Friday, June 3, 2011

An Amazing Air Show in Virginia

While visiting my family in Virginia Beach, my brother and I took time out from family events to go to an air show in a place called Pungo... home of the Military Aviation Museum and the Fighter Factory.

Pungo is infamous for the witch trial of Grace Sherwood in the year of 1705. Legend has it that she was given an impossible task to prove that she was not a witch. The accusers would dunk her local river, and if she sank then she was innocent. If she swam or floated, then "obviously" she was a witch. Talk about a no-win situation. Not sure if I would fake drowning in that situation and hope that somebody would pull me out. Full details are here if you want to read the witch story.
The Military Aviation Museum is a world class facility and houses one of the largest collections of working war planes in the world. The majority of the planes in the air show were actually part of the museum. These birds do not just sit around looking pretty... they treat us to the sights and sounds of the 1940s during World War II... transporting us back to the time of our parent's earliest memories and our grandparent's finest hours when America worked together towards a common desperate victory. Could such a time ever exist in this country again? It is doubtful and I believe that the ones that won that war were possibly "our greatest generation". 

Every now and then, you will see heroes from this time at the shows, and I always try to thank them. If I had ever met my own grandfather, I would thank him too for his navy service that spanned the war and beyond.

I have been to many air shows and honestly, I have started to see the same planes repeatedly, like the AT-6 Texan above. It's not that I do not appreciate all war birds, but variety is the spice of life. I would call this air show extra spicy.

This show had planes that I had never seen before in real life as working flyers like the incredible German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 seen above and below. This particular war bird was painted in Nazi Germany's  battle markings. In the world of over-sensitive political correctness, I was surprised to see this. It was an amazing to see this plane diving past the crowd, and I could easily imagine American GIs hating the sight and sound of it coming in for a strafing run.

Also on the list of planes I had never seen in the flesh was the Junkers Ju 52. The design of this transport plane lasted long after the war transporting countless travelers in its civilian life.

The equivalent American C-47 troop transport was based on the design of the civilian DC-3. The air show began with paratroopers jumping in vintage parachutes which are not as controllable as modern chutes. Supposedly, one of the jumpers broke his hip the previous day. They were dropping pretty fast.

There are a lot of holes in the chute and few control surfaces to guide it. One of the jumpers had to twist madly to get the guidelines untangled. Yikes. I would not want his job.

For maximum realism, a dreaded 88mm anti-aircraft cannon simulated a flak attack. The concussion was spectacular and it probably rattled a few fillings. The scene below could have been right outside of Berlin.

There were whole units of World War II re-enactors. These guys were dedicated, even wearing woolen pants and hats in the hot sun. All uniforms seemed to be authentic down to the smallest detail like the fellow below in desert attire and a Mauser pistol that turned into a rifle. 

The Allied forces were represented too with these paratroopers. Check out the grease gun.

There were plenty of weapons to look at up close like these British Enfield rifles and a German half-track machine gun tank/car. They told us that this could fire simulated and real ammunition.

This armor-plated monster made a terrifying racket as it drove around the campsite.

Probably the rarest plane there was a British Lancaster Bomber. There are only 2 of these left flying in the world today. These were the bombers that pounded German cities at night while the American B-17s and B-24s tried for precision daytime attacks.

A P-40 Flying Tiger represented early aviation technology from the start of the war. In fact, these were used in China before the U.S.A. officially entered the war.

Overhead, the long-legged German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (Stork) plane took reconnaissance of the area.

I used a slow shutter speed of around 1/200th of a second or slower for many of the photos taken here. The main thing that people look for in aviation photography seems to be the blur on the moving propeller. Getting a complete prop revolution to make a complete circle is the holy grail of airshow photography.

It can also lead to some interesting action photos like the panned shot above. The biggest problem with photographing fast objects with slow shutter speeds is that you will end up throwing away many blurry photos. This is a new style for me which will take more practice to perfect.

Getting a full prop rotation in your photo depends on the speed of your shutter and the speed of the propeller which changes on how much power the pilot needs. It is a good idea to try different settings to find the best combination. The P-51 Mustang below was photographed with a faster shutter or the RPMs were up.

The museum had just acquired a B-17 bomber named Chuckie for over $4,000,000.

The P-51 Mustang escorted the B-17... just like they did on the long distance bomb runs into Germany.

The British Lancaster bomber and Hawker Hurricane fighter almost repeated the exact scene.

An American AT-6 Texan salutes as British Hawker Hurricane lands.

The Russians fighters were in attendance too like this Yak-9 below... like a Soviet P-51.

And this Russian mystery airplane with an open cockpit. Looks an old race plane from the 1930s.

Local firefighters watched as this Japanese plane rolled to a smokey landing.
It had been "shot down" for the crowds by a Corsair... payback for Pearl Harbor.

It has been said that George Lucas got much of his inspiration for Star Wars from World War 2 fighting equipment. The turret below looks like an R2-D2 unit on this Grumman Avenger.

I had a model of this sea plane when I was a child. The Calypso Society used one like it in their research.

People were wearing vintage costumes too. This hot dish below may have been one of the singers who sang like the Andrews Sisters. Unfortunately, I missed the dance/concert after the air show.

It's a good thing that we won that war otherwise, we might live in a country that speaks German and paints their planes like this one. I am pretty sure the world would be a different place.