Types of Aerial events and locations
Troll disclaimer. This is not the only way to photography aircraft and aviation events. This is information that I have learned and what works well for me. My tips and tricks may not work well for you. My goal is to share what I have learned with others.
Knowledge without application is meaningless. –Thomas Edison
Hopefully you have read part one of this series and have some idea of what you want to shoot and maybe started to form your own opinion of Aviation photography. If not, go and hit up this, Part one: Some thoughts on Aviation Photography. This series is for those photographers whose passion for aviation is just as strong as his or her love for photography. Creating unique and lasting images of aviation subjects that are more than just snap shots. If that is not what you are looking to do, then click away.
If you are still with me, Part two is to help shed some light on what types aviation events and locations there are to choose from. I’m going to try and do my best with a breakdown of the types of show and events. Here’s what I came up with the following: Airshows, Fly-ins, Air races, Spotting, Aviation museums, Bone yards and Base visit/Exercises. Note I did not include air-to-air photography. Most likely someone beginning in Aviation photography will not get a chance to do air-to air. Nor am I saying that these are the only events and locations to photography aircraft, just a good base to start with.
Just a heads up, this is going to be a lengthy post because of amount of information. I recommend you click on, read the various links within this post along with doing some research on your own. There is more information out there than what is here. And again, this is not set in stone, the events and locations that I list are not the only places to see and shoot aviation subjects. My hope is that this can help you find locations where you can capture your images.
The most common and frequent events are Airshows. Airshows are held in various locations. On military bases, at beaches and at local airports. Not all airshows are the same. I like to break them down to Traditional, Military open houses, Warbirds, Beach, Helicopter and larger International Airshows. Each has something different to offer. Let’s start with the traditional airshow.
The traditional airshow will be most common event to attend. It’s the run of the mill show with a mix bag of civilian performers and military demos. These shows are great for those who are just “getting their feet wet” so to speak. With many different opportunities to help you figure out what you enjoy shooting.
Here’s a few good starter airshows
Cleveland National Airshow Burke Lakefront Airport Labor Day weekend
Wings over Houston Ellington Airport Late October
Vectren Dayton Air Show Dayton International Airport Late June
London Airshow London International Airport Early September
Military Open house shows like NAS Oceana in VA Beach, VA and Nellis AFB Aviation Nation in Las Vega, NV, are superb opportunities to see many types of military hardware. Open house show is very common in the US and Canada. Most of the larger Air Force, Navy as well as Marine airbases has some type of Open house event. Some are annually, and others are bi-annually. In the US, they are free to the public. It’s a good chance to see other units and squadrons other than the demo teams take to the skies. Open house show has a higher number of military demos than civilian performer and most likely have a jet team like the USAF Thunderbirds, USN Blue Angels or RCAF Snowbirds as the headliner.
Here’s a few well liked Open house shows
MCAS Yuma Air Show MCAS Yuma, AZ March
Andrews Air Show & Open House Andrews AFB, MD, Sept
NAS Oceana Airshow NAS Oceana, VA Sept
MCAS Miramar Air Show MCAS Miramar, CA Sept
NAS JAX Air Show NAS Jacksonville, FL Nov
Nellis AFB Aviation Nation Nellis AFB, NV Nov
Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show NAS Pensacola, FL Nov
Warbirds shows like Planes of Fame out at Chino, CA and WWII Weekend at Reading, PA focus on WWII aircraft of all types, from the P-51 Mustang to the B-17 Flying Fortress. You are likely to see reenacted, warbird aerobatics, along with some formation flying. Most are organized and or hosted by museums like the Military Aviation Museum in VA, Beach, VA and Warbird Heritage Foundation in Waukegan, IL. Military Demo sometime perform at a warbird shows but not all the time.
Here’s a few of the more popular Warbird shows
Planes of Fames Chino, CA May
Mid-Atlantic World War II Weekend Reading, PA June
Duxford Flying Legends Duxford, UK July
Shuttleworth Military Pageant Bedfordshire, UK July
Thunder Over Michigan Ypsilanti, MI Aug or Sept
Beach Airshow are just like traditional airshows, but the flying and performing it’s at a beach and not at an airport. Beach shows has its pluses and minuses. Let start with the good, a very good possibility for vapor. Water evaporating for a body of water into the air equals humidity. Also, your background most likely will be uncluttered. The horizon and sky make for a simple and clean background along with shows a sense of location. Shows at the beach are great show to bring the family along. The sand, the surf and the sun is a great entertainer for those who are bored with the flying and the noise.
For me, the biggest negative of a beach show is the location of the airshow box. The air space where aircraft are permitted to perform during a show or aerial event is called the airshow box. The show line, a visual reference line to aid pilots with orientation during the performance, runs down the center of the airshow box. 1,500 ft from the show line is the crowd line/spectator area. At most aerial events, one of the active runways is the show line. Most likely the show line at a beach show will be marked with a ship of some sort, large and very noticeable. 9 times out of 10, the water 1,500 ft from the shore is not deep enough for a ship. Remember, it must big enough for pilots to easily spot. With the show line so far from shore, more focal length is needed to obtain a larger view of your subjects. To get closer, one could shoot from a pier or even a boat anchored close to the airshow box.
Here’s a few major beach shows around the US.
Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, NY May
Miami Beach Air & Sea Show South Beach, Miami Beach, FL May
Milwaukee Air & Water Show Bradford Beach, Lakefront, Milwaukee, WI July
Chicago Air & Water Show Lake Michigan Lakefront, Chicago, IL Aug
Helicopter shows are not as numerous as the other types. But helicopters are powerful and diverse aircraft that are very photo friendly. Helicopters present the same shooting challenge as shooting a prop aircraft. Shooting slow enough to blur the main rotor and still maintain a sharp image of the subject. There is a wide range of different types that could attend. From air ambulance, aerial cranes, firefighting, law enforcement, media/news, search & rescue, military to personal craft. I searched the web for countless hours and only came up with three heli shows and one of them is in hiatus. And have no idea if Rotors and Ribs will ever be repeated. If you get a chance to go to a helicopter only show, defiantly go and photo it up.
American Heroes Air Show Lakeview Terrace, CA November
RotorFest West Chester, PA hiatus due to budgetary constraints
Rotors & Ribs Goshen, ID ???
International airshows are where you’re going see a bunch of new toys from many different countries from around the world. These are larger multi day shows that show typically attracts over 150,000 spectators over a weekend. Some of these shows cater photographers with early morning photo tours, arrive and departure day as well as photo pits. These features are not free so be prepared to spend some coin.
Royal International Air Tattoo RAF Fairford, England July
MAKS hukovsky Airport Biennial
Avalon Airshow Avalon Airport March
Abbotsford International Airshow Abbotsford, Canada August
Aero India Bengaluru, India February (Biennial)
To find shows near you, check out this site http://www.milavia.net/airshows/
You can search airshows by location, US and Canada, Europe and rest of the World. Has links to shows websites and lists aircraft that are scheduled to attend. One feature I really like is the Google Map link of the airport, so you can get an idea of the runway orientation along with where the tarmac is. Knowing where the tarmac is will you good indicator of how and where the show will be laid out. It’s not a sure thing but what also helps is an airshow map. On some (not all) airshow websites, organizers will have a map showing the layout of the show. Where the active runway, crowd line, static display, tents, bleacher etc… From this you can start to think about possible shooting locations, for takeoff and landing along with during flying. Also start to think about the path of the sun during the day. On Earth (I know some of you are from another planet LOL), the sun rises in the east and set west. What direction is the crowd line facing and how does it relate to the path of the sun? Are you facing the sun or is it at your back? Will the sun cross over the runway? Is their better light in the morning or in the afternoon? These are some of the questions you need to think about whatever airshow or aviation event that you are planning to attend.
A fly-in is a pre-arranged gathering of aircraft, pilots and passengers for recreational and social purposes, define by Wikipedia. Offer a up close and personal view of owners and their aircraft. Yes, I have Oshkosh under fly-in’s, it technically is. The fly-in’s that I have attended were laid back and casual. In the morning aircraft start showing up and parking. Pilots, family and friends welcome one another. There may be a late breakfast or lunch. Some might have seminars or not. Not all fly-ins are the same. But don’t expect any aerobatic, demos and or photo passes. It is not that kind of event. It’s local pilots meeting up, hanging out and talking shop. And at the end of the day, everybody says their good byes, do their pre-flight checks, take off and head back home. The Larger fly-in like Fun & Sun and Oshkosh does have daily airshow. Like airshows, fly-ins are always one going on. Fairly easy to find, you can google “fly-ins (your city or state)”. You’ll be surprised how many will pop up. I came across that site that I like, http://www.flyins.com/. Has an easy to use search function. Can search by airport code, zip code, state and time frame. There is a calendar as well.
Sun ‘n Fun Lakeland, Florida Spring
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Oshkosh, Wisconsin July
I know there are some photographers look down on spotter and spotting. I’m not one of them. Shot what YOU love! If your new to aviation photography, spotting offer a great opportunity for you to try new techniques as well as it’s great to try out new gear in a predicable environment. My definition of spotting is simple, hanging out at an airport of some sort and photographing what’s going on. If it’s taking off, landing or flying by a known area. It’s not just airliners taking off and landing. You can spot around military bases, locate municipal airports, heliports and known low level training routes use by various nations. But there are a few things you need to be aware of. Especially around any military bases. There are a bunch of unwritten rules on spotting. There are a bunch of good site out there with a shit ton valuable info to help you spot safely and hassle free. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to research the location as well as the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of spotting.
Good source of spotting info
Plane Spotting Etiquette
As well as know you rights as a photographer
Do your own research as well, the more you know, the better off you will be. Google is your smart friend, use it! Along with your cell phone. It is a powerful little tool that can help you while spotting or any other type of aviation events. There are a few helpful apps you can use while out shooting. One would by some type of weather radar app, so you see if any bad weather is move your way. I like and use NOAA Weather Radar – Weather Forecast & HD Radar by Apalon Apps. The app is free and has a paid Pro version with no ads. The ads on the free versions are just banners at the bottom of the app.
And over on Google play
Other types of apps that is useful while spotting airliners is a flight tracker app and an app to listen to Air Traffic Control. For flight tracking, the apps that comes to mind is FlightAware and Flightradar24. Both track flight in real time, over 10,000 aircraft. Bunch of cool and useful features. Below are links to each.
Listening to air traffic control(ATC) is a very useful while spotting aircraft. You can find out what runways are being use for arrives and which are used for departures. There is an app, but it is not free. You can also use a scanner to listen to ATC.
Here are a few well know spotting locations
Nellis AFB Red Flag Las Vega, NV http://www.nellis.af.mil/Home/Flying-Operations/
Mach Loop Wales, UK https://machloop.co.uk/
Rainbow Canyon Death Valley, CA http://www.rkellenaers-photography.nl/RainbowCanyon
St Maarten Princess Juliana (SXM) Saint Barthélemy Look Here!!!
More spotting location here, http://www.spotterguide.net/
I feel there are two types of Aviation museums, non-flying types like the National Museum of US Air Force and the flying type like Military Aviation Museum. I prefer the flying museums due to there are more possibilities for getting a unique shot. Yes, there are a ton of historic aircraft in non-flying museums but remember this, those aircraft are in fixed positions and will most likely be never moved again. Meaning if you see a great image, most likely someone else will too and repeat what you shot or vice versa. I am not saying don’t go to them. Go and enjoy them. But with the mindset of creating images, flying museums are constantly moving their aircraft around and there is a lesser chance of aircraft parked in the same location from day to day. Most flying museums have an annual airshow featuring their collection along other visiting aircraft from other museums. Some also post on their website their fly dates along with which airshows their aircraft are planning on attending. Museums are always looking for volunteers. Some even have applications on their website. You can offer your photographic services to a local museum. Photograph their day to day operations, restoration projects along with museum events.
The history of air racing dates to May 23, 1909 in Paris, France; where the Prix de Lagatinerie was held. Four aviators entered, of those two started and either of them finished. And pilots had been racing aircraft ever since. At its height, there were numerous events in North America and Europe but now it has dwindled to two races. The most popular being Reno Air Races held annually in Reno, Nevada and the other is the Red Bull Air Races series, held in various locations around the world. I consider the Red Bull Races more aerobic than racing but still entertaining in its own way. The two are very different from one another. Red Bull fly’s modern custom made high performance aerobatic aircraft like the Edge 540. And at Reno, pilots fly highly modified WWII aircraft like Voodoo, a modified P-51 Mustang. The Red Bull series has two classes and about 8-10 races around the world. As at Reno, there are six racing classes, with three trophy classes in each category, Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
Reno Air Races Reno, Nevada September
Red Bull Air Races series location varies Feb-Nov
Boneyards are where retired aircraft go for long term storage, to be parted out and or recycled into scrap metal. One of the most well know is 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group or AMARG at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. AMARG is the largest aircraft storage facility in the world with over 4,400 aircraft in its care. Because AMARG is a controlled-access site, it is off-limits to anyone not working there or without the proper clearance. The Pima Air & Space Museum does have a bus tour for the public. AMARG maybe the largest and most famous boneyard but it not the only one. There are others, like Southern California Logistics Airport and Mojave airport, both in California. There is Alice Springs Airport in the Northern Territory of Australia. To find more aircraft boneyards, check out this site below. It has list and maps of boneyards all over the world.
One should observe the same rules as spotting when one is in or around an aircraft boneyard. Remember, it’s much better to ask permission then to beg for forgiven with the Cops!
Base visits and exercises are unique opportunities to see the day to day operations of a military unit. From maintenance of aircraft to flying training sorties. Most are organized through public affairs with some legitimate reason for the visit, like writing an article on a unit or squadron for a major publication. That mean having a letter from the editor of the publication stating your intent. And then having Command OK the visit. After that, you or your group must clear a background check before setting foot on the base. If you think you’re going contact the public affairs officer of your favorite squadrons and they’re just going to let you have access to shoot their aircraft, your gravelly mistaken. Base visits are planned months in advance through the proper channels. If you’re fortunate enough to take part in a base visit or exercise, be sure to follow all the rules that your given. You do not want to ruin your group or future groups.
There is Ian Allan Aviation Tours that offers some fantastic tours all over the world, but they are pricey. For more information on these tours, look here
Again, what I listed is not the only events to see and photography aircraft. What I listed is what I feel is the most popular and readily available aviation’s events. There are other events like night engine run ups and evening/twilight light shows. Which are rare events but are still wonderful opportunities. There is also ultra-lights and home built, sea planes, blimps, ballooning, gliding, hang gliding, crop dusting… Again, there is a lot more information out there than what’s in this post. Again, do your own research on shows and events you want to attend. The more you know the better off you will be. Now hopefully you have an idea of what you want to shoot along with where to find your subjects.
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Until next time,