Wings Over Houston 2017

Show 7, Post 1: Season Finale!

So, here we are at my final show of the 2017 season. Wings Over Houston. This will be my third time attending and its good end the season with a show that offers a good mix of warbirds and modern aircraft. To continue to get out of my comfort zone, I changed the way I’m going to write this post. I started writing more in the moment and at the end of the day verses waiting until I got home. While the day’s events are still fresh in my head and making it easier and faster to post my adventures. But being busy at work and at home, still delayed this post. I’m still trying to figure out what work well for me when it comes to this. Here goes…

Friday

After a long and exhausting week at work, I get to be a photographer again if only for a short time. After work, I raced home, showered, finished packing and it was off to Detroit Metro Airport to catch my flights down to Houston. Afternoon traffic was slow and a bit frustrating. But I took comfort in the fact I get to get out of Michigan and do what I love.

Through the TSA, which is more a pain in the ass than anything else. Sitting at my gate, writing and watching the sunset. The trip just started but still have a long was to go to get to Houston. Got a layover in Dallas/Fort Worth. Never been there and should there for about an hour. Just enough time to find my gate and look for a bite to eat.

I started watching the weather down in Houston on Thursday. As of now, Friday at 6:41pm looks like the rain has stopped and Saturday looks like the better day of the two days of the show. There is chance of rain Sunday morning but just going to play it by ear. Hoping to get some low puffy clouds this weekend so I can shoot slow and add some drama to the background. My attraction to Wings Over Houston(WOH) is for years now I wanted to see a USAF Heritage flight with a P-47 Thunderbolt and an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a Thunderbolt heritage flight. Well this year at WOH, it is scheduled to happen. I am also looking forward to seeing the Colling Foundation F-4D Phantom II, the world’s only privately owned and operated Phantom. It has been down for a few years due to various reasons. It is supposed to take part in the Vietnam reenactment portion of the show along with the Collings F-100F Super Sabra and TA-4J Skyhawk. I again rented the Canon 5DSR as my primary body and the 100-400 MKII for formation work from Len Rental.com. Time to board…

WOH17_1

While on the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, I had some time to unwind and clear my thoughts. There are few things in my life I can’t explain why I love them so much. One of them is listening to music and staring out the window of an airplane. It brings me a level of peace and clarity I rarely find that clears my mind, body and soul. Looking down on our planet and up to the endless sky, how small I feel. Very humbling feeling.

Oh Yeah! while in Dallas/Fort Worth, I saw the B-17 “Sally B” and a third B-29!

Well, after 8 hours at work, 6 and half hours of traveling over 1300 miles on 2 flights, I made it safe, sound and tired to Houston. Time to sleep!!!!

WOH17_4

Saturday

Woke up refreshed after a long Friday. Straight to the window to see what Mother Nature is doing. Blues skies along with a few clouds. With Sunday s weather being questionable, I’ll shoot more in my “safe zone” to ensure getting good captures. And Sunday if the weather gets better, I’ll shoot slower. But the forecast for Sunday morning is thunderstorms and clearing by mid-afternoon.

WOH17_5

At the show, I run into one of airshow buddies, Steve Savino. It happens to be front of his favorite type of WWII fighter, the P-47 Thunderbolt. I meet Steve on a flight from San Francisco to Ontario, California on my way to the Planes of Fame airshow back in 2015. We talked and walked about the ramp, shooting as we go. We made plans for the gang to go to dinner after the show. He was shooting from the “Photo pit” and I like to be mobile, so we parted and would meet up later.

The show had it’s “The good, The bad and The ugly”.

The Good

The light! The light! Omg, the light! Yeah, it sucks in the morning but once the sun crosses the runway, it just gets better and better. Let’s not forget about the clouds as well. I love having clouds in the background. The Colling Foundation F-4D along with they’re F-100F in the hot ramp. The Vietnam War Flight Museum MiG-21 and their A-26 that I had never seen before, silver with black accent on the engine nacelles as well as the on the wings. There was one of Jerry Conley de Havilland DH-115 Vampires on the ramp too. There was a pair of F-15 Eagles from the 159th Fighter Wing, the “Bayou Militia”. They came over on Saturday and tore up the pattern before heading home. I also ran into Will Ward, pilot and MiG owner who I had not seen in years. Was good to see and talk to him. Very cool guy!

The Bad

For Saturdays show, the MiG-21 or the Colling F-100F did not fly in the show for whatever reasons. Along with anything from Texas Flying Legends. Even thou I enjoy them and this only from a photographic point of view, but Tora! Tora! Tora! And their Pyro! HOLY SMOKES! It’s an entertaining act but once the siren goes off and the bombing starts, the show line gets absolutely smoked out from the airshow smoke and from the endless pyro shots.

The ugly

The $40 ticket price at the gate! And the muddy parking lots. Luckily, they had a Jeep running around pulling cars and truck out of the mud.

 

After the show, I was making my way through the crowd to the gate. When I saw a brightly polished metal finished P-51 with a flat black tail. “Can it be? Is It?” I asked myself. And as I quickly walked closer and closer to it, I found my answer. It is Texas Flying Legends newly restored P-51C named “Lope’s Hope 3rd. I saw over on the Warbird Information Exchange forum (WIX) that it had made its first flight last week but had no idea that it was here in Houston. AirCorps Aviation did an absolutely amazing job on the restoration. I can’t wait to see more of this Mustang in the years to come.

That night, the plan was to meet up at Twin Peaks for dinner with Steve-O gang. We enjoyed looking at all the eye candy and talked photography as well as airshows. Good times

 Sunday

Woke up to fair skies but Mother Nature had something else in store. What’s the staying, “They do everything bigger in Texas”. Mother Nature decided to live up to that Sunday morning with a line of Thunderstorms!

WOH17_7

WOH17_8

Gate open at 8am but flying does not start until 11am. So, I figure I stay in the hotel until the storm lightens up and then pack up the rental to head over to Ellington field. Besides, I already got rain qualified a few times this season. As the storm passes, I wait until the down pour turns to light rain and head over to the field. I figure, I’ll be better off sitting in the car at the airport when rain ends then in my hotel room.

WOH17_9

On my way to the field I stop off at Jack in the Box for some breakfast. I order some food to go and drive over to the field, park and eat while I wait for the weather to clear up. As I’m eating, a car parks next to me on the driver side and I glance over at the car and the driver look familiar. As the weather clear up the drive next to me get out the car, goes to the trunk and starts to gear up. I open the door to my rental and ask the driver, “Are you Ken Cheung?” He replies Yes, I am. I have not seen Ken since way back in the day of Oceana 05 or 06? Ken was a regular on Fence Check. What are odds of him parking beside me? We talked for a good 25 to 30 minutes until Mother Nature started acting up again. So, we retreated into our rental cars. The gates soon opened, we geared up and went in. I gave him one of my cards and he made his way down to the photo pit.

With the show starting late, as everyone was coming in and finding a place to watch the show from, the Coast Guard demo was up and flying. There were a few patchy showers here and there but off to the north, the sky was blue with small puffy clouds. As the coasties demo lands, I felt a disturbance in the Force. It was a squad from 501st Legion. And you know I had to get a photo was them!

WOH17_13

Sunday show had its good points and its low points. Here’s a few of the good points, the passing storm was for some great back drops with the sun was out. The light was sharp and clean along with the low puffy clouds…Awesome. The morning weather add more moisture to the atmosphere. Which means more vapor for Super Hornet. Here’s my images from the Super Hornet high speed pass with vapor cone.

WOH17 Super Hornet high speed pass film strip

Here’s a link to see it full size

 

As the show when on, the sun and clouds were continuous playing hide and seek. And I found myself shooting subjects with no light on them. While chimping, it was clear that the subjects shot in shadow were going to be junked. Yes, the shadow detail can be popped out in post process, but they don’t even come close the others shot in nature light. There is no substitute for nature light! So, those aircraft that was flying while the sun was hiding, I am not going to show. I’m not a documentary photography when it comes to airshows. Meaning I’m not trying to get images of everything that was there and what flew and it what order. I’m trying to shoot images unique to me that I can add to my collection over a point of a lifetime.

Sometime during the show Ken text me and wanted to know if I wanted to get dinner after the show. We plan to meet back up at our cars after the show and go from there. Show over and back at the cars, we decide to head off to Outback Steak house. There we reminisced about the “Good old days” of now gone Fence Check. How it was the site to visit to see what other aviation photographer were shooting and where. I had a good time with Ken at dinner and hopefully I run into him sometime during the 2018 season.

Wing Over Houston was a great show for my 2017 Season Finale. It was great seeing and talking to some of my old airshow buddies. Despite the weekends wet weather, I’m really happy with my images. The troubled sky made for a dramatic back drop during the show. Of all the images I shot at Wings over Houston, there are three images that stand out and tells the story of the weekend. I love the sense of location along with the low horizons showing off the vivid background. Each has their own different play with light and shadow. In all three images, each one draws your eyes in, so you can explore all the details and light in the screen. With each of them, I saw the image before I shot it. Heck, I shot one with my iPhone! Three more images to add to my portfolio.

My next post will be my “Best of 2017 Show season” post. Showing all my favorite images from the season along with some thoughts looking back as well as some going forward.

 

Until next post,

Steven

The Story Behind an Image, Part Three

For the past 14 years, I have had a love affair with photography. I love images that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few images that has a story. Here is part three in a series I call “The story behind an Image

Part 3: My 11 years and over 16 Airshows/events shot

Ever since I started my love affair with Aviation photography, I have a list of images I wanted to capture. One of them has been a ¾ front shot of a F/A-18E or F Super Hornet during its high-speed pass with a full vapor cone in a cloudless blue sky. Not a full cone from side view, not on a cloudy day that hides the vapor cone but a nice full round vapor cone from ¾ front. I tried for years, 11 years to be actual and God knows how images. But after 11 years and 16 different events and airshows, I finally did it.

For those of you who do not know what a vapor cone it is, go and hit up Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vapor_cone

There’s a huge misnomer about the elusive vapor cone. When people see it, their think that the aircraft is breaking the sound barrier. WRONG! A vapor cone can form (if the conditions are right) at transonic speed just before reaching the speed of sound. Demo pilots meticulously rehearsed a precise routine showing off the aircraft performance without breaking the supersonic speed limit set at an airshow and other aviation events. I’ve been to countless shows and seen so many high-speed passes from just about every US fighter and not one of them has ever excessed the speed of sound.

Now on to just how difficult this shot was for me. 16 different airshows and events in 5 states and one in Canada over 11 years. Yeah, Holy Fuck! Here’s 3 YouTube videos I found that showing how quickly the vapor cone forms and disappears during the Super Hornets high speed pass.

https://youtu.be/pES8AKI5kso?t=269

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsqSYX2vb7s

https://youtu.be/Z9GLOcqgv2M?t=287

Pretty amazing right!? Now imagine shooting it with a 400mm or 500mm lens hand held. Yeah! For me, the trouble was not being able to keep track of the Super Hornet during the high-speed pass or not being able to get images in focus, it was having the right condition for it to happen and for me to be shooting from the right location to be able to capture it the way I wanted. The main ingredient for a vapor cones and any other forms of condensation is humidity. One of main features of the shot I wanted to capture is having a cloudless blue sky to showing off the full cone of condensation. And having a humid and cloudless blue sky the day of an airshow is a weather oxymoron. Clouds in the background can take away and or make the cone look deformed. Our eyes are very sensitive to circles and can quickly pick up on things that do not appear to be round. The other feature of this image I envision is the position of the Super hornet with the vapor cone. I have seen many images of aircraft with cones and most of them are profile or side shots along with a few rear shots (I like to call butt cones). I want to shoot the Super Hornet as it is heading toward me in a ¾ front view so it looks like it is punching through a little cloud it just formed. There is no way of knowing where the vapor cone is going to form, if it even happens or not during the high-speed pass. But I do know during the Super Hornets demo, it does the high-speed pass from the right to the left. If it is possible, I want to be the farthest left of show center. So, if it forms I can capture it in the position I’m looking for.

Below are 4 interesting failed attempts at capturing the Super Hornet high speed pass I had shot over the years. Each showing different combination of wrong factors. The images are as they are out of the camera, no skipped images.

The first one is from Battle Creek 2006. The Super Hornet was from VFA-106 known as the “Gladiators” based at NAS Oceana. I nicely painted 206 bird, nice blue sky but not vapor. The night before the show, a front came through and dried the air out.

Battle Creek 2006

Good Position, Good sky but no humidity Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/battle-creek-2006.jpg

 

The next high-speed is of VFA-106 performing at home at the 2008 NAS Oceana airshow. The sky was partly cloudy, blue on one side of the runway and cloudy on the other. Another pass in the wrong location and with not the best weather conditions.

NAS Oceana 08

Poor position, Poor sky but great humidity! Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/nas-oceana-08.jpg

Next on to the APPA Gold Cup Hydroplane race on the Detroit river 2011. VFA-106 came up from NAS Oceana to perform the demo each day of the race. Had a good shooting location on belle isle, an island park on the Detroit river, at the end of a pier that jetted out into the river. The pier did not interfere with the events airshow box but it did get me closer to the action. That time I was shooting my 400m F/5.6 and that little bit closer helped full the frame. Since the demo was flown over the Detroit River, I chose to shoot from Belle Isle so that the sun was at my back. And being on opposite side of the in which the demo was being flown, the high-speed pass was from the left to the right. Close but not the shot the shot I was looking for. Poor position, great sky and great humidity.

APPA Gold Cup Detroit 2011

Poor position, Great sky and Great humidity. Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/appa-gold-cup-detroit-2011.jpg

And the last of interesting failed high-speed passes is from Cleveland National airshow in 2012. That weekend I had rented Canons new 500mm F/4 MK II from lensesrental.com (amazing service). The whole weekend was overcast and there was a ton of moisture in the air. I had no question that Super was going to cone. The trouble was that it overcast and gray, that there will not be enough contrast in between the cone and the background clouds. Here in this last series of images, these nine images (in a row) is a testimony to just how good the cameras autofocus system capabilities are at tracking a gray object traveling near the speed of sound on a gray background. It’s amazing to see how the vapor cone forms, disappears and how quickly it reforms again. Great position, poor sky and great humidity.

Cleveland 2012 film strip

Great position, poor sky and great humidity! link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/cleveland-2012-film-strip.jpg

Enough about how I struggled with this shot. Fast forward to late spring 2015 and the Gary South Shore Airshow was approaching. It is a beach show on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana. This was first of two beach shows during my 2015 show season. The second was Milwaukee Air & Water Show 2 weeks after the Gary show. 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. And you need a lot of humidity for a good full cone to form. Also, your background most likely will be uncluttered. The horizon and sky makes for a simple and clean background along with shows a sense of location.

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. The show line, a visual reference line to aid pilots with orientation during the performance, runs down the center of the airshow box. At most aerial events, one of the active runways is the show line. FAA rules state that the crowd must be 1,500ft. away from the show line. That does not mean the performers are always 1.500ft from the crowd. Some maneuvers, are closer than others. But at a beach show, the performers take off and land at a nearby airport. So, how do you have a show line at a beach show? With a ship, of course. At the Gary show, I think it was a US Coast Guard ship? Not 100% sure, but it was a ship. 9 times out of 10, the water 1,500ft from the shore is not deep enough for a ship. Remember, it must big enough for pilots to easily spot, like a big white coast guard ship. So that means the show line farther away from the shore, farther away means one needs more focal length. Because of this I stayed away from beach show until I got my 500mm.

Weeks before the show I had planned on going with the intent of crossing off a few images from my list. The Warbird Heritage Foundations(WHF) A-4 Skyhawk and the US Navy West Coast Super Hornet Demo team from VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” based out of NAS Lemoore were my main reasons for going. I wanted to get an image of WHFs Skyhawk during its photo pass. The Gary show did give me yet another crack at get that front ¾ full cone shot during Super Hornets high-speed pass if conditions were right.

I almost don’t go to this show. At the time, I was living in Naperville, Illinois and the morning of the show it was straight and solid over at home along with the weather for Gary, Indiana did not look promising. With questionable weather, I was seriously considering not going until my good friend called me to ask if I was going. He told me he was going and he felt that we would be ok weather wise. Being not too thrilled about the weather, I pack up my gear and headed off to Gary. If anything, I could see and hang out with buddy doing what we both enjoy despite the weather conditions.

The drive over I was hoping for better weather but the farther east I drove but it wasn’t looking any better. And was disappointed with mother nature. Come show day, its overcast time! But as I got closer to Gary, the overcast was breaking up and had patches of blue here and there. By the time I reached Marquette Park, where show was being held, I was shocked to see the sky was clear and blue. Now excited for the show, I scrambled to find parking and call my buddy. Who had gotten there before I did and told me where to go to find him on the beach. He had pick out a spot to the left of show center to shoot from. The show opened with the US Army Golden Knight parachute team jumping in the flag as the National anthem with being sung. After a few other acts, the WHF A-4 Skyhawk did its demo but due to the where the show line was, the tiny A-4 looked even smaller in view finder during its photo pass.  Was a little bummed out about the Skyhawk’s photo pass but I did finally cross that shot off my list later in the season at NAS Oceana.

So, after seeing the Super Hornet demo so many times, the routine become familiar. The demo starts with the dirty roll. During the roll, the landing gear is retracted followed by a vertical reposition for the next pass. At the bottom the repositioning, there is a hard pitch up and is a good chance to get some vapor on the leading-edge extensions. Back to level flight, lite the afterburners for the minimal radius turn. Exiting the minimal radius turn, hard pull into the tail stand. Top of the tail stand, the stick is shoved forward and the ass end of the hornet abruptly rises and the aircraft levels out. Exit right to position for high-speed pass. You know what’s coming. So, quickly check setting, looking to check to see if there anything that going to get in the way of the shot. Other photographers, people walking by, anything to screw up the next 10 seconds. Quickly move if needed, lenses up, focus on the Super hornet as it approaches, take a breath, get calm and focused and start shooting. I hate the saying “spray & pray”. For me, its mindless shooting away, hoping to capture something, instead having the mindset and skill to stay calm and shoot you subject when it is suitable. Yes, you have to shoot in continues shooting to capture any fast action and be able to keep the auto focus point on your subject all the while panning. The funny thing is I did not see the vapor cone form at all. None of it, not a single frame. Remember, when shooting the mirror sways up and blocks the view finder so the sensor can exposure the scene.

11years and 16 shows

EXIF data

Date: 7/12/2015 11:35am

Model: Canon 7D Mark II

Len attached:  Canon 500mm F/4.5L USM

Exposure program: Aperture priority

Shooting modes: High-speed continues @ 10FPS with AI Servos

ISO speed: 100

Exposure time: 1/1600th second

F stop: F/4.5

Shot handheld

Here’s the 9 frames from the West Coast Super Hornet demo, VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” Based at NAS Lemoore, High-speed pass at the Gary South Shore Airshow in 2015.

Great location, Great sky and Great humidity. Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/gary-south-shore-show-2015.jpg