Reno Air Races – Tuesday

What a thrill to be able to check off one more item on my bucket list: the Reno Air Races! I’ve never been, but certainly wanted to. So when I applied for, and was awarded, media credentials for the event, I was elated! And here I am.

I arrived at Reno on Tuesday afternoon and headed up to the Reno/Stead Airport (RTS) to get checked in and receive my marching orders. After hitting the Media Check-in Center, I hung out with Abe Gaskins for a few minutes before making my way out to the media stand by the runway. It was fairly late in the day but I did manage a few photos before the end of practice.

Race 3 (N63SF) is a Hawker Sea Fury TMK20 flown by Dennis Sanders

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Jeff Turney’s L-39C, Race 54, (N139RM) was among the most colorful of the jets out on the course

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Here is Brent Hisey’s P-51D, “Miss America”, N991R, Race 11

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My buddy Larry Labriola took his L-39C Race 7 (N995X) for a spin around the block.

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Race 62 (NL151BP) is a red-tail P-51D belonging to Mark Moodie

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Wee Willy is P-51D NL7715C

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Appropriately numbered Race 63 is NX163BP, P-63C Kingcobra, flown by Jim Dale

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Race 32 (NX39MX) is Zach McNeill’s L-39C Invictus.

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VH-XET is Race 61, Kevin Roll’s L-29 Miss Independence

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I’m looking forward to much more photography, and meeting and greeting, on Wednesday

AirVenture 2018 – Day 6

Saturday, July 28, 2018, was Day 6 of AirVenture, and, in some ways, the most important photo shoot of the event for me. The seeds of this mission were sown when I was at the Great Lakes/Howell Formation clinic two weeks prior. I got to talking with Dan Schiffer, the only check pilot at the event and one of the very few in his region. Dan brought his T-34 to Howell, but somehow I managed to not take a single photo of it. When he ever so delicately pointed that out to me, I offered to photograph it if he brought it to Oshkosh. He responded, “I’m not bringing the T-34 to Oshkosh. I’m bringing the Corsair.” Of course, I HAD to respond, “Okay, I’ll be very happy to photograph the Corsair!”

That was the genesis of an idea that evolved into our photo shoot of Saturday morning. Just one week before AirVenture 2017, Vlado Lenoch, a talented and widely-admired warbird pilot, was killed in the crash of a P-51D. Schiffer and Lenoch had been good friends, and Vlado often flew the Corsair that is owned, in part, by the Schiffer family. Additionally, earlier this year, the Warbird Heritage Foundation acquired Lenoch’s old P-51D, “Moonbeam McSwine”, with the intention of flying it in memory of Lenoch under the new registration N51VL. So, Dan Schiffer suggested putting together a flight consisting of the Corsair and Mustang in Lenoch’s honor.

Needless to say, I certainly didn’t have the horsepower to organize such a high-profile flight, but Dan did. He spoke with his cousin Michael Schiffer about flying the Corsair, and then recruited Fred Bower to fly the Mustang. Ron Staley was scheduled to fly his L-39 as the photo ship. But with a grandchild due any minute, he suggested Mike Terfehr as a replacement. I’d flown with “Spanky” earlier in the week and was delighted that I was going to be flying with him again. As we began our briefing on Friday evening, Bill Culberson asked if he could join in with his MiG 17. I certainly wasn’t going to say “No” to the chance to take photos of his freshly painted MiG! One last question remained…what our call sign would be. I suggested “Vlado Flight”, and that settled that question.

I’m going to be honest. I had a mixture of nervousness and excitement that night, and didn’t get a lot of sleep. Vlado was one of the first warbird pilots I’d friended on Facebook and, God bless him, he always had time to say hello when I’d hit him up with a chat request. I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in Peru IL last year, less than two months before his untimely death. He was universally liked, admired, and respected, and his death sent shock waves through the warbird community. This flight was going to be a big deal…so big, in fact, that I understand Dan was trying to arrange for Vlado’s son Michael, a US Air Force pilot, to come to Oshkosh to fly in the back seat of Moonbeam. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

Before I knew it, Saturday morning had arrived, and we were off to the races. A lot of spectators at AirVenture listen to airband radios to hear what’s going on, myself included. As “Vlado Flight” echoed on radios around the airport, the very name caught the attention of a lot of people. The sight of a Corsair, Mustang, MiG 17, and L-39 certainly got the attention of others. By the time we’d taken position on the runway, I could feel a lot of eyes watching us.

As he did before, Spanky did a masterful job of organizing the flight through various formations and angles. He made my job fairly easy as he lined up the formation, then eased us into position. The only fly in the ointment was that Mike Schiffer in the Corsair lost all radio communication with us. Ever the professional, he stayed glued to the wing of Moonbean. That cut down some of our maneuvering options, but he did allow us to complete the mission.

We took plenty of photos of all three aircraft, then we got the MiG to back off so we could capture shots of just the Corsair and Mustang. Then we took some individual aircraft portraits. We wanted to get some shots of the MiG in afterburner, but it took two tries to realize that Culberson started accelerating well before the flame began to shoot out of the tailpipe. On the third try, he started off well behind us so I could catch the flame as he passed by. Man, he was really humming as he passed us, but I did get off a couple of pretty good shots.

We were probably up there close to an hour, and it was probably about the most exciting hour of photography I’ve had since I joined the warbird community. I felt pretty good about the photos, but it wasn’t until I looked at them on my laptop that I heaved a sigh of relief! Many thanks to everyone involved, especially Dan Schiffer, for having the vision as well as the wherewithal to get the right people on board. Also, kudos to Mike Terfehr, who is one of the best photo ship pilots I’ve ever flown with. Taking these photos as a tribute to the memory of Vlado Lenoch was truly a team effort, and I was blessed to be one part of a terrific team. Thanks again to Mike Schiffer, Fred Bower, and Bill Culberson.

This year, EAA Warbird President Connie Bowlin and Paul Wood dedicated the Warbird Youth Center building in Lenoch’s memory. This building houses the P-51 Mustang and Corsair Flight Simulators. I am proud to say that one of my photos will eventually be displayed in this building. It is an honor.

AirVenture 2018 – Day 5

Friday, July 27, 2018, was Day 5 of AirVenture, and was a “just for fun” sort of flight. When I posted a few of Sunday’s “pre-show” photos on Facebook, I got a note from Kevin Kearney that one of the planes I got shots of was a PT-26 belonging to Mark Howard. I’d met both Kevin and Mark through my photo shoot of the Berlin Airlift C-97. So…I was shortly on the phone with Mark to say hello and see if we could arrange for a little photo shoot of his PT-26.

In that same vein, I gave Hunter Reilly a shout to see if he was up for a flight. Hunter flies a BT-13, and I met him at Oshkosh last year, after previously friending both Hunter and his dad, Jeremy. We had a good photo shoot last year, but we were both happy for another opportunity. So, a plan was formed.

Early on Friday morning, we all met by the BT-13, a.k.a. the Vultee Vibrator, for our briefing. We decided to take off with me in the back of the Vibrator and fly to Appleton WI, (ATW) while I took pictures of Mark’s plane. In Appleton, I would switch over to the backseat of the PT-26 and photograph the BT-13. Howard’s friend Mark Phillips flew in the back of the opposite aircraft.

Hunter Reilly (L), Mark Howard (C), and Mark Phillips (R) go over the briefing items prior to our flight.

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We departed Oshkosh and turned north toward Appleton. Hunter kept the Vibrator to the east of Mark, and we had a nice little photo shoot as we headed out over Lake Winnebago. Despite the weak sunlight, the traditional blue and yellow colors of the Basic Trainer stood out vividly against the dark background. There were some challenges with airspeeds as the PT-26 was cranking high RPMs in order to keep up with the BT-13, which as flying as slowly as Hunter was comfortable with. But we made it work.

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Our arrival at ATW was routine, despite the higher-than usual traffic. This airport s typically a reliever airport for OSH and gets a lot of overflow from AirVenture. In fact, on the Saturday preceding AirVenture, when OSH was IFR only, a LOT of traffic diverted to ATW. So our arrival was not a stress on the tower and then professionally handled us in the air and on the ground.

After we played “Musical Airplanes”, we departed ATW and headed back over Lake Winnebago to take photos of Hunter’s BT-13. Then it was time to join the furball of arrivals at OSH. I constantly marvel as the professionalism of the controllers at OSH which is, for one week, the busiest airport in the world. They safely and efficiently handle nearly 20,000 operations during AirVenture. Due to the difference in airspeeds, we parted company, leaving Hunter to fly the Warbird Arrival, while we headed south to follow the railroadd tracks leading to a VFR arrival to Runway 27. Our landing was routine, and we taxied back to Warbird Parking. It was another successful photo mission.

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After these flights, I took time to seek out Mike “Blade” Filucci, one of the big movers and shakers in the Warbird Community. Blade, currently the Vice President of Flight Operations and Pilot Information Center at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, was the first President of what is now the Redstar Pilot’s Association.

He says, “In 1997, the Yak Pilots Club was a small and struggling association of pilots flying primarily Yak-52s. It was in critical enough shape that it was in danger of losing its accreditation under the Formation And Safety Training (F.A.S.T). I had recently bought a Nanchang CJ-6 so I was interested in growing the association beyond its boundaries. Along with two partners, we basically bought the assets of the Yak Flying Club and renamed it the Yak Flying Association, later renamed Redstar Pilots Association (RPA).” Blade was the Association’s first President.

When I caught up with Blade, he was showing John Shuttleworth his new airplane, a SOCATA TB30 Epsilon, a French built light military trainer. It sports a Lycoming O-540 flat-six piston engine. He says, “The performance of the Epsilon makes It a terrific formation aircraft. The controls are extremely responsive, and the engine produces plenty of power. Having said that, I will always be an RPA’er at heart.”

While we were chatting, current RPA President Hartley “Postal” Postlethwaite came by to visit. It was a terrific photo op.

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After visiting with these gentlemen, I took some time to catch my breath and watch some of the air show from Warbird Parking.

I was particularly pleased to see my RPA Comrades fly a couple of extremely tight formations.

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I also caught “Doc” making a tight turn overhead.

All in all, Friday was a good day to catch up with some people I’d wanted to see, and still take some pretty good photos. At the end of the day, I met with a special group of pilots to brief a very special flight for Saturday morning. More on that in the next blog installment.

AirVenture 2018 – Day 4

 

Thursday, July 26, 2018, was Day 4 of AirVenture, and was easily the most emotional day of the week. As they do every year, the RPA honored America’s military veterans by performing a flyover of the Kingman Veterans Hospital on Thursday morning. This year, the flyover included L-Birds, which brought Birddogs and Navions to Kingman. After making several passes over the hospital, the pilots landed at nearby Waupaca Municipal Airport, where two busloads of ambulatory veterans arrived to meet the pilots and share memories of their military service. This is a meaningful tradition that the RPA intends to continue.

We had an interesting armada of aircraft that headed to the Kingman Veterans Hospital.  The RPA was joined by L-Birds, including Navions flown by Tom Burlace and Greg Young, as well as the Warbird Heritage Foundation Skyraider flown by John Shuttleworth

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Shuttleworth led three Nanchang CJ-6s over Waupaca Airport before heading back to Oshkosh.

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It was difficult not to get emotional seeing these militay heros who came out to greet us. This was obviously a big deal to them, which made it a big deal to us. A group of us landed at Waupaca to meet two busloads of veterans. Dan Booker is seen here greeting several veterans.

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Lee Haven and his son also spent time talking with the veterans who made a point of coming out to Waupaca.

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Herb Coussons also brought his son along to thank the veterans for their service

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The veterans took great interest in the CJ-6s at Waupaca

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Joe Oram answers questions about his Yak 52

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Our pilots looked every bit as happy as the veterans were

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Rico Jaeger and his First Lady, Carrie Ann.

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Jaeger’s good-looking Yak-52

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Tom Burlace and Greg Young were the two Navion drivers.

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Getting ready for a break right to land on Runway 27 at Oshkosh. Man, look at all those airplanes!

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Back on the ground at Oshkosh, Bob Graves (R) is greeted by RPA member and aerobatic expert Jon Elam.

AirVenture 2018 – Day 3

Wednesday, July 25, 2018, was Day 3 of AirVenture, and one of the more exciting days of the week. A week prior to AirVenture, I had attended the Great Lakes/Howell Formation clinic which was held at the hangar of Ron “Pucker” Staley. Pucker owns a beautiful L-39 and while I was at Howell, he and I talked about photographing his bird at Oshkosh. This finally happened on Day 3 of AirVenture.

The briefing is a mandatory preface to a formation flight. It is the responsibility of the Lead to conduct these briefings, using the input of the other participants. Briefings go over many important aspects of the flight, including mission objectives, radio frequencies, emergency procedures, and a whole list of other information critical to the flight. All flights have stated objectives, usually involving several established formations. This formation included

Pucker,

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Tom “Mongo” Proctor,

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Michael McCauley,

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and Scott Farnsworth.

Mike “Spanky” Terfehr flew the L-39 photo ship that I was shooting from.

After a thorough briefing that included photography, we took off from Runway 27 at Oshkosh. In order to speed up the departure, the first three jets took off in a three-ship vic, followed by Farnsworth in his colorful “Dash” L-39, and our plane. This made for some nice shots of Farnsworth lifting off over the crowd of aircraft on the ground. We were off to a great start.

One of my favorite views is a nice takeoff shot in formation

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d lucked out by flying with Spanky. It was soon obvious that he knew what a photographer is looking for. He understood lighting, sun angle, formation angle, etc etc etc. Additionally, as briefed, Spanky was able to maneuver pretty much at will in order to get me in the best positions for photos. Spanky and Pucker often fly together, so that fosters a level of trust that gave us a great deal of flexibility in our maneuvering. The result was some very rewarding photography.

Here is a shot of a perfect fingertip formation

These guys fly a pretty tight echelon

The clouds made for an interesting background. It was a good day, especially since the weather turned to crap later in the day.

AirVenture 2018 – Day 2

Tuesday, July 24, 2018, was Day 2 of AirVenture. In the morning, I had the opportunity to enjoy my first flight in the venerable Navion. I had the pleasure of flying with Greg “Big Dawg” Young as he went up for a “rec ride” for his Lead card…a four-ship formation flight during which he demonstrated his skills in leading a formation. He flew under the watchful eye of fellow Navion pilot Tom Burlace, who is a F.A.S.T. check pilot.  To round out the four-ship formation, the Navion drivers recruited Yak-52 pilots Dan Booker and Lee Haven.

Booker notes, “Although the Yak 52 and Navion are in much different categories, they actually fly well together. The challenge in flying with cabin-class aircraft is the visibility issue out the right-hand side of the airplane, as opposed to the unobstructed view out of the canopy of a Yak. Some of the hand signals are a little difficult to see from aircraft stacked to the right of the Navion, and rejoins to the right can be a bit tougher, but Big Dawg was very cognizant of this and was extremely careful to make sure that his hand signals were visible to his wingmen.

Tom Burlace, a F.A.S.T. Check pilot, flew in the #2 position off our wing and took copious notes about Big Dawg’s performance.

A four-ship formation is required for a Lead rec ride, so Dan Booker (green) and Lee Haven (red & white) filled in as # 3 and 4.

A good formation makes for bad pictures. This is a perfect formation. You have to look very closely to see Lee’s red & white Yak hidden behind Dan’s green Yak.

I asked Big Dawg to step up a couple of feet so that I could capture this good-looking formation. All in all, he passed his rec ride with flying colors. A couple of weeks later, he passed a final test from a check pilot, and was officially awarded his Lead card. Congratulations, Greg.

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In the afternoon, I made my way over to our traditional afternoon photo spot adjacent to Runway 18/36. While it is a great vantage point from which to watch the main air show, the real attraction to me is “The show after the show.” During the scheduled air show, Oshkosh Airport is closed to all traffic other than those participating in the show. The moment the air show is over, the airport is open to regular traffic, and the assortment of aircraft coming and going can resemble another air show. It was a good ending to a great day.

Sometimes, the show after the show can be every bit as interesting as the show! All in all, it was a good day, and I finished the day looking forward to what Day Three was going to bring…

AirVenture 2018 – Day 1

AirVenture 2018, a.k.a. the Oshkosh Air Show is, of course, the premiere aviation event of the year. It can best described as Woodstock for airplane people. With my involvement in the warbird community, my participation at AirVenture has changed in the past two years. Until last year, my attendance at Oshkosh could be compared to watching a NASCAR race from the bleachers. But that all changed last year, as I had the opportunity to fly on two “dawn patrol” flights. It was like watching a NASCAR race from pit row.

As one of the official Redstar Pilots Association correspondents, I was able to join the RPA in the Warbird Mass Arrival, which occurred on Monday, July 23, the official opening day of AirVenture 2018.

Dan Booker, newly-elected Regional Director for the North Central Region of the RPA, was the primary RPA organizer for AirVenture 2018, and he did a magnificent job of organizing AND participating in the RPA events throughout the week. Our morning started out with a thorough briefing by Booker, and then we flew out to nearby New Holstein WI, to assemble for the Mass Arrival.

Keith Harbour (121) leads the second four-ship flight toward New Holstein.  The rest of the flight consists of Kurt Muhle (919), David Wilkins (38), and Lee Haven (103)

Keith Harbour (121) and Kurt Muhle (919) head toward New Holstein

Lee Haven was in the #4 position flying over to New Holstein in his Yak-52

At New Holstein, we grabbed some lunch, and then briefed for the flight back to Oshkosh. As the Lead of the 12-ship formation, the return flight was a particular challenge for Booker. Not only did he have to hit his Time On Target exactly, but he also had to accomplish a rendezvous with fellow RPA member John Shuttleworth, who met the formation flying a Douglas AD-1 Skyraider belonging to the Warbird Heritage Foundation.

Herb Coussons flew his immaculate Yak-52TW

Keith Harbour poses for my camera in his Nanchang CJ-6

Kurt Muhle (919) in his CJ-6, and David Wilkins (38) in his Yak-52. Side by side, it is easy to distinguish the difference between these two aircraft types.

We had a dozen RPA aircraft, awaiting the rendezvous with John Shuttleworth, who met us flying a Douglas AD-1 Skyraider.

All went well, and right on schedule, and Shuttleworth slid into the slot position of the first four-ship flight. The RPA made an impressive arrival into Oshkosh as its part of the Mass Warbird Arrival, and I was privileged to participate in the event.

Shuttleworth slid his Skyraider into the slot of the lead flight, flanked by Joe Oram (L) and Craig Payne (R), with Dan Booker leading the flight.