Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Another "Wow!" moment...

I've been managing to keep my eye in so far as Aviation photography goes over the winter. A fair number of days spent freezing cold in various fields around Scampton watching the mighty Reds, a few trips to Coningsby and another to Barkston Heath to watch Display Pilot Andy throwing his little RAF Tutor around the sky! Best of all, Ross  arranged for me and three friends, Claire (of course!) Kate & Sarah to spend a day on base at Scampton back in January - how ace is that boy eh?! Fantastic from my perspective to be able to get a bit of a head start on this year's ground shots - I managed to get a fair few of Ross, Nicky and others working, and was also able to catch up with several pals from last season, which was great!

A jet on the winter line with techies waiting for the pilots to crew-in
Instructions were to report to the Guardroom at 10am sharp, which we did - Ross came out and collected us and took us in to get passes. Quite a procedure, we had to provide photo ID, and have pictures taken too. All details get checked and then checked back against the ID you've provided. As Claire and I have discovered since though - once you've been in once it gets a LOT quicker the next time! Then it was time to head through onto base. Once in and with the cars parked up it was yet more paperwork - safety notes to be read and signed, and yet more passes to be issued - these being the ones which would allow us outside onto the edge of the ASP with the live jets. Ross took us into the Reds Hangar so we could see in there - not many jets in as most were out on the line ready for the days practise flying. Ross & Perty's jet from last season XX311 was tucked up indoors though so we had a look around her. With time to kill before the next scheduled practise and the weather being freezing cold we hung about in the corridor and before long James who I met when he was on Dye Team last season came along and stopped for a chat. He's been selected for "Circus" this year and had just had his first backseat ride in one of the Reds Hawks a couple of days before which he was still grinning about so it was great to hear all about it and see how excited he was! He'll be riding with Red 2 - Flt. Lt. Mike Bowden - during the 2015 season and will be one of those I'll be focusing on heavily for this year's groundshots project so expect to be "meeting" him before all that long. Word was clearly spreading as while we were chatting with him, Stu (last year's Circus 10) appeared "I heard you were here!" he said - fab to be able to catch up not least as it sounds as though he's going to be office based this season so we will almost certainly not be seeing anything of him out around the shows.

Time then to brave the cold and head outside - Ross "parked" us on the patch of concrete just back from the line of jets with instructions to, essentially "stay there and don't move!" before whizzing off to assist with getting the jets ready for the sortie. Before long the pilots appeared - it was nice that the "new boys" Mike, Emmet and Tom all recognised me and Kate from Blackpool back in September. Red Ten - "Lingy" shouted hello over to us as he came out as well and we got waves from several of the others who recognised us.

Ross realising the downside of taking me onto base is having a camera pointed at him again!
Interesting as always watching the process of them crewing in - it was a six-ship practise, meaning 6 jets went up, but Lingy went along for the ride in Red 4's backseat and Red 9 was riding with 5 so quite a lot to be done. Ross & Nicky were fulfilling the roles of assisting the backseaters with crewing in and then making the final safety checks on each jet before they taxied off the line. It is also their responsibility to give each pilot the final "OK" as they roll out past them, checking that nothing is out of place and things like footsteps are safely stowed. One small part out of place can cause chaos with the way the aircraft handles in the air, particularly when close formation aerobatics are involved, so this final "sign off" is a vital part of the procedure. Oh, I should mention, Ross hasn't actually put on several stones in weight over the winter - it honestly was a bitterly cold day and he was wearing many, many layers!

Waiting for the jets to taxi past for final "thumbs up"
As Ross had work to do (obviously, that was what he was there for after all!) after lunch he handed us over to two of the team's resident photographers, Steve and Craig, to "babysit" us for the afternoon and it rapidly became clear that the excitement was far from over as their plan for us was to take us out to the tower where they film every training sortie from! Every sortie whether a display or training is filmed for debrief purposes afterwards. Following them out to the tower was nervewracking for poor Kate who had been elected to drive us out - not least as the rest of us had by now descended into giggles at the amazing day we were having! Once out there we watched as Steve and Craig set the camera gear up and then it was a case of waiting for the jets...except as we waited a HUGE black cloud was approaching, not what anyone wanted at all! Eventually the call came in that we'd been half expecting - the sortie was postponed. Once the guys had packed the gear away again we all piled back to the office for very welcome cups of tea - if we'd thought it was cold over on the line in the morning that's nothing to how bitter it gets by the tower! A while later and with the weather having sorted itself out the phone rang confirming that the pilots were getting ready to walk to the jets so back we went and this time all went to plan and we saw a practise from a truly unique perspective - amazing having everything happening so close!

Brilliant to get the chance to work alongside the team photogs too although having to remember to duck when they panned the camera round towards us was entertaining! 

Having the jets pass directly over your head on some of their passes is always pretty cool, but when it's happening ALL the time and the display  is all happening directly in front of you it's even better.

All in all it was an absolutely amazing day and yet again we found ourselves saying "wow!" a lot! No matter how often stuff like this happens it never stops being the most amazing thrill, and I'm so grateful to those who have made everything possible.

The start of the airshow season is now approaching and I'm starting to get plans in place for places to go, travel and accommodation. In a lot of places there will be a whole gang of us going - Bournemouth should be a total party and one or two other shows will be much the same. By booking travel in advance I'm hoping to keep costs as low as possible too - although this is never going to be cheap! It'll be fun though!


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