Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sun and Fun Air Show Photos 2013

It had been several years since my last "Sun and Fun" adventure which took me to Lakeland, Florida, the home of the second largest U.S. air show. Only the Osh Kosh Fly-In is bigger. 

I am lucky to have a wonderful client who lets me hitch a ride in his twin engine airplane making the boring ten hour drive in just two. Thanks Dan.

The trip revolves around several days of aerobatic performances, modern and vintage aircraft, a huge aviation trade show, and miles of walking. 

The photo below is of the AeroShell Flight Team. These guys are incredibly precise, and they move like one plane during their performance. I look forward to seeing them every year.

From communist China, two Nanchang CJ-6 trainers demonstrate acrobatic maneuvers below. These are often mistaken for the Russian "Yaks". I can look beyond the political origin of the planes and just enjoy them as beautiful flying machines... or "war trophies" as the announcer called them.

The big draw for me has always been the Warbirds section dedicated to fighters and bombers of yesteryear's wars.  To me, they stand as proud symbols of some of the greatest triumphs of the American people. There is no denying that World War II and the sacrifices made by that great generation made the United States the superpower that it is today.

My favorite photo of the trip happened by ignoring the air show that was going on. I decided to wander about the Warbirds line while the crowds were elsewhere. This is when I saw a wonderful enthusiast in vintage flight gear watching the planes fly by. He made it easy to imagine what young pilots in the 1940s looked like, and it is the one photo that captures the love of flight to me. The skies are calling to him.

Even before George Lucas made his "Red Tails" movie, I was interested in the famed African American 332nd Fighter Group called the Tuskegee Airmen. It is hard to imagine a pre-civil rights world where whites and blacks were segregated in most aspects of life, including the military.

Many contemporaries expected the Tuskegee Airmen to fail in this experimental program, but instead they served honorably earning many citations, medals and the respect of their fellow airmen. They put their foot in the door of equality that had been shut for African Americans paving the way for future generations of black military men.... and beyond.

The Tuskegee Airmen and their all black ground crews fought with distinction and honor putting their lives at risk and proving that they were a formidable fighting force. Their role as long range bomber escorts deep into German territory is legendary saving countless American lives.

Being a bomber crewman was one of the most dangerous jobs in the whole war. B-17 and B-24 bombers carried up to ten men and thousands died from Luftwaffe fighters and accurate flak. I have read figures of over a 50% death toll for the flyers of the heavy bombers. The protection afforded by these fighters gave them the nickname "Red Tail Angels".

This fantastic B-Model of the P-51 was on display by the inspirational Rise Above organization. This model uses an older fastback design instead of the later cockpit bubble. It really changes the look of the aircraft, and probably affects rearward visibility. Check out that flip up canopy.

For comparison, the later model P-51 with the bubble canopy is shown below. This one has been elongated to fit two people.

The owners of "Crazy Horse" must love to polish because this plane's skin sparkled like a mirror.

Some twin engine B-25 bombers were at Sun and Fun, and were great to see flying. Even though they may not be as sexy as a fighter, they did great damage to the enemy. Panchito's polished aluminum skin shined like chrome.

Yellow Rose had painted camouflage and bristled with twelve .50 caliber machine guns that could unleash fury on a strafing pass. These versatile planes could hold bombs, rockets and torpedoes too.

Nearly 10,000 of these were manufactured, and the distinct split tail can be seen from miles away.

The weather during our trip was a mixed bag. We experienced everything from steamy Florida afternoons to dark and ugly rain clouds. Shooting photos in these extremes can be interesting. 

The available lighting conditions affect the photos that I take of the airplanes. I think I only saw blue skies one of the afternoons we were there.

To me, it can be less interesting to shoot airplanes in a dreary dead light of overcast skies. The clarity of the images are affected by the haze in the air too.

Still, I was there to get what I could. My goal was to get a perfectly focused plane in motion with the propeller blurred. This was not easy for me to do for many reasons.

First of all, I was shooting at the equivalent of a 900mm telephoto zoom, and I was panning to track the planes' flight paths. At that magnification, even tiny shakes can ruin the photo.

Because I wanted the props blurred, I was shooting in the 1/250 of a second shutter speed.

I could have raised the shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second, but that makes the prop "freeze" in place which ruins the suggestion of motion like in the photo below of a Helio Courier. This plane is used by missionaries in remote locations, and is designed spiral upwards in very tight places like canyons and runways hacked out of jungles. I've never seen a plane fly so slow and in such a tight radius. It was amazing.

One of the air show highlights for me was seeing the dare devil wing walker, Jane Wicker. I am not saying that she is crazy, but she is much braver than I am. Just thinking about hanging off a wing as the plane does flips and loops is enough to make my hands sweat. 

 There were no parachutes or safety lines... if something happened, it would be a deadly disaster. I bet she has great abs because she has to do crunches against at least 100 mph of wind pressure, centrifugal forces, gravity and an ex-husband at the stick. To see Jane's acrophobia-inducing act, check out the YouTube video. 

There were several helicopters in attendance including the Vietnam era Bell UH-1 "Huey". The unmistakable "wump wump" of the rotors sound just like they do in the movies.

The amazing Bell AH-1 Cobra attack copter was selling rides. Maybe I should have gone because I doubt I will ever get another chance. Would you believe the original design dates back to 1965?

Some aircraft at the air show never make it off the ground, but that still does not diminish their appeal.

Take this 1943 Hawker Tempest Mk 2 for instance. This extremely rare bird was the fastest radial engine powered plane of the war, and the shape is beautiful. This one will be restored in the future.

 Its engine had 2,250 horsepower, and the plane was influenced by the design of the German Focke-Wulf FW-190. The war's end and the jet age made them obsolete before they had a chance to shine.

The beefy bird below is a Westland Lysander. It was pretty much already obsolete as World War Two started, and it was used as a spotter plane.

One thing for sure, it is chunky... no wait, that is me.

There were other infamous and important warbirds on the line including a pristine Vought F4U Corsair. 

I remember this kind from "Bah Bah Black Sheep", the 1970s television show chronicling the exploits of "Pappy" Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron.

The Corsair's design seems to be unique with its gull wings.

There was also a Curtiss SB2C-5 Hell Diver. I've read that these planes were not loved by the men who flew them and they had several colorful nicknames including the "Beast". This photo shows the flaps with holes deployed on divebombing runs. This is not a small aircraft... it even had a rear seat machine gunner.

Below is a sample of the only kind of wing walking I would ever attempt. 

There was another mystery plane which stumped me and several pilots I questioned. When asked what it was, they replied "I have no idea"... and these are guys that eat and breathe aviation. 

I found out that it started life as a North American AT-6 like the one shown below which is nice, but kinda boring compared to the slick custom built plane.

Some relatively modern jet fighters showed their stuff including the Douglas A-4 Sky Hawk. This small fighter was made for maneuverability. The Blue Angels used to fly these. I love seeing the hot jet exhaust distort the background.

Below my friend, Lewis, was wondering if he could hotwire this thing... the answer is probably "yes".

One semi-affordable jet is the L-39 Albatross. "Affordable" is a relative term to pilots... as in "This plane costs 1/3 of what a million dollar P-51 Mustang does." 

The L-39 originated from Czechoslovakia, and the first one flew in 1968. They are still used today.

Something not often seen is the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, an Vietnam-era observation plane. Notice the bulging cockpit windows designed so the pilots could easily look down. To me, this thing looks like a giant puffer fish with propellers.

There is plenty to see on the ground too...

Pyrotechnics go "boom" during simulated bomb runs.

The look like mini mushroom clouds.

These fireballs sometimes make smoke rings of epic proportions. This one dwarfs a nearby plane.

 The volunteers who work this show are incredible. I see the same guys year after year, and they do a great job keeping everything organized.

If you get tired of looking at flying contraptions, you can always resort to people watching.

I met several people in period clothing including this German soldier with his own Kubelwagen with a working MG-42 machine gun and a very rare 1944 Sturmgewehr MP-44 assault rifle, which was the first of it's kind. It reminds me of an AK-47, except this one is said to be worth $30,000. I got to hold it too. It looked incredibly modern.

I hope next year brings more planes, warbirds and interesting people to watch.

There are just too many photos to stuff into this article.
See the rest of the 2013 Sun and Fun gallery here...