Monday, April 6, 2009

Phabulous Phantoms

A base visit at Wittmund Hafen

13-05-2008. WITTMUND AIRBASE - Spotting group Panoravia had a great offer to attend a base visit at Germany's Phantom Phightertown (though Neuburg was still operating Phantoms at the time aswell). Panoravia and spotting group GRAS had arranged for us to go to hangars, at aprons, along the runway, to see preserved aircraft and to lunch in the mess hall. We should go on our own behalf and the weather forecast looked good.

Since I didn't have a car I asked on the Panoravia forum if I could go with someone as a KDF (a abbreveation of cost lowering factor in Dutch). Erik went on his own anyway and replied I could go with him. We arranged to meet at a truck stop just out of town and I packed my bag. Lacking new material for my 'Mensen zien ze vliegen' (People See Them Fly) photo serie it was a great opartunity to do so was my idea. Next day I got up early, grabbed a bite to eat and went on my bike. Arriving just early gave enough time for a sigaret, clockwork! We where on our way and I was surprised to see how short the drive was. Maybe it was just very sociable. How strainge was it to be at Wittmund airbase outside the fence. We would rendevous at the camp later on so we went outside the base first. This airbase looked so much like Hopsten. This was a Phantom base before it was closed down in 2005. Luckily the fence just as low as Hopsten's. Sadly though we couldn't use it much because some overcast prevented the first flight of the day. I did manage to get some nice pictures of spotters there. Then we had to go to the camp to meet up with averyone.

Some foumiliar faces appeared at the parking just at the other side of a preserved Phantom on a pole. After a short while everybody was present and we went in. A bus was waiting for us.

On the drive towards the base I asked if anyone would have any problems if I'd take pictures of them for my project. Just a bit before a spotter at Florennes in Belgium was giving me glances of dissaprovel and I overheard him later on about what drives a person to spot spotters... Offcource most people think just that of aircraft spotters, witch I try to awnser with my project. So in a way I might do him a favour and he didn't approach me personally. Maybe in the age of internet with its forums and weblogs he didn't want his face everywhere. A thing I try to respect here aswell. Anyway, in the bus one person didn't want himself to prominent in the picture. Otherwise no one had trouble with it. Probable because Sjoerd explained my idea so well to everyone. Kudos! We got on the base and the first thing to do was to go on an apron for the spotters who write down numbers. We had to go to a hangar in time. Here a Phantom and a WO ll Messerschmit propellor aircraft where displayed for us. Everyone crowded around them, took a lot of pictures and got a chance to have a close look at the aitcraft. Just before we had to go there some guys found out a back door to have a piss round back. A good idea since we would go to some other places and prabably won't have such a good chance to go. We all got in the bus again and went on to a preserved Phantom.

This Phantom was the goodbye Hopsten aircraft in special paintsceme. Situated at a taxi strip near a building. Close to it was the hangar where the Skyhawks flown by a civillian company. Sadly for us they wouldn't fly that day but we could take a look inside the hangar. Just recently a new one arrived from the Israelian airforce in a beautiful camo paint sceme. Others where grey or white with a blue line. Very nice aircraft to see since they have a great history going back to the Vietnam war when the US NAVY flew them off carriers, alongside with Phantoms. As if they knew the two aircraft go together well.

It was time to see F-4's taking off! At a small hill at the beginning of the runway was our spot. From here we could see them taxiing and taking off from all sides. One aircraft was doing some touch and go's when a few Phantoms came out of the shelter area. The sun was shining and it couln't get any better. We all had great shots of Phantoms that day.

When one F-4 was still making touch and go's we had to walk to the hangar where we already saw the wonderfully camouflaged Skyhawk was rolled out for us to photograph. A white one was also put next to it. It couldn't get any better really. For a small fee we all got to eat at the mess hall.

As last activety we went halfway the runway where a old F-4 and F-104 where situated. These aircraft are used for battle damage repair so that ment they had a lot of patched up holes on them. While we where there a C-160D Transall came in making a war zone landing. Quite spectacular to see such a large plane diving for the runway. It came in to bring supplies to the base.

Now we went back to the camp to make a group photo and say goodbye again. Since it was still early in the afternoon, sunny and Phantoms where still in the air we went back outside the base again. After the main road we went onto small back roads to the fence and where just in time to photograph the Transall leaving. After it many Phantoms flew out, came back and made touch and go's. A lot of great photo's here aswell.

Because the securety wasn't so keane on all of the spotters along the fence, and the sunlight got to much away, we descided to go to the landing lights. A narrow dirt road went through the line of lightposts and I made some nice pictures of Phantoms coming in to land. A great day at an even greater base!

Friday, March 27, 2009

RNLAF Open Days 2008

Everything packed for four day's of airshow hosted by the Royal Netherlands AirForce (RNLAF). Lacking a car and licence I went on my bicycle to the train station. And not just the bike, I turned my step ladder into a trolley with wheels so I can tow it behind my bike. An innovation I did just before the airshow in 2003 at Twente. With two large army bags, the photo backpack and a small bag I had everything with wilest still beeing mobile! A strange sight for all who saw me driving by, a guy on a bike with a stepladder and lots of bags... On the trainstation I repacked everything, strapping the ladder onto the bike frame so it could fit in the train without bothering fellow travelers.

Tuesday, on my way.

It was a smooth ride, with nice early summer weather dowsing the eastern and nothern countryside. At Leeuwarden station I repacked again and went on my way to the campsite. I chose a different one from the show in 2006 (also held at Leeuwarden) because of the runway in use, the distance to bike from and to the airbase and the facileties. Still, the journey between the campsite and the base was shorter, from the train station to it required quite some peddeling! I arrived in the late afternoon to see the last local F-16's coming in to land in the distance. A short chat at the reservation booth I got a nice surprise, of all places and people the owners of the campsite came from Enschede!! Apperantly they had family living around and they got a deal to take over the buisness. Well a Grolsch lager during the soccer game would make everything complete (the Dutch team did very well at the time during the European Championships soccer). I found a nice place to set up camp and made myself at home for the coming four nights. Offcource the first thing to eat was a can of hot dogs so I had a ashtray.

Wednesday, outside the base.

Next day I got up early so not to miss anything. And with the stepladder clicked behind my bike I got underway. I got a paper and a sandwich at a gas station so as not to bored and hungry when nothing was flying (just like I studied for my exams at Twente years ago). And yes, the moment I got at the base along the road I got a phone call from a local spotter who told me the first movements would start around 10am. I was the first one there so I could read my paper undisturbed. A bit later Dennis, the spotter on the phone arrived and we had a little chat. Shortly after it slowly got busy with more spotters and when the first aircraft arrived many people passing by stopped to take a look. I got some great pictures of this, and the aircraft ofcource. Not all that much aircraft arrived this day, witch is usually the case on wednesday. Friday and saturday being the official show to go onto the base. A great feature though was the training of the Air Power Demo, a 45 minutes demonstration showing the power of the RNLAF material. As we were outside the base I had the oppertunity to stand underneath the display area so I could get diffrent shots, like aircraft flying overhead and going in bends. It was quite good although it got a bit cloudy so the shots got dark. Later on two Frence AirForce (FAF) Mirage 2000C's arrived, doing some recce runs* before coming in to land. They where shortly followed by the Italian display team Frecce Tricolori, a Hungarian Mig-29 and a Itanian Airforce Hercules cargo aircraft sopporting the Frecce Tricolori with men and equipment. Those where the last aircraft of the day just past 18:00hrs so it was time to do some shopping and return to the campsite.

Thursday, the main arrival and demo training day
Because last year was such a succes another spottersday was arranged on base on thursday. I had signed in because I'm a member of Panoravia (spotting group of Twente). We had to gather at a large parking area where a set of busses would bring us to the base. Many foumiliar faces appeared out of thair cars, just a few on their bike. After a check on the list the stepladder fitted like a glove in the gargo compartment of the bus and we where underway. The weathre was allright but would get rainy shortly after with a lot of wind. We had to wait for a F-16 witch was towed along the taxiway we had to cross. This particular one had a specially painted tail, with a huge Red Tail Parrot, for the 60th anneversary of the Leeuwarden based 322 squadron* (sqn). The parrot is the mascot of the squadron and will come back later.
Our spot at the runway was the press enclosure, on a stage. I put my stepladder onto it so I had a nice dry spot, fixing my umbrella and a garbage bag onto it. A regular partucipant at this airshow is a USAF KC-135R Stratotanker, a air-to-air refuling station, from Mildenhall in the UK. After it landed a KC-10 tanker also came in, aperantly it was on it's was to the States and the crew requested to go to the show.

Then the rain came in. Umbrellas went up, cameras got packed and coates were put on. It was a drizzle but the strong wind made everybody cold to the bone. A nice chance to talk with some of the guys and get warm of the lauches. What would we all see the rest of the day, and shall we take the first bus around 1 pm back? And who would be my neighbours at the campsite? My friends from Sittard Jan and his son Rogier who I knew from the trips to Switzerland and later on at airshows here and there.
A PC-7 landing is not worth getting the camera wet is what I thought untill it tuned off the runway to go closeby us. Some nice pictures and a waving pilot was worth running for. Since the first bus departed at 1 pm, and the others around 4, I descided to go now when it was still raining and most aircraft still had to come in. Rogier left his bike to ride with Jan in his car. A quick bit of cycling towards Jelsum and I hadn't missed a thing. Nice, but I don't think I would care because it was poring. Luckely Jan heard on his car radio that it would get sunny soon. Low and behold and it did! And what was poring now where aircraft coming in for both static and flight demo's. A lot of familiar ones and a few rare ones. Turkish and Hellanic F-4 Phantoms and a Canadian P-3 Aurora where the spotters favourites, Frecce Tricolori and two Brittish Harriers the favourites of most people passing by. It was a bit shakey if those Harriers would even come or not as one crashed day's before, but they did in full sunshine. Just like many others so we had a great day after all. To me the demo training of the Frence Mirage 2000C jet fighter was a good one getting a lot of condensation over it's wings from the vaporising wet ground. A spectacular sight. A spectacular sound however also came from a NATO E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft. A Boeing 707 modefication to controle airspace from out of the aircraft. It has a huge disc shaped radar on top and still has the origial engines wich scream louder then the crowd at a Britney Spears concert. The Spanish Hornet solo display also trained as the last aircraft flying that day. That evening at the campsite Jan, Rogier and I toasted to a succesfull day and two more.

Friday, first show day.

Early to rise again and make the trip again. This time to the main entrance of the base to get to the showground. Another familiar face. A long time friend of me from going to airshows in the Netherlands. Many sharp and cynical jokes followed... As we waited another spotter outsmarted us all carrying his stepladder on his shoulder and a camera backpack on his back. We had our ladders fitted with wheels and at first we thought to have the upper hand. When the gate went open though he rushed everybody by on his step scooter! Maybe something for next year I thought. Quite creative.
A big pr thing was Hangar 3. Here a lot of things around the recruting of new airforce personell was done and it was loaded with huge posters and surrounded with exhebitions. The staticshow was once again bad for the aircraft photographer. A lot of aircraft stood to close together and in the backdrop where those ever present sound system spreakers... But a challange is fun when you still succed. With a little clever angeling some good shots where achievable. At a stand I bought myself a big Remove Before Flight tag, like you can see on aircraft on the ground. A nice addition to by bag.
It was time for the flight demo's so we went for the press enclosure again. Only to stand a few yards from it this time, the backdrop was good here. After a few phone calls some of my mates came to our spot aswell and we could ceep our area more secure against any pickpockets. Some I know for quite some years now, some where new people we met on fora. It was very sociable and we all made great photos. During the demo of the Royal Jordanian Falcons (witch I allways concider as the "Royal boredanian breaktime") some of us went to the toilets and to get some food. Those four Extra 300 propellor aircraft can not interest us that much anymore. This time even peeing costed money and the hamburgers where a crime for our wallets as allways. But some warm food in our stomaches is a great treat after hours of standing on top of the ladder. This, by the way, is the main reason for having the stepladder. So I can get a better vantagepoint and not have people in my way around me. After the demo of the Polish team Iskra I went to take some more pictures at the static show. A bit of a shame when the Belgian F-16 did it's demo with a very photogenic flare burst*. No matter though as there was another show day ahead and I had the Dutch F-16 demo with flares. I had to make some new shots for my project about people who are captevated about aviation. That was quite a succes trying some new angles around the bigger aircraft. At the USAF C-130 Hercules it was possible to go into the large cargo aircraft. Here I saw a chance to explane what I wanted and got a wonderfull shot of a father and his son in his neck. Another great picture was of a father photographing his son witch sat in the cockpit and stuck his head outside a top door. After a while the flight program came to an end and I grabt a beer when I met my mate from when I went to airshows with Onze Luchtmacht in 2001 and later on road trips aswell. We chatted as we walked towards the far end of the field and exit. There the actual living and breathing mascott Red Tail Parrot "Polly Grey" was on display. It sat on the pitot tube of the anneversary F-16 we had to wait for in the bus the other day. That was a nice treat before leaving again.

Saturday, a stroke of bad luck.
The last day, so it would turn out. This time it didn't matter so much to me to be super early so I took the free bus ride from the campsite, witch was arranged because the road alongside was made into a temporary car park. It saved me the bike ride witch was a relief for my feet after these day's. The bus stop at the base was a bit closer by then the main entrance and I wasn't all that late. So I rang the gang I stood along the runway friday if I needed to save room. They where cought up in a traffic jam towards the airshow so they where thankfull for my call. A quick perause around the shop stands with their pr material, books, model aircraft etc. and some photographs at the static show my camera suddenly had a weird defect. After some attempts it managed to breathe again, but I was a bit startled by it. It would not be so fine if it where to break down now...

I sought out a good spot at the runway and kept enough room for the bunch wich came a bit later. I told them about the glitch in the camera and the only possebility might be a shutter defect looming! Well, I got a lot of good shots the past days but hopefully it would hold on a bit longer. It did, about untill after the Air Power Demo witch, by the way, was very realicly done just like the other days. It was really dead now so it was all over for me, at least untill Dirk Jan offered me his camera to use for a while! That's what friends are for! It got a bit overcast though but I maneged to get the trouble of the Spanish Hornet demo. It went take off and retracted all landing gear exept the main left. Apperantly the crew chief(s?) forgot to pull the safety pin so it wouldn't budge. The pilot made a runway pass for the ground controle to check out the problem and landed perfectly shortly after. We all thought the ground crew may have been drinking a bit to much the night before at the barbeque...

The Canadian P-3 Aurora did a flying demo aswell and that was great to get photos of. Not all that much Canadian military material comes around this part of the world (anymore).
During the Search and Resque (SAR) demo a man acted to be someone in destress, standing on a fire truck. When he deployed his alarm flares one of them made thick orange smoke. The whole of Holland was drenched in orange as the Dutch soccer team was doing very well in the European Championship. The next evening would be another game of 'us' against Russia. So the man with the flare was in the right spirit!

Just after i had to turn over the camera back again I had my second brush with bad luck. While I was looking back my pictures on my own, dead camera I missed a card. The card I had all my pictures on! I searched everything and everywhere and asked a lot of people standing around but... nothing... That was a bummer and as the sky was getting overcast I lost my enthousiasm for a bit. At least just for the day. So I went back to the exit early and thought I would repack my gear so as to go home the next day. But then, I just got out of the bus my phone rang. It was Dirk Jan to tell me I was stupid enough to leave my card in his camera! Every cloud has a silver lining I guess. I was delighted, my morning of shooting was not in vail! He would send it on the post to me later and man, was I relieved! I repacked and went to have some beers and watch the game in the hall of the campsite. The mood was good but I had a funny feeling about this match. Maybe it was my own stroke of bad luck allready or just that most of the star players wern't put in the field. It was a Dutch team against a Dutch coach by the way. Guus Hiddink coached and that was weird. I'm normally not into soccer but the national team is exciting enough to watch in the pub for me to know a bit about it. Some great chances came along and 'we' got two goals but Russia eventually got three and 'we' where out. The Netherlands lost! We couln't play anymore, the game was over for us. All the fans could come back from Austria and Switzerland. Well, it surtainly was a strainge day with quite a stroke of bad luck.

Sunday, returning home.

Well, with a slight hangover I could sleep in for a while. Especially since going to the base for the departing aircraft wouldn't do much for me without my camera. I packed my stuff in the early afternoon and went to the train station. The usual repacking of the stepladder made me miss the train so I had some fries to kill the time. Once in the train and moving I stared outside the window only to see a C-130 departing in the dispance. It was sort of comforting after the hardship the day before. After all I had sum of great pictures and really shouln't complane. The experience was once again fantastic and adventurous!

Like the signs say on your way out at the airshow: Untill next year at Volkel airbase!

* Recce runs: Recce stands for reconacance and a recce run means as much as a pilot taking a look at the ground beneath him (or her). In case of an airshow it's done to asses the display line, a line on the ground the displaying aircraft must not cross as not to fly to close or over the public, puting them at risk of a crash. Rules about this came to be after big airshow crashes in Europe like the Frecce Tricolori at Rammstein in 1989 and two Russian Mig-29's at RAF Fairford a few years later.

* Squadron: a squadron is a detachment within an airforce. Usually it houses personell, equippment and buildings for a specific task. Well known squadrons are those witch use aircraft but an airbase also houses squadrons with all or most of the ground crews. A Squadron usually has a design to its numbre, aswell as a credo. The design is painted in a lot of countries esteticly to show of witch squadron the aircraft is used by.

* Flare burst: Most military aircraft used in conflict zones carry self defencive measures. These include weapons, sensors, radar jamming pods and chaff/flare dispencers. Chaff is a cloud made up of strands of metal to distord enemy radar and possibly even to render the opponents engine out of commission. Flares are used to distract heat seaking missiles away from the hot jet exaust. On airshows however it is a great show effect and is used by many display teams who carry the system.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacaviation explaned

Hi there!
Vacaviation is my blog to share my experiences while I'm on the road to photograph aircraft. It's a big hobby of me, hence the name. The Royal Netherlands AirForce used to have the Airbase Twente at 15 minutes cycling away from my home, witch was founded even before WO II. Now due to budget cuts of the Dutch gouvrnement they descided to close it as military airbase in 2003. All military movements ended in 2007 alongside the civil charter flights witch profitted from the Air Controle and fire department facilities. That was a tear inside my heart as I've found some of my main interests in life there: aviation and photography. I also studied for my exams there in the most perfect way. I front of the television would be to destractive as Cartoon Network had busy cartoons and I probably couldn't get my mind of what I would have to miss at the airbase.

My parents supposedly took me to the airshow when I was just a year old. That afternoon I didn't cry of the afterburners thundering over our house because I've seen the source. Other parents in the neighberhood weren't so blessed... Later on they took me to the airbase during airshows, squadron party's or just on regular training day's. All from outside the fence at the specially made spotters hill or on the dirt road at the far end of the runway. I was mesmorised by the aircraft, and captevated by the tails of the aircraft spotters. They had their camera's and frequency scanners and explaned what they could hear (no pictures to show, it was still the slides and negatives period).

It was a few years later though that I got interested into going to the airbase on my own, sometimes with a friend to watch and photograph the aircraft taking off, landing and taxiing by. At the annual hot air balloon festival "Twente Ballooning" in 2000 at a recreational place nearby the airforce would do a fly by with F-16's. I had to see that happening and I went with a friend and got to chat with some folks of the Onze Luchtmacht* (our airforce) stand. They got me excited to join their club of friends of the airforce. That way I could go onto the airbase to see Romanian Mig-21's from close by the next week!! The fly by got my one of my best shots that year, but it failed in comparison to what I saw at that spottersday*. The german Hopsten airbase was out of commission due to runway repares and all the F-4 Phantom jets where stationed at Twente aswell. So it was as busy as it gets (sadly it was the last time it ever got that busy operationally). I had 4 rolls of negative film in my mom's camera bag and shot them all full, and even got one for the landing in the afternoon from a spotter who new how much I would miss. Thanks again! (who ever that was...).
Anyway jetfuel got into my vaines and never left.

With the Onze Luchtmacht I wou go on to bus trips to airshows, military excirses and base visits. The cheap summer deals of the Dutch railsway's gave me the oppertunety to go to other airbases in the Netherlands and just across the borders. Later I would meet other spotters to go on road trips with. Sometimes of just a day, other times a week or several weeks to Belgium, France, the UK and Switzerland. Switzerland hostes a very special airshow witch I got hooked on and turned out to become a annual thing for me.
The details, info, pictures and for sure annekdotes aswell is the reason of this blog. It's my leasure time filled with adventure and kerosine fumes!

I never forgave the CDA and other coalition political parties of the 2nd kabinet Balkenende for closing down Twente airbase. Budget cuts just after making it the most modern base of the country facilety wise is throwing away money better spend on, for example, a better health care programme. And still they are doing strainge things, like wanting the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This while SAAB had made an offer that is a third of the JSF's costs and is fixed. Anyway, I'm angry about it but the sentiment of the past and enthousiasm of future trips will prevale for sure!

Right: One of the best places at the fence was also the closest to home. I've spend many good day's making good pictures here and this is where photography all began for me.

*Onze Luchtmacht: The Onze Luchtmacht (Our Airforce) is a club of mostly Dutch airforce enthousiasts. They work alongside the airforce bringing news about it and other airforces in their magazine and on internet. The Onze Luchtmacht also organises regionally gatherings with seminars and bus tours to base visits and airshows.

* Spottersday: A spottersday is a day where the aviation hobbyist gets (just about) what he or she wants. A organised day on the base at the runway and/or taxistrip to photograph and film aircraft from close by. Usually the pilots do some special maneuvres to show off to the spotters.