USA IV 2018
In November 2018 4Aviation travelled to Arizona and California again for a week. The main attraction during the tour was the NAF El Centro photocall, but other interesting locations in the (larger) area were visited as well.
On Saturday 10 November 2018 in the early morning, a small group of photographers gathered at Schiphol. After checking in, we left for Toronto with a delay of about two hours. Because we had to wait a while for our flight to Phoenix, the delay, which ultimately lasted an hour, did not matter. Our connecting flight to Phoenix also ran quickly to Phoenix IAP by eleven o’clock in the evening. Picked up our car at the rental company and drove to our hotel. Our hotel was close to the airport, so we still got a good night’s rest. The fifth participant, from the US, was already in the hotel and we would meet him the next day.
This morning, Sunday 11 November, we met the fifth traveller and after a good American breakfast we went on our way to Mesa Gateway. It was Veterans Day today and the veterans were treated well again; clear blue sky and about 24 degrees, nice! It always remains to be seen what will be at on Mesa Gateway, let alone on a public holiday, but when we arrived our first sight exceeded all expectations. A platform full of twelve Harriers, five of which were two-seaters. Two Harriers also appeared to be flying a mission, so in total there were fourteen. The Harriers were from both Cherry Point and Yuma. They would leave on Wednesday because their own base was closed for a few days in connection with Veterans Day. The Cherry Point Harriers flew during the day and the Yuma ones flew in the evening. During the day, a formation of 5 OH-6Ds from the US Army came over and another C-17A landed. Not bad for a Sunday. Because we spent the night in Phoenix we had plenty of time and we could also try our night photography again. All in all, a nice day to start this trip.
Monday (12 November), Luke AFB was on the program at first but because it was Veterans Day yesterday, the servicemen had a day off today, so Luke was not an option. After breakfast we drove to Pima Space & Air Museum on time and here we visited the gigantic museum. Even today the temperature was nice, and you could photograph the museum aircraft outside without sweating. By two o’clock we were ready and after having eaten something we drove around AMARG and the various scrapyards to have a look. The day ended with a short visit to Tucson IAP. Unfortunately, there were no military visitors here. Because we still had to drive quite a bit, we decided to continue to Yuma. We had our dinner on the way and arrived at our hotel in Yuma on time. Yuma MCAS was planned for the next day so we were pretty close, and we had a normal night’s sleep again.
On Tuesday, 13 November, we had breakfast early and then went on our way to MCAS Yuma. It was awfully quiet in the air and there were no activities on base. We saw a USArmy Blackhawk on the visitor’s ramp. We had heard last weekend at Mesa Gateway from the Harrier pilots that they would not return to Yuma until Wednesday (14 November) so it didn’t look promising. We waited until half past nine and while enjoying a cup of coffee we discussed which alternatives there were. Alternatives were El Centro (but we would go there the next day, stay at Yuma or Luke AFB). We decided not to stay at Yuma but to go to Luke AFB and after a ride of about 2.5 hours we arrived there at around noon. Unfortunately they flew from the ‘wrong’ side (03 Left and Right) and the sun was almost behind the aircraft, but the loot was good: Turkish (1), South Korean (2), Norwegian (4) and Australian (5) F-35As and a single KC-135R, Taiwanese and Singapore Air Force Vipers were also seen. With a beautiful setting sun during the the last F-35s coming in we then went to our hotel in El Centro. This took about 3.5 hours but by an hour time difference our ‘loss’ was only 2.5 hours so we arrived on time at our hotel. On the way we had a bit of food so after checking in we could go to sleep right away.
Today (Wednesday 14 November), the day that the trip initially was about; the Photocall at NAF El Centro. We had to report here at half past one. After breakfast we went to the base and just stood in the approach for a while. Soon the first aircraft was on finals; it turned out to be a Hercules with ‘RAF 100’ years marking. We already saw several helicopters and Ospreys are so that looked promising. After checking in there were opportunities to eat BBQ-meat and buy patches. After the food, the (safety) briefing and introduction of the various volunteers came. The group was divided into two subgroups; blue and red. First blue went to the runway; the most distant runway. An aera was clearly marked along the runway by a white line and you had to stay behind it. Under the sheds many aircraft were parked, like Harriers. Unfortunately, only one flew. A local T-34C took off and did several touch and go’s. The temporarily based CH-53s and Osprey’s took the wrong runway on arrival and departure, so they were backlit. Fortunately, two Osprey’s took to the air via ‘our’ runway, but the best looking one was sky high… unfortunately. The many photographers next to the runway were not considered. The second Osprey did better. Because there was a broken Hornet from VMFAT-101 another one came to bring a pilot. The aircraft was now fixed and could leave again so we still had two F/A-18Ds on the runway. That was it and that was somewhat disappointing. What we could photograph was very good; especially the Harrier, T-34C, Osprey and two Hornets but that was it. Based on previous editions we had higher expectations fromn the photocall. The story went that many aircraft had cancelled, including several Hornets. After saying goodbye we went to our hotel in Eloy. We lost another hour, so time was flying by. Along the way we had a nice dinner and arrived at the hotel on time.
On Thursday (15 November), we planned to spend time at Davis-Monthan AFB (morning) and Tucson IAP (in the afternoon). When we arrived at Davis-Monthan the first A-10Cs soon left. At that moment there were already two Hercules in the air (via ABDS). There appeared to be more A-10Cs in the air because soon the first aircraft already came back. This morning it was mainly the ‘Dogpatchers’ of 47th FS (DP-tail code). In between, a few HH-60Gs went out and a civilian B747 from General Electric appeared. This was at that time the oldest flying B747 and destined for the Pima Space and Air Museum. It remains special to photograph an aircraft during its last landing. By noon, more A-10Cs went out and the light was good. This turned out to be 355th FW A-10Cs, most of them without tail code. In total we saw 21 different A-10Cs, two EC-130Hs and a HC-130J, UH-60A and a KC-135R. By half past three we headed for Tucson IAP. They were schedled for night flying at Tucson IAP, so flying did not start until noon. We stayed in the appraoch until sunset and many locally based Vipers and four KLu F-16s could be photographed. Unfortunately, the Iraqis did not fly at that moment; probably in the evening because several them had open canopies. After the sun was gone, we decided to go to our hotel in Phoenix for the last two nights.
Friday, 16 November, was our last operational day of the trip. Today we would visit Luke AFB. Given the traffic in and around Phoenix we left on time and at Luke AFB we grabbed some coffee and food/drinks on our way to the landing. Even today they flew from the ‘wrong’ side but aircraft on the 03 Left could photographed nicely. The sun was beautiful; the F-16s flew well and many came in on the left runway (in connection with an emergency landing on 03 right). Around noon it it became quieter, and we started photographing birds and reptiles so it was time again to do something else. We decided to go to Mesa-Gateway earlier. Maybe there is something else coming in? Around half past three we left and due to the heavy traffic, we arrived a bit later than planned; an F-5F from VFC-13 just came in. There were already three T-38Cs from Sheppard. After looking for our regular place again two more T-38Cs from Sheppard followed by six Harriers. What an amazing place this is. Our night photograhpy skills was also refined. We ended this nice day with a dinner next to the flight line. During our dinner, a US Navy T-34C was also photographed. Afterwards we arrived at the hotel and said goodbye to our American travel companion. We then prepared the luggage for the day after and enjoyed our night’s rest.
Because the hotel was close to the airport, we could still have breakfast on Saturday (17 November). After breakfast the car was handed in and checked in for our flight to Washington-Dulles. While waiting for our flight, we could still enjoy the view of three KC-10As, two C-17As and a T-1A. Not a bad conclusion to this trip. The flight to Washington-Dulles went well and the second part to Schiphol went smoothly. After landing at Schiphol, we were parked on cargo and it took a while before there was a good staircase to take us to the terminal with buses. Still, we had to wait for our luggage but around eleven o’clock everyone was on his way home, satisfied.