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Tag Archives: Commemorative Air Force
When I arrived at NAS Lemoore in California’s Central Valley, I had already seen many of the commemorative jets painted to celebrate the Centennial of Naval Aviation. Sitting on the ramp, all by itself, was an F-18C adorned with a paint scheme I hadn’t yet seen before. If it weren’t for the presence of the world’s only SB2C-5 Helldiver operated by the Commemorative Air Force, I don’t think I would ever have made the connection. The Hornet emulated the looks of a WWII Helldiver unit. What were the odds that both of these aircraft would be at the same location?
What brought them together was the annual gathering of civilian warbird pilots and Naval aviators chosen to participate in the 2011 Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight program. To celebrate the history of Naval Aviation and bring together generations of aviation enthusiasts, the Legacy Flight was devised combining 60-year old aircraft and modern day fighters at air shows around the country.
Following the arrival of civilian warbird pilots to NAS Lemoore, a formation flight list is circulated detailing the flight curriculum. The list contains information such as which civilian pilots will fly with which active duty pilots and what aircraft will be flown in that designated formation. Unfortunately no commemorative aircraft were scheduled to fly during this training exercise.
The F-18C in Helldiver colors had just come out of the paint shop and the scheduled post-maintenance had yet to be completed. Additionally, the digital camouflaged (Digi-Cam) F-18F Hornet had just reached a certain number of flight hours requiring routine maintenance that also had yet to be started. Fortunately the folks at VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” were just as sentimental about the joining of these aircraft as I was and were willing to make miracles happen. Pleading my case to Lt. Erin “Eeyore” Flint and Captain Mark “Mutha” Hubbard, they saw to it the aircraft would be readied for flight and added to the roster. Just as much a challenge was finding a pilot qualified to fly the F-18C since all of the pilots scheduled to fly the Legacy Program were all SuperHornet pilots. One of the few qualified pilots authorized for participation in the program was Lt. Alex “Scribe” Armatas. Slowly but surely, the gathering of these aircraft was becoming a reality.
The F-18C and Digi-Cam F-18F completed maintenance and flew on February 15th, the 2nd day of the 3-day training program. The Digi-Cam went on a second flight later that day flown by Lt. Kyle “Groper” Jason with warbird pilot Doug Rozendaal in the back seat. Joining on his wing was the Helldiver flown by Ed Vesely. The photoship used was a T-2 Buckeye flown by Peter Kline, owned by Dr. Rich Sugden.
With adverse weather approaching the area, flights scheduled for day 3 were not looking good. On the morning of February 16th, an F6F Hellcat operated by the Commemorative Air Force in Camarillo, CA launched from NAS Lemoore to get a better idea of the operating ceiling. With a low, but serviceable ceiling, flights continued. Once more, I strapped into the T-2 and watched as the Helldiver fired up. The F-18C however, sat on the ramp surrounded by maintainers. “Scribe” was already in the aircraft, but something was wrong. After about 15 minutes, the Helldiver shut down and we continued to wait. The maintainers worked tirelessly and after only a few more minutes, the Hornet fired up, followed by the Helldiver and the T-2.
Normally the skies above NAS Lemoore are filled with haze and harsh midday light, but as the morning storm cleared, the skies gave way to puffy white clouds mixed with azure blue. As we caught up to the aircraft, the Hornet and Helldiver, flown by Mark Allen, were already in formation. The moisture lingering in the air added to the dramatic sight as vortices trailed from the wingtips of the Hornet.
The entire photoshoot lasted 10 minutes where Peter in the T-2 led the formation for most of that time. Flying a figure-eight enabled us to capture the best angle of light in both a high and low echelon formation. The T-2 itself proved to be an incredible photoship due to its roomy interior and wide angle of view. Of course, it goes without saying the piloting skills of all those involved proved invaluable to obtaining the resulting imagery.
Camera: Nikon D3x
Lens: 24-120mm @ 85mm
Exposure: 1/160 – Shutter Priority
Image Created: 2/16/11 @ 11:11am pst