display then, included the Heritage Flight of A-10C 81-0967/FT (marked as '23WG') in tight formation with Chino Warbirds P-51D N7TF painted as 44-63684/SX-B 'Double Trouble Two' of 352FS/353FG (really 44-73856). Of course, the Tyndall Phantom was another highlight, as was ex Polish AF Lim-5 (Mig-17F) N217SH/1611 flown by Randy Ball. Another airshow favourite is the Tuskagee Airmen Red Tail Project P-51C NX61429/A4-2. Having seen the aircraft display a few times now, and become familiar with the story behind the aircraft and the unit it commemorates, also present today was one of the six surviving airmen from the 332ndFG, Warren H Eusan, who sang the national anthem. Finally, on a very sad note... the Trojan Horse display team flew at this years show, with one of the aircraft being T-28C N688GR/140581/2S-766 painted as US Navy VT-5 'USS Lexington', flown by Jack 'Flash' Mangan. Four months later, at the Martinsburg Airshow, he was killed when the aircraft crashed during the teams display.
And so, leaving the show after a great few days here and in the area, it was straight to Norfolk airport. One shot before returning the rental, was of departing EMB-120ER N652CT of Charter Transport Inc. Then, checking in for AA3522 to Miami, operated by an ERJ-145, departure was at 2130 for the two hour flight. Now joining the Ian Allan tour, it was straight off to the MIA Hotel, located in the terminal, though being so late, i didn't catch any of the group until morning, when we had an early start...
DAY 5 MONDAY 16TH MAY
Leaving the hotel by coach to Opa Locka, our departure was planned for 0900, with expected arrival over Maho Beach into St Maarten at 1800. Boarding from the Miami Executive Aviation FBO, our crew would be led by Captain Frank Moss, with the first leg to San Juan just over 1,000 miles away to the South East, and St Maarten a further 190 miles East. Our aircraft...
DC-7B N836D (45345) of the Historical Flight Foundation, now restored into Eastern Airlines colours, was originally delivered to Eastern in January 1958. After eight years in service it was then sold to the Nomads Travel Club in September 1965, before being registered to the Twentieth Century Air Travel Club, Las Vegas in February 1973. However, the new owners plans never came to fruition and the aircraft remained parked at St Paul Downtown Airport, Minnesota for over 30 years, still in the old Nomads colours. Fast forward to March 2004, the aircraft was registered under the name of Legendary Airlines, after being purchased by the new company headed by Carlos Gomez, co-owner of Florida Air Transport, based at Opa Locka. Following restoration to flying condition, the aircraft finally departed St Paul on 7th August 2004, arriving at Opa Locka the following day after an overnight stop at Atlanta Peachtree. Complete restoration of the interior and exterior paint finish was later completed by the end of 2008, before the aircraft was then registered to the Historical Flight Foundation (HFF) at the end of December 2009. With FAA approval granted in March 2010 to begin carrying fare paying passengers, this was followed by the first post-restoration flight on 4th July, with the first public appearence at the EAA Oshkosh show three weeks later. One month later, the first local flights over Southern Florida took place, with the first flight taking volunteers and press on a one hour flight from Boca Raton to Key Largo, followed the next day by a flight to Key West for dinner at Kelly's (where Pan Am was founded), with VIP's onboard including John Travolta and his daughter. One final note, regarding the unusual name, 'Clipper Atlantis' the aircraft has been given. Of course, 'Clipper' names don't really belong on aircraft in Eastern colours, being a Pan Am 'thing'. It is infact a remnant from the aircraft's appearence in the ABC TV show 'Pan Am', when some temporary changes to the colour scheme were made. Just a brief summary of the aircraft's history, and the events that led up to where we are today, for a more concise look, check out the excellent article by Ralph Pettersen (who was also on this tour)...
As well as Ralph, several other familiar faces were on the tour, from previous Ian Allan tours, with most of the 50 lucky passengers being from Europe. These also included Udo Schaeffer, who would be filming the tour for Just Planes Videos, for a special DVD release later. As well as his hand held movie camera, he had also set up several fixed cameras inside the aircraft, with one fixed next to a forward window, looking out at the engines, and a couple fixed inside the cockpit. And so, on boarding i had managed to be first on, to get one of the ideal forward window seats, for the best shots of the engine start up and classic prop shots in flight. Of course, as is normal with these special flights, a lot of seat swopping goes on, for those who also want the great shots from the front seats, with only two windows each side forward of the engines.
FAT501 OPF-SJU 4 hours: 'Opa Locka Tower, Florida Air Transport 501 request start for San Juan'... with an on-time departure off Runway 27R at 0900 and turning East, we coasted out over Biscayne Bay, before heading SE, routing out over the Bahamas. Crusing at 9,000 feet and 239 Knots, this gave us very nice views of the Caribbean Islands below, with our route taking us over Andros Town Airport, the Exuma and Mayaguana VOR's, before routing over the Turks and Caicos Islands. Then passing to the North of the Dominican Republic, this took us on to Puerto Rico and into San Juan SJU. On landing and taxying-in, onto a GA ramp, we received a welcome water cannon salute from the fire department. With a large crowd of former Eastern employees, airport workers and media waiting to greet the aircraft, it was quite a reception, with the event making the local news as well as MSNBC. Parking on this also ramp provided a good chance for some nice shots, while the Seven was fuelled up etc. Aircraft present included Northstar Aviation Jetstream 41 N680AS, PRAMS Air Beech 99 N7994R, M&N Aviation Cessna 208B N409MN and Beech 1900C-1 N410MN, and nice exotic Mustique Airways AC500B J8-MQS. Check out the arrival...
FAT501 SJU-SXM 1.10 hours: Departing San Juan at 1705 for St Maarten, we passed low over the US Virgin Islands and the Southern most point of the British Virgin Islands, before making the famous approach over Maho Beach for Runway 10 at Princess Juliana International Airport. Landing at 1815, we parked next to RCAF CC-130H 130333, a nice surprise here! Staying two nights at the Sonesta Great Bay Resort Hotel, overlooking Maho Bay, directly opposite the well know Sunset Bar, where most of the familiar pictures from here are taken from, of aircraft on short finals, a 'phew' feet over the beach! Check out the arrival...
A full, free day at St Maarten, i decided to leave breakfast at the hotel and take it at the Sunset Bar, in time for the first arrival of the day, at LIAT Dash 8 from St Kitts just after 7am. Staying here until just after 2pm, most of the group gradually arrived, with a few of us making some plans for the day. Others in the group had decided to charter an Islander for a return flight to the other famous airport in the region, St Barthelemy. Around 20 miles to the SE of St Maarten, the airport is of course well known for the extremely steep approach over the hilltop roundabout at one end, and very low approach over the beach at the other end. If we had more time here, i would have certainly considered a visit here, so hopefully next time!
Highlights at St Maarten then, over the seven hours spent here this morning (some in several times throughout the day), included Anguilla Air Services BN-2A VP-AAS, DAE Fokker 100 PJ-DAB, the 'big one' that people were looking forward to, KLM B747-400 PH-BFG, Windward Express BN-2A PJ-WEA, and the departing Canadian Herk as CFC2370. With the ramp lowered on taxy and line-up, a crew member was sat there photographing the beach view! Then, after departure, the aircraft returned for a low, gear-up pass before heading off. Everyone just loves this place! Other highlights then included Insel Air MD-82 PJ-MDB, Sky Way Shorts 360 N385MQ, Pa-23-250 PJ-WEC, St Barth Commuter BN-2B F-OIJU with the returning group charter, followed 15 minutes later by their Cessna 208B F-OSBH, departing Learjet 60 N706CJ, Trans Anguilla Airways BN-2A VP-AAA, DHL/Air St Kitts & Nevis Cessna 208B N930HL, Anguilla Air Services BN-2A VP-AAC, United Healthcare Gulf 550 N56UH, and St Barth Commuter Cessna 208B F-OSBC. Others here include the regular LIAT Dash 8's and Winair Twin Otters.
As well as the famous low approaches, this place is also well known for 'ridin' the fence'! This is where people hold on to the perimeter fence, trying not to get 'blown away' by the jet blast from aircraft powering up on take off! While most think the KLM B747's etc will be the biggest 'test' for this, these actually take it quite easy on departure, rolling away steadily before full power is applied (an intentional safety restriction?). As we were to see, its usually the Insel MD-80's that provide the most fun here, backtracking to use 'every inch' of the runway. Looking almost like a local custom here, a guy with the Curaçao flag walked out onto the beach for the Insel departures, getting waves and thumbs-up from the pilots, as they then apply full power from what must be less that 50 feet from the fence! Funny as hell to watch, with thankfully no silly 'elfen safety' here to ruin things! Long may that continue.
With the sun getting around, and not so good for landing shots, we used the next hour or two to visit a classic propliner present on the island. Located in the main town centre, in Philipsburg, is YS-11 ex PJ-WIK, which is used as part of the 'Air Lekkerbek Bar & Restaurant'. Retired by Winair in December 1991, and used for spares at St Maarten, the fuselage was later moved here by barge. Now painted in green 'Heineken' colours, the cabin interior is set out with tables and chairs, while the cockpit, interestingly still showing the previous Philippines reg RP-C1420, has been 'restored' using some 'interesting' bits and pieces! So, after having a bite to eat and a drink here (would be rude not to!), we headed back to the airport. On the way, we stopped by a playground which has a Twin Bonanza mounted on its nose in a 'crash position'! Back at the airport for the last couple of hours of daylight, the best photospot for this time of day is from the hotel next to the Sonesta on the Northern perimeter, where there is a spot up some steps next to the pool, overlooking the taxyway and line-up point. A few more shots today then, included departing Falcon 50 N85TN, Copa Airlines B737-700(WL) HP-1379CMP, and DHL/Air St Kitts & Nevis Cessna 208B N910HL, which was delivered new two months earlier.
DAY 7 WEDNESDAY 18TH MAY
Before our departure today, a photo-flight had been arranged, with the idea put forward long before the tour. Although we were getting a lot of hours flying time on the Seven, with plenty of photo ops from inside the aircraft and on the ground, we still wouldn't be getting the chance to shoot the aircraft in flight. Of course, if possible, the ideal place for a photo-flight to happen, would be at St Maarten, and after arrangements with the airport authorities were made, it was given the OK. For our part, a request was made for donations, to raise the needed amount to cover the cost of the gas etc for the short flight. Thankfully, enough people were prepared to add the cash needed, and the flight was confirmed a 'go'. The chance to shoot the only passenger DC-7 in the world, over Maho Beach, will probably never be repeated!
Set for an 0930 departure, and with the sun still being fairly straight down the runway early on, a few of us decided to head back to the same photospot as late yesterday, overlooking the runway towards the Sunset Bar (where most of the group had gone). With some dark clouds building in the South, we probably had the best light, with the dark backdrop, although there was to be a negative aspect to this soon! For now, thankfully, the sun continued shining, as the Seven started up, with a serious amount of smoke from the four Wright R-3350's. Taking a couple of controllers along for the ride, after receiving cooperation from ATC for the flight, take off would be on Runway 28, towards the beach. Keeping it low and getting the gear up early, of course as requested, the awesome sight and sound would be repeated six minutes later, when the aircraft returned, for approach onto Runway 10, gliding in over the beach with gear down for a full stop landing. Fantastic.
Also to mention, as well as our aircraft, there had been another old classic movement at the airport this morning, with Amerijet B727-200F(WL) N598AJ photographed on stand, then looking great taxying out and departing, while also present, were BVI Airways Jetstream 31 N487UE and Cessna 510 PJ-DOM. And so, walking the short distance to the terminal, we then prepared for our departure. However, those menacing looking clouds mentioned earlier had reached the airport, bringing in a bit of a tropical storm! To be on the safe side, our departure was held until the worst of it passed, resulting in a delay of around three hours in the end.
FAT502 SXM-BQN 1.30 hours: Our return through Puerto Rico would be via Aguadilla-Borinquen Airport, on the NW tip of the island, around 265 miles from St Maarten. This would be to clear customs for the USA, though partly because of our delay, the hoped for visit to derelict ex AMSA Connie HI-542CT on the Southside of the airfield, wasn't going to happen. However, parking on the ramp alongside the Fedex facility, a good shot of A310-200F N450FE was possible, with visiting Dominican Pa-23-250 HI879 taxying in and parking right next to us, obviously also to clear customs. Then, before departure, our crew of six agreed to pose for some pictures in front of their pride and joy, as we then boarded for the final leg of the tour, home to Opa Locka.
FAT502 BQN-OPF 4 hours: Our original expected arrival back into Opa Locka of 1800 was of course going to be much later following our delays. Getting airborne at 1750, we would cruise at 8,000 feet and 230 knots, routing back over the Bahamas via the Nassau VOR. Flying in the dark for the first time, the fire and heat coming from the engine exhausts became really noticeable, as we then coasted in back over Miami Beach for a straight in landing at Opa Locka, touching down 4.05 hours later at 2055L.
DAY 8 THURSDAY 19TH MAY
The final day of the Ian Allan tour, saw us return to Opa Locka for a ramp tour of the Florida Air Transport ramp and 'boneyard' area. Having photographed most of these aircraft on previous visits, it was good to get some different angles etc from airside. Kindly arranged by HFF President Roger Jarman, who had been of great help with the DC-7 tour, he then took his chance to take us to his Atlantic Models shop (just to the North of MIA) to get some money out of us (why not)! As well as a 1/72 scale model of N836D and an Eastern Airlines plaque, the 1/100 scale model of Space Shuttle Discovery also caught my eye. Just hope i could get them home in one piece... which i did!
Then on to MIA and saying farewell to the group, most of who were returning home to the UK etc, i then had another three days in Florida before heading home. Picking up the rental, it was straight off to the Eldorado photospot for a few hours, photographing Runway 09 movements. Highlighlights included AeroMexico Connect ERJ-145LR XA-ALI, Amerijet B767-200SF N741AX, ABX Air B767-200BDSF N740AX, Florida West B767-300ERF(WL) N316LA, Alitalia B777-200ER I-DISE, classic Avior Airlines B737-200 YV341T, Iberia A340-600 EC-JBA, and Centurion Cargo MD-11F N986AR. With the sun getting around, the photospot for Runway 12 movements is now better, at the 'holes' in the fence. Highlights then included new, ten weeks old Avianca A320 N599AV, Lufthansa B747-400 D-ABVO, Copa B737-800 HP-1534CMP with large 'Visit Panama' logo, new one month old Alitalia A330-200 EI-EJI, and classic Amerijet B727-200F(WL) N598AJ (just photographed at St Maarten!).
Then, for the final hour of the day, a quick nip up to Opa Locka, provided a few nice biz-jets, with visiting Cessna 680 XA-RTS, nice old hush-kitted Gulf 2SP N380AC, classic Westwind 1124 N900JF, and Learjet 25D N555SD, for sale alongside the three retired Jetstars. Returning to MIA for the hotel, staying at the Comfort Inn gives the chance of a few shots, looking down onto the ramp next to the AAR Corp hangar. Parked here was old Atlas Air B747-200SF N524MC which was receiving some attention, with a bare metal area below the rudder receiving a coat of primer overnight.
DAY 9 FRIDAY 20TH MAY
Todays plan was for a drive up the coast, taking in some of the usual popular places, including St Lucie, where MAF had a new Turbo Dak that i needed to shoot. First, a few more shots from the hotel room first thing included World MD-11ER N278WA and Allegiant MD-82 N872GA parked up, with FedEx A310-200F N423FE arriving. On leaving, a quick look along the Northern perimeter had nice Air Key West P-68C N683KW parked at the Landmark Aviation FBO, before on to the first, quick stop at Opa Locka, where nice old hush-kitted Gulf 3 N767CB was photographed. Next stop was Fort Lauderdale Exec, where a good look around provided highlights Cessna 551SP YV1776, nice CVG Corp Beech 350 YV0138 (ex Venezuelan Government), nice old hush-kitted Gulf 3 N817MF, ex German Army Bo105M N106DL (ex 80+27), Fort Worth based US Dept of Justice Bell 412EP N813FK on maintenance, based 1971-built Tropic Air BN-2A N200MU, Maxfly Aviation Saab 340A N334MA still in basic Pacific Coastal Airlines colours (ex C-GCPZ), and a couple of nice 125's, with BAe125-800A N44HH which was previously the fourth -800 demonstrator N800BA, and HS125-700B C6-IUN which has some familiar history, being originally McAlpine's G-BHLF and then G-OCAA.
Then, asking at the Jet Harbor MRO, as usual access was granted by the friendly guys at this Sabreliner specialist. The classics present inside their hangar and outside were 1972-built Sabre 40 YV416T, Sabre 60 N44DD, and Sabre 65's N73TJ and N117JW. Others included another nice BAe125-800A N800RM (258001), which was the original -800 demonstrator N800BA (also ex G-BKTF and G-UWWB), Hawker 800XP XA-TPB, Falcon 20F YV2723 (ex N300CV), and Falcon 10 XA-UJG. Next door, the Learjet specialists had sweet little 1971-built Lear 24D N63GA (ex HB-VCT) still with Starlight Express logos, early 1974-built Lear 35 N111WB, Lear 31A N31UJ (to be LV-CLK in July), and 1972-built Lear 25C N79EV among others. As if all this wasn't enough, i also accessed the storage ramp nearby (the only time this has been managed) for more classics... Sabre 40 N43WL, Sabre 60's N59K, N600GL being worked on, and N71CC looking OK after its recent mishap (see Florida February-March 2011 report), Sabre 65 N65BT, Sabre 80 YV265T and Sabre 80A YV338T. What a place... Sabreliner heaven!
From here it was straight up to St Lucie, otherwise known as Fort Pierce, for a return visit to Missionary Flights International based here. The church-based company headed by President Dick Snook (a Vietnam veteran on EC-47's), operate several DC-3's, mainly flying regular aid flights to some of the poorer Caribbean Islands, especially Haiti. Looking to replace their older piston DC-3's with turbo Daks, they recently received their fourth aircraft, with the delivery of DC-3-65TP N500MF (ex N376AS) here on 15th April. Following a $2.3 Million restoration at Kidron, OH by Preferred Airparts, it really does like a brand new aircraft, being present in the hangar receiving some attention prior to entering service. With interior finishing followed by certification, 500 later made its first operational flight to Haiti on 13th September. Also present today in the hangar, were DC-3-65TP N200MF receiving some work, and piston DC-3C N300MF (with N400MF out somewhere). Heading back South, the final shots today would be at West Palm Beach, before back to the hotel at MIA. As well as a couple of logojets, with JetBlue 'New York Jets' A320 N746JB and Delta 'Skyteam' B757-200(WL) N659DL, biz-jets photographed included 1974-built Cessna 500 N972AB, Avanti N175SL, and Tulsa based Sabre 65 N700JC which departed.
DAY 10 SATURDAY 21ST MAY
With the major travelling done, the last two days of the trip would be spent in Miami, between MIA and Opa Locka. First thing at MIA, after seeing an Aerolineas Argentinas flight was due in, A340-300X LV-BIT was caught on finals for Runway 09, before the usual look along the Northern perimeter FBO's. FedEx Feeder Cessna 208B N828FE and very nice Global Express N528MP were then photographed, before a real surprise, with a pair of US Army UH-60A's parked on the customs ramp. Seeing they were just about to depart, i waited in a nearby car park to shoot them on lift off. Getting good shots of one of them (78-022967), even more surprising was then seeing the aircraft markings, being from the 1-192Avn Puerto Rico Army National Guard, based at Isla Grande, San Juan. Who knows why they were here!
Heading up to Opa Locka for the usual early morning look, visiting biz-jets included nice old Gulf 3 N80SR, Premier N21XP, Cessna 650 PR-FOR, and nice 1979-built HS125-700A N111ZS. Then meeting up again with Roger Jarman from the HFF, he kindly let me take a few airside shots, of some of those difficult from the fence, including BN-2A N29884 (previously G-HMCG), PRAMS Air Cessna 208B N801FL from San Juan, Westwind 1124 N204TM, Falcon 20F N939CK (both WFU), the ex Aero Ejecutivos C-47 YV1854, engineless Global Air B737-200 XA-UMP (the old Britannia Airways G-BONM), and also retired, the ex Platinum B727-200F N727PL which has been parked here since 2004 (though in a difficult spot to photograph).
Returning to MIA for the rest of the day, the Eldorado photospot provided highlights Centurion Cargo MD-11F N984AR, Air France B747-400 F-GISC, Alitalia B767-300ER I-DEIG, Tampa Cargo B767-200SF N769QT, Iberia A340-600 EC-JBA, and AeroMexico B737-700 EI-DRD with a large 'Banamex Visa Card' logo. Then, with Lufthansa B747-400 D-ABVC and Florida West 'silver bullet' B767-300ERF N422LA taxying out, i headed down to the 94th Restaurant for some rotation shots (although the latter must have been empty!). From here, another drive around the perimeter provided some shots of a couple of retired aircraft, with Ryan International B767-300 N123DN and Sky Lease A300B4-203F N821SC (WFU after returning from MTA Cargo lease, and still in their basic colours) parked/stored on the NE ramp. Further down, on a NW ramp, all white MD-83 N593AN of CSI Aviation/US Dept of Immigration was parked up, while some nice biz-jets present included Hawker 800XP XA-CHG, and a couple of USAF 89AW Gulf's, with old C-20B 86-0206 in the anonymous style colours (with no national insignia) and C-37A 99-0404 parked together.
Then, after a shot of Estafeta Cargo B737-300F XA-GGB departing from Runway 12, i decided to try something different for the last hour of the day. With the sun straight down Runway 09 now, i parked under the final approach to shoot the landing traffic about to touchdown with Miami CBD as a backdrop. Arrivals included Martinair Cargo MD-11F PH-MCY, Tampa Cargo B767-200SF N767QT, LAN B767-300ER(WL) CC-CZT, and Air Europa A330-200 EC-LKE.
DAY 11 SUNDAY 22ND MAY
The final day, with a similar routine, starting with a final look at Opa Locka first thing. New were nice old executive B737-200 N787WH of Aero Toy Store (about to be registered as VP-CAQ for Jet Connections Ltd on 17th June), which departed, followed by a pair of Westwinds, with winglet fitted N818JH, and 1976-built N900JF. A couple of old Gulfstreams parked, were engineless 1976-built Gulf 2SP N190CS, and Gulf 2B N302DP. A couple of nice Mexican's present were Cessna 680 XA-RTS and 1978-built HS125-700A XA-SAU, while Brazilian Cessna 680 PR-FOR departed.
Finally, back to MIA for a couple of hours provided MAS Air Cargo B767-300ERF(WL) N420LA, ABX Air B767-200SF N742AX, Sky Lease Cargo MD-11F N952AR, and Amerijet B767-200BDSF N739AX. Returning to the hotel to check out, US Navy UC-12M 163842 (previously a Mildenhall regular when assigned to NAS Rota) was parked up at the Landmark FBO, then from the room, Centurion Cargo MD-11F N985AR was photographed parked up. And that was it! Returning the rental and checking in for Heathrow, it would be two flights home this time, with AA2086 to JFK operated by a B757-200(WL), off at 1830 and landing at 2130. Connection was AA106 to LHR, operated by a B777-200, departing at 2315 and landing at 1045L on the 23rd. Another fantastic trip to the States... and further!
Sadly, what could well have been the final flight of DC-7B N836D occured exactly four months after our final flight. On 18th November 2011, the aircraft operated a charity flight from Opa Locka to Charlotte, North Carolina with Captain "Sully" Sullenberger and first officer Jeff Skiles on board. On landing in Charlotte, the crew and passengers toured the US Air A320 'Miracle on the Hudson' aircraft (as piloted by Sully and Skiles), now on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum there. Then, on take off, on return to Opa Locka, the aircraft had a number 3 engine failure, which was shut down, before returning for an emergency landing.
Initially, the aircraft remained at Charlotte temporarily awaiting repairs, and was moved back to the Carolinas Aviation Museum ramp, where it would be looked after. However, as time passed, it became clear that the aircraft may well not fly again, with the large costs involved for a new engine etc being too great. Unfortunately, never being a great money maker, not even covering the operational costs over the 14 months it was airworthy, the long term future of the aircraft wasn't seen as being commercially viable anyway, so any major problem such as this could always have meant the end of its flying days. Further to this, the registration then later expired on 30/6/13. Fantastic while it lasted...