USA II 2015
On Friday 2 October 2015 it was time for another nice tour to the States. This time we were heading for Nevada and California and the main targets were the air show at MCAS Miramar, a base visit at NAF Fallon and completing the tour with a visit to the San Francisco Fleet Week. A full report can be found here.
On Friday 2 October 2015 it was time for another nice tour to the States. This time we were heading for Nevada and California and the main targets were the air show at MCAS Miramar, a base visit at NAF Fallon and completing the tour with a visit to the San Francisco Fleet Week. Originally the tour would take us to Hawaii as well, but unfortunately not enough people were interested in that. Therefore a small group of 5 people boarded a United Airlines B757 for Philadelphia. From Philadelphia an A321 from United Airlines took us to Los Angeles. The night was spent between LA and Miramar.
On Saturday (3 October) we were up early again to head for the Air Show at MCAS Miramar. When we got there, there was a queue already but we could move rather quick anyway. After parking the car near a number of CH-53Es we could enter the base after the regular checks. We were lucky to be early so we could capture most of the aircraft without people around them. There were quite a lot of aircraft and the flightlines were accessible for photography as well. The air show itself is facing the sun unfortunately. Early in the afternoon the air display itself began with a demo of an AV-8B Harrier, the Patriot Team and their L-39s and a demo by AV-8Bs, F/A-18Ds, UH-1Ys, AH-1Zs and the MV-22Bs. A fine start of the tour!
Since we were happy with what we were able to capture at Miramar on Saturday we decided to do other things on Sunday 4 October. First thing we wanted to do was visit the USS Midway. This carrier did not open until 10 AM so we had enough time for a decent breakfast. Rain had started to poor down in the meantime. As we entered the ship it was dry again and the sun managed to shine every now and then so we couldn’t complain. After about two hours we went to the Science Museum in San Diego, a couple of miles down the road. After the museum, that do not take much time, we headed for Las Vegas. On our way we made a short stop at Gillespie Field. This small airfield has a museum as well. Normally it is closed on Sundays but one of the owners was still at work and his dog made sure that we got some attention and we were let in. ‘Help yourself’. Most of the aircraft were in good condition and some could even be photographed with a little sunshine. We were followed by a large area with are from the West so we were lucky. We continued with a couple of civil or ex-military aircraft on the field before continuing to our final destination of today; Las Vegas. We arrived there at the beginning of the evening and headed for the hotel room and bed soon after. It was the end of a long day!
And then you wake up… and wonder what that noise is that you hear… a quick peak outside. Rain and thunder on Monday morning (5 October). We had agreed to meet early to be at Nellis AFB in time but now we could take it easy. We could have breakfast and lie down again. By 08.30 AM the weather started to clear somewhat and we decided to drive to Nellis. Today we had to spend quite some time in the car because of the rain. But, during periods of bright sunshine in between we were able to make cool shots. There was no Red Flag exercise at the time of our visit so it was relatively quiet. There were a lot of FM F-16Cs from 93rd FS/482nd FW though and they were very active. Also the local Vipers, Raptors and Eagles were doing their thing a lot. We didn’t see an F-35 on this day? Maybe they cannot stand the rain? Fortunately we would also spend the next day at Nellis and weather was supposed to improve. On our way back to the hotel we visited a UH-1H and a UH-34A. After the evening meal it started to rain again so we skipped our visit to the Strip this time.
Tuesday 6 October; Fortunately the weather was looking as it should when you are at Nellis; blue skies and sunshine. After a serious breakfast, what had become the standard by now, we drove to Cheyenne Avenue for some departures. There was a lot of flying going on. After an hour we went to the Speedway and stayed there until early in the afternoon. Later in the afternoon the aircraft started to come in via Las Vegas again so we moved to the other side again and stayed there until the sun was almost gone. We were treated to a lot of visitors today, including three MO F-15Es, C-40A and several Hercules’. From Nellis we drove to our motel in Beatty where we arrived at around 9 in the evening.
On Wednesday 7 October we started with an early breakfast and took a small detour to collect the C-45 that is near Beatty before we headed for Rainbow Canyon… The display of the car then showed the sign of a soft tire. After a quick and thorough investigation we found a nail stuck in the side of the rear tire. We didn´t touch it, but this was not the state you want to have when you need to drive to Rainbow Canyon and then hundreds of miles to Fallon. We therefore decided to pay the local tire-dude a visit. Unfortunately his stock did not include the tire we were looking for. We were directed to the nearest option (city) which was 70 miles in the direction of Las Vegas. This was the opposite direction that we needed to go. After an hour we arrived in the city were we needed to be and we exchanged the tire after consulting the rental car company. The consultation took a lot longer than the actual exchanging of the tire. In the meantime we did some shopping and again took to the road for our target for today; Rainbow Canyon. A very scenic route takes you to this low flying area in the middle of nowhere. Just after 1 o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at our destination. In hindsight we did not miss much; two South Dakota F-16Cs (which we would have missed anyway since they were very early) and one Navy F/A-18. We were lucky that almost all activity started after we got there; within fifteen minutes the first F/A-18F came blazing through the Canyon. This Hornet was followed by Hornets of other units soon after and the Air Force also participated with two F-15Cs of 194th FS/CA ANG and two 64th FS F-16Cs that performed 3 passes. Awesome! In the end we were able to capture 11 different aircraft and also saw an Edwards based B-1B flying low over the salty plains (not via the Canyon unfortunately…). Around 4.30 we headed for Fallon and got there around 10 in the evening. On arrival we went straight to bed. It was a very long but very nice day!
Our visit to Fallon started at half past eight in the morning on Thursday 8 October. After filling in the necessary paperwork we could enter the base together with some English guys. Our familiar host Zip was ready to go again and the weather was very good. Since Zip knows exactly what we want he also makes sure to know what will happen and where to go (or not). Carrier Air Wing 3 was also present and they were very active. First we took pictures of E-2C, EA-18Gs, F/A-18A,E,Fs and F-16s and then the VFC-13 F-5s. One of the F-5s was given a new colour scheme, named Bumblebee, with lots of yellow in it. Very nice! We could capture the launch of the Carrier Air Wing and the adversaries of VFA-204 that the wing had hired. The Fallon based aircraft were not so active, only a couple of VFC-13 F-5Ns and an F-16B. But, we had already taken pictures of the Fallon aircraft on the platform. Before we left for today’s destination (Sacramento) we visited the museum park on base. On our way to Sacramento we stopped at Reno to take a picture of the preserved RF-4C at the gate. This took way more effort than anticipated, but anyway. Then we went to the other side of the city where you can find Reno Stead Apt. Clouds had appeared by now, but we were able to capture the aircraft in sunny conditions. The field is open and after asking we were allowed to capture the warbirds on the platform. On the dump we discovered Su-25 wings carrying Ukrainian markings… We found out that a two-seat Su-25 was present in a large hangar nearby. Luckily this hangar was opened up for us and we did see the Su-25, together with a S-70 Firehawk (a Blackhawk that is modified for firefighting duties). When we were happy here we continued to our Motel in Sacramento. The restaurant was next door so that was very convenient. The evening was relaxed and contained discussing the plans for tomorrow. Should we try and visit the rehearsals for the Fleet Week air display or stick to the plan and visit the show on Saturday?
Again an early start on Friday 9 October to get to the airport of Sacramento. The US Forest Service aircraft are based here (every year at the end of the forest fire season all aircraft return here and undergo different sorts of maintenance). Sacremento is home to the headquarters and since we were in the middle of the season not too many aircraft were at home. The platform also contained 5 former USN P-3A Orions that have been unemployed for some time already. They do look operational though. After asking the various organisations we were allowed to take photos on the platform. CALFIRE proved to be very friendly again and a guide took us in the hangars after visiting their platform. No restrictions whatsoever. Our only enemy was the clock. We then visited the local museum but underway we saw more firefighting choppers and aircraft. The museum is certainly worth a visit, the majority of the aircraft is parked outside and the veterans are very willing to tell you all you want to know. The museum is not too big, so we could pursue our next target soon after; the US Coast Guard. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos of the three Hercules’. Fortunately we already saw one flying. According to the navigation system it would now be half past two before we would get to San Francisco. That would be too late for us. Our Plan B was to visit the museum at Castle Field (the former B-52/KC-135A Castle AFB). This was well within our timeframe, so option B was chosen. Castle Field has a nice collection of aircraft and they are presented well apart from each other. After all were happy with museum it was time to remember the base as it used to be in the past. Many things have changed, nowadays there is even a prison on the airfield. We saw two DC-10-30 firefighting aircraft and were allowed to capture them. We then left the airfield and collected some stored aircraft at several locations. The weather was perfect and by now it was time to drive to our hotel in Oakland near San Francisco. A beautiful sunset ended a nice and very productive day.
For Saturday (10 October) a visit to the Fleet Week in San Francisco was scheduled. It was very busy and it looked like everybody wanted to use the same road to get in and out of San Francisco. After parking the car we passed several ships (including a submarine) while walking towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We quickly found the right spot and soon after several boats and ships of all sorts began to appear on the water. Then the air display started including a T-33AN, C-130H (unfortunately Fat Albert was unserviceable today and only flew on Sunday), L-39s of the Patriot Team, a demo by a US Coast Guard MH-65C (a bit too far away), Nanchang CJ-6s, B737-9 and the Blue Angels of course. The display of the Blue Angels is the highlight for this event and after their display most of the visitors went back home or into the city. We took our time to get back to the car. There were lots of things to see with the hundreds of booths, the many old streetcars, buses, etc. Unfortunately our departure from the city was not so smooth… it was still very busy and it took quite some time before we were able to leave the city.
On Sunday 11 October we first visited a couple of preserved aircraft before we drove to the USS Hornet. After that we visited the local airfield of Oakland. The majority of the Fleet Week participants operated form here, including the Blue Angels. We were lucky to be allowed on the field and were able to negotiate taking photos of most of the F/A-18s. After this visit we went to the nearby museum. A nice museum with some very interesting aircraft, like a two seat NASA Harrier. After this visit we headed for the international airport of San Francisco. The car was handed again, after covering 1900 miles, and we used British Airways for our flight to Heathrow IAP. This time the return flight was in a Boeing 747.
We landed at Heathrow on time (by then it was Monday 12 October already); again we had to pass security checks and boarded a British Airways A321 to Schiphol. We landed at around half past two in the afternoon local time at Schiphol. After collecting the suit cases we said goodbye. We all went home with a lot of digital photos. A lot of homework before the next tour would start. Fortunately the sun was shinning but it was at least 20 degrees colder than during our departure from San Francisco IAP.