USA IV 2011
In November 2011 we headed for a couple of East Coast states of the USA. During the tour we were able to combine a number of interesting shows with a couple of nice base visits and some other destinations.
On Friday 4 November, the 10 Dutch participants of the 4Aviation ‘Florida-tour’ gathered at Schiphol airport. A British Airways Boeing 737 took care of the first part of the flight, to Gatwick. At Gatwick, after meeting the eleventh participant (from the UK), we boarded a BA Boeing 777 and continued our journey towards Orlando. After arriving there, the two rental cars were collected and packed in a professional way. From Orlando we headed for our first hotel in Tampa. After the evening meal all on the group opted for their beds after a relatively long day.
For Saturday 5 November the first air show was planned, at MacDill AFB, also known as MacDill Air Fest. Since we were in Tampa already, it was only a short drive to the base on Saturday morning. We arrived well in time and were enjoying the static soon after that. The weather was perfect and the major part of the air show the sun was right in your back. Capturing the static aircraft was, as usual, a bit more difficult. Despite that, a good proportion of the static could be captured quite ok. Remarkable participant to the static display was a US Army MH-6. At the end of the day we had to drive around 3 hours, on our way to Jacksonville. The night was spent in Starke.
The next air show was scheduled for Sunday (6 November). This time we drove to NAS Jacksonville. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated a lot compared to the previous day (cloudy, rainy, windy and cold). Here, we also arrived in time and the static was rather extensive. The bad weather conditions resulted in the major part of the air show being cancelled. This did not apply to the shockwave truck (with 3 Buckeye engines), the Blue Angels and Fat Albert. The display of Fat Albert, the Hercules accompanying the Blue Angels, was a special one in this case. At a certain moment 7 participants were near/at the stepladder into Fat Albert to enjoy riding the aircraft during its display. Unfortunately, at that very moment, the decision was made that only 2 people could ride. The 2 that went enjoyed themselves enormously of course. For the remaining 5 there was some relief to the pain because they were able to enjoy a guided tour along the flight line and adjacent hangars. At the end of the day the local security force proved to be far from fair by sending everybody off the base at a fast pace and with very little compassion and tact.
The itinerary for Monday 7 November showed a visit to NS Mayport. It was very unfortunate that it was raining during the visit, since the flight line was packed with Seahawks. Despite the weather we were able to shoot some nice pictures and one hour after starting the visit we already said goodbye again to our friendly hosts. After this visit we headed for Cecil Field. Because of the air show at NAS Jacksonville, a number of aircraft had sought shelter here. On our arrival there appeared to 7 Orions and 2 Clippers present. The Orions scheduled their departure in line with our time schedule and the Clippers could also be captured. After the immense Cecil Field we drove to NAS Jacksonville again for, hopefully, some extra Orions. At NAS JAX it was just a bit too quiet for us and after a short visit to Jacksonville International (where only the gate-guards were seen) we drove a couple of hours. We ended up just past the Georgia border for the night.
On Tuesday morning, the 8th, we were welcomed at Moody AFB. Unfortunately not for a platform tour, but to photograph the preserved Flying Tigers aircraft. After a short visit to the outside spot to capture take-offs, we continued towards the Grand Bay Bombing and Gunnery Range. From the base we saw and heard the A-10s doing their thing at this range. After arriving at the range we sat down on the grandstand and were able to convince the air traffic controllers to ask the A-10 jockeys to make a low pass. Air traffic control was able to convince the pilots, which resulted in some very fine shots. At the end of morning we continued towards Robins for a visit to the enormous Museum of Aviation. The aircraft at the museum were enjoying the sun as much as we were. A quick peek at Robins Air Force Base and the local Logistics Centre there resulted in an interesting list of additional serials. After the museum we drove for a couple of hours in order to spend the night in Columbus (Columbus – Georgia to be precise).
It had become Wednesday 9 November in the meantime and we drove into Alabama. Our first target for this day was Dannelly Field. This airport is home to the F-16s of the Alabama Air National Guard, amongst others. Besides a number of the local F-16, we also saw some training visitors from Columbus AFB. As soon as the morning wave had returned we decided to continue our journey again. After a short visit to Maxwell AFB we arrived at Birmingham International during the afternoon. Here we visited the Southern Museum of Flight and the preserved aircraft at the gate of the Air National Guard. The airport offers fantastic photo opportunities and we were lucky to be able to capture two departing KC-135s in beautiful light conditions. Also, we were able to take very cool shots of the platform containing the tankers from the outside. At the end of the day we drove to Columbus again (in Mississippi this time).
Unfortunately, the visit to Columbus AFB (on Thursday 10 November) was cancelled at the last moment. Despite that we decided to go the base anyway, knowing that photography from the outside was possible. These photo options were a bit disappointing though. The beautiful weather conditions and the relatively large number of aircraft made up for that. During the afternoon we were welcome at NAS Meridian. We therefore made sure that we arrived at the gate of this navy training base on time. The visit was perfect. Awesome weather and plenty of opportunities to shoot some very fine pictures, both on the flight line and in the hangars. After saying goodbye to our hostess we made a quick stop at Meridian-Key Field. The Air Force unit there is currently without any aircraft, but we met/captured three visiting aircraft. For our hotel for the night we drove to Mobile. While walking to the local Chinese restaurant there, during the evening, a Coast Guard CN-235 flew overhead.
On Friday 11 November, we drove to NAS Pensacola for the first of two days that the Air Show was on our schedule. We were able to park our cars almost ‘on’ the static display area and were walking between the static aircraft early during the day. The static was rather extensive and interesting. Many aircraft carrying the ‘Centennial of Naval Aviation’ colour scheme were present. The weather was very cooperative again and here also the sun is positioned perfectly from behind. The air show ended, around 3 PM already, with a performance of the Blue Angels. For the Friday evening a twilight show was programmed and we attended this as well. The temperature dropped rapidly during the early evening, but this was compensated by the ‘wall of fire’ and other participants of the show. The air shows in the US differ a lot from what we are used to in Europe and this twilight show (with lots of fire, fire, fireworks and fire) is an ultimate example of that. Later that evening we warmed up again at a Greek restaurant in Pensacola.
On Saturday 12 November, we visited the show at NAS Pensacola again. On this Saturday we were able to visit the Geico Skytypers and the flight line of the air show. Furthermore this Saturday offered a perfect opportunity to visit the immense National Naval Aviation Museum. The weather was perfect again this day and we waited until the very end to be able to capture the static aircraft again without people.
On Sunday (13 November) we started off a little later. For this day, Pensacola Regional Airport and a number of wrecks & relics locations were scheduled. Pensacola RAP is usually good for a number of military aircraft during the weekend. This was also the case on this Sunday. The platform contained a number of T-34s, T-6s, T-45s, TH-57s, etc. We were able to photograph a number of these aircraft. While visiting, amongst others, the outside collection of the museum at Eglin AFB we headed east during the course of the day, collecting several aircraft along the way. In Lake City we checked in to our hotel for the night, the final night of the tour already.
On Monday 14 November the itinerary contained, apart from the on-time check-in for the return flight, a second attempt at Cecil Field and NAS Jacksonville. After a quick peek at Cecil Field we drove to NAS Jacksonville soon afterwards. There, the Orions appeared to be rather active and taking pictures of them during take-off and go-arounds was very doable. The local security force soon showed an interest in us and asked us to stay put. NCIS was informed and after their arrival it soon became apparent we were not breaking any rules and they wished us a lot of fun. During the afternoon we headed for Titusville. Part of the group visited the museum there, while the remainder concluded that the entrance fee for the Kennedy Space Center was too high for the short time we had in mind to spend there. At the end of the afternoon we drove to Orlando again, handed in the rental vans and threw our luggage on the belt. The fourth 4Aviation tour to the USA in 2011 had also come to a (successful) end. Via Gatwick all arrived back home on Tuesday 15 November.