Seeing Red (Arrows)

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When I heard that the Red Arrows were coming to the United States I really hoped I’d be able to see them. It isn’t often that the famed British jet team makes the trip across the pond. An initial glance at their schedule was disappointing – none of the venues were close to me. Then I noticed Thunder Over the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Not only is the location near my mother’s house in Pennsylvania, but hello – it’s at the beach! Watch an air show while relaxing in the sand? Count me in!

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Then I saw that the show date was a Wednesday. Wait… Wednesday? Who holds an air show in the middle of the week? Awkward! Whatever – I wasn’t going to let that deter me.  I had to work Tuesday so I traveled late into the night to get to PA. Then I got up at the crack of dawn the next morning to drive another hour and a half to Atlantic City. Exhausting? Yes. But completely worth it because hello – it’s the Red Freaking Arrows!

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Atlantic City is… well, to be honest, it’s a not my favorite beach destination. I’ve always preferred the family-friendly seaside towns farther south over the glitter and grit of the casinos. As a result this was my first visit. I had no clue where to set my beach chair but by dumb luck I managed to situate myself at show center.

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As I waited for the show to start I couldn’t help but notice all the boats that were anchored just offshore. Watching the show from the beach was cool but watching from a boat must have been even cooler! I wondered how the event organizers maintained the required safety areas. Then I saw a Coast Guard ship keeping an eye on things.

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I realized pretty quickly that while the beach is a great place to watch an air show, it is not necessarily the best place to take photographs. The combination of the sun directly overhead and the glare off the water made the lighting pretty horrible. Then there was the wind, sand and the ocean spray that constantly threatened to muck up my camera lens. Still, the opportunity to get some pics of the Red Arrows made it worth the risk.

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The show began with the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. I noticed that one of them jumped with a British flag, which I thought was very classy. This was followed by some old favorites in the form of a refueling demonstration by a KC-135 and several F-16s and a very cool EC-130.

The next two performers were a bit of a surprise. First was a Shorts Tucano. The plane is small and fast and I struggled to get a good look at it. This was followed by the strangest jet I have ever seen. It had a twin tail and an odd, bulbous canopy. It was absolutely mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! I found out later that it was a de Havilland Vampire. After it completed its display, it was joined by the Tucano and they flew several passes together. They were an unexpected highlight of the show for me.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for – the Red Arrows! They started their display by approaching from behind the crowd and flying out over the ocean with red, white and blue smoke trailing behind.

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In many ways they reminded me of the Canadian Snowbirds, in part because there are nine of them and in part because they exhibit much of the same grace and beauty in their performance. However, they have a distinct style and flavor all their own. For one thing they fly trainers rather than fancy fighters like the American jet teams. For another the planes are red, which automatically makes them awesome. Then there’s the colored smoke. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it brings a bit of splash and pizzaz to the performance that the other teams just don’t offer.

I wasn’t sure how the American audience filled with vacationers and families would react, especially since most were there to see the Thunderbirds. However it quickly became apparent that the Red Arrows were a hit with the crowd.  I think it is safe to say they gained quite a few new fans.

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What about the remainder of the show? Well I couldn’t tell you. I was just there for the Red Arrows and when they were finished, so was I. Was it worth traveling all that way, dealing with the crowds and the difficult photography conditions just to watch nine red planes put on a 20 minute show? Oh. Heck. YES! If you ever have the opportunity to see the Red Arrows, I strongly encourage you to go. I promise you won’t regret it!

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Aviation Therapy

38311024_UnknownI set a goal for this year of at least two blog posts per month and I was doing pretty well… but then life events forced me to put writing on hold for a while. You see, my mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the end of May. Those of you who know me or who have followed this blog for a few years will remember that my father passed away back in 2016. Losing my mom means that both my parents are gone now, which means my brother and I face the added stress of dealing with my mom’s estate. Definitely not fun.

38312176_UnknownEveryone copes with grief in their own way. For some people the idea of returning to work after a loss might be unbearable. For me, however, going back to work was a lifeline. It allowed me to get back into a routine, but more importantly, it provided me with a much-needed daily dose of aviation therapy. And oh my goodness what excellent therapy it has been!

When I pulled into the parking lot on my first day back I noticed there was a large airplane sitting across the airfield, but I was too distracted to give it a lot of thought. However, when I got to my department I could clearly see an Atlas 747 sitting on the south ramp. Atlas always flies into the cargo airport – why was it at the passenger airport? Actually, who the heck cares!  I’m just so glad I got to see it.  (For those who are wondering, it was a military charter flight.)

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

That was just the start of several days of really great plane spotting. Some of the planes I got to see included:

A whole bunch of bizjets from Target Inc. (Target has great taste in airplanes!)

 

 

A KC-135 practicing touch-and-goes.

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A beautiful Cessna 195:

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Three big beauties headed to the cargo airport:

 

A sweet little Skylane:

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A Hondajet:

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A National Air 757:

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And perhaps best of all, two A-10s! Sadly I couldn’t get a good picture of them because of how they were parked. But that’s OK. Getting to see them at all was a huge treat that really lifted my spirits.

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However, the ultimate in aviation therapy is just a month away – Airventure Oshkosh.  Once again I plan to be there all week.  As always, I’ll be handing out bacon jerky at Oshbash so if you’ll be at Airventure on Tuesday, July 23, please join us.  No, not even 10,000 airplanes can make up for the loss of my mom.  But I can’t think of a better place to find my smile again.  Hope to see you there!38311936_Unknown

 

Lies Plane Spotters Tell

IMG_8816It’s a sad truth and it pains me to say this but… plane spotters tell lies.  Yes, we do.  Anyone who says they don’t is… well, probably lying. We don’t mean to lie, it’s just that when you are hanging around the airfield and watching planes come and go, it is so easy to get completely sucked in and say things that you don’t really mean.  For example:

I’m not going plane spotting today. 

IMG_9501Since I work for an airport, the temptation is always there to stop upstairs and do a little plane spotting before I head home. It seems that no matter how firm my resolve to go straight to my car after work, by the time I get to the escalators I feel that irresistible urge to head on up. At that point I move on to lie number two…

I’m only going to stay for ten minutes. 

Half an hour later and I’m still there. The problem is, there’s almost always something interesting to see. In the unlikely event that there’s nothing happening on the airfield, I listen to ATC communications on my scanner. I listen to some of the airline operations frequencies as well, which can often be quite entertaining.

It’s too wet/cold/snowy/stormy for plane spotting. 

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

To be fair, sometimes it really IS too miserable outside for plane spotting. But spotters learn quickly that airplanes can be very cool to watch in rainy/snowy/windy weather. Can you say crosswind landings? On a recent stormy Friday I was able to sneak outside for a few minutes between storms. Listening to the coordination between ATC and the pilots and watching flights navigate around the weather was quite fascinating.

I’ve already got several pictures of that airline/livery/aircraft type. I don’t need any more. 

Except they’re landing from the opposite direction today… and on the other runway… and the sky is amazing… and the light conditions are just right…

I’m only going to wait a few more minutes for that flight to push back and then I’m giving up.

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I have to thank my twitter friend Andrew for coming up with this one.  It’s so true! An hour later I’m still there, still waiting for that plane to depart. Of course when I do give up and leave that’s when the plane decides to taxi out. Doh! I swear it does this on purpose just to taunt me! (I’m talking to you, American Airlines Airbus with the America West retro livery!)

I don’t need a better camera/lens/scanner.

Actually, yes I do! I really do! And once I get that new piece of spotting equipment, then of course I have to test it out! But don’t worry – I’m only going to stay ten minutes.

So why do we end up staying even though we swear we’re going to leave? Why do we make liars out of ourselves? Well…

For Moments Like This:

IMG_8472Earlier this week I decided to do a little plane spotting on my lunch break. It was hot and muggy so I told myself I’d only stay a few minutes. I was just about to (for once) head inside early when I heard a military flight contact the tower. I didn’t recognize the call sign but assumed it was probably a KC-135 practicing approaches. They often fly over from the nearby Air National Guard base. I’ve seen them several times before, however I figured I might as well stick around and watch them fly by.

FullSizeRender (70)Then I heard ATC clear the flight for the break. At that point I realized that it couldn’t be a tanker – it had to be fighters. Before I could even begin to speculate on what kind of fighters they might be, a flight of four A-10 Warthogs appeared. I calmly and patiently watched as they circled to land… OK, I’m lying again.  The truth is, I completely lost my mind.  I let out a shriek and sprinted across the parking garage (in high heels no less) while simultaneously attempting to take as many pictures as possible. I was overwhelmed with excitement, laughing, crying, jumping up and down…

IMG_9481Then I noticed that the group of construction workers who had been working nearby were slowly backing away. I must have looked like a complete lunatic. And guess what? I. DON’T. CARE. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you know the A-10 is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. I’ve only seen them fly once before at AirVenture Oshkosh last summer. To see them at my airport was absolutely the most unexpected, amazing thing EVER.

So why do plane spotters tell themselves these terrible lies? Because magic moments happen without notice when you least expect them. We just don’t want to miss out. And that’s the truth.

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Author’s note: In April I attended an event at the USAF Museum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.  If you want to hear about it and see some pictures I took of the B-25s that participated in the flyover, please check out Episode 24 of the Flying and Life podcast.