Elliott Marsh's 2012 blogGAR Entries

FEB 03 2012
blogGAR: Snapping in a Winter Wonderland

I can’t really go wrong visiting North Weald. It’s fairly local to me, has a healthy population of interesting classic jets, warbirds, helicopters and civilian aerobatic aircraft (many of which are flown throughout the year) and it even boasts a nice café in The Squadron.

The airfield’s proximity to my home means that I can a) usually enjoy something of a lie in, rather than being dragged out of bed at some ungodly hour, and b) pop over there for lunch in the hope of seeing some activity without wasting too much petrol should the trip fail to turn up anything of note.

Thankfully, my visit on Saturday 14 January ended up being a winning afternoon. Initially, I’d planned to meet Karl and company at Heathrow, but with a fog-leaden morning forecast – and seemingly little chance for improvement before late afternoon – I decided to call it quits and see how things panned out locally.

Waking to find gorgeous, crisp, winter-blue skies, no wind and perhaps most importantly, no fog, I decided that there would be too little time left in the day to justify a Heathrow trip, instead opting for a quick punt up the M11 to North Weald.

On arrival my eye was immediately caught by an immaculate Extra 300 (registration N466MD), adorned with the moniker ‘Red Rocker’. Positioned outside The Squadron’s hangar and nicely lit in the midday sun, I naturally had to shoot the living hell out of it, trying out some different angles in addition to the obligatory side-on ‘record’ shot – I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not they work!

Other interesting visitors included a lovely Aeronca (registration G-BTGM) and a Yak-18, which I maintain is probably the best hack money can buy – excluding the A-26 Invader obviously, but the Yak seems more affordable and less hassle to find a parking space for. These arrivals were interspersed with a smattering of sorties from the local population of Yaks, Extras and recreational types.

Later in the afternoon, I headed to the old E-pen that overlooks the runway from the north-west side of the airfield. This is probably the best location for departure photographs at this time of day when the sun is (from the E-pen) behind you; shooting from the eastern side yields only backlit results. The Squadron don’t seem to mind people wandering down there, provided they ask first and don’t headbutt any propellers.

From this location I caught the departures of the Aeronca, two Yak-52s, the aforementioned Yak-18 and one of Swords Aviation’s Jet Provosts. This was the first time I’d used my 400mm L prime lens since October and I was terrified to find a dangerously low ‘hit rate’ of useable shots. Hopefully it’s just a bit of ‘tog rust’ on my part, but I’m due to have all my kit serviced before the airshow season to ensure it’s all in tip-top condition; the downside being that I can no longer rely on the “dodgy camera” excuse for poor photographic results...

The E-pen is close enough to the main runway that you can comfortably use something akin to a 70-200mm zoom lens (my weapon of choice) and, on a body like the 50D I use with a fairly high number of pixels, you can crop surprisingly tightly without much noticeable quality degradation. I tried mixing the 400 and 70-200mm lenses to get just a little bit of variety on the take-offs to avoid having a set full of either close-ups or wider angle side-ons.

Having shot the various interesting departures, I headed back to the car, collected my brother Greg from The Squadron and started to leave the car park. No sooner had we started to move, Greg – with almost childlike excitement turning to utter, unadulterated glee – shouted, “What’s that? IT’S TEICHMAN! IT’S TEICHMAN! IT’S TEICHMAN!” and complained that I hadn’t stopped the car quickly enough in the middle of the taxiway for him to jump out... This man is 27 years old, ladies and gentlemen.

As you may have gathered, Peter Teichman had arrived home in his P-40M Kittyhawk, just after sundown. I wandered down to Hangar 11 to see if it’d be possible to photograph the P-40 being towed away and a quick chat with a very jovial PT later, I had his blessing to snap away to my heart’s content. Like I say, the sun had already gone down so the light wasn’t perfect, but it was more than adequate for a few quick captures before heading off.

North Weald done and dusted with a fair winter’s haul in the bag, I drove down to Canary Wharf in the London Docklands to meet my team mates and good friends Huw Hopkins and Thomas Pitts who’d been shopping for the GAR yacht at the London Boat Show.

We’d arranged to spend the evening in the city photographing some of the landmarks along the River Thames (Big Ben, the Oxo Tower, the London Eye and so on) and on our travels along the embankment, we passed the Battle of Britain memorial. I’d only seen the memorial during the daytime and seeing it lit at night naturally adds a whole new perspective. I’ve included a handful of photographs here to give you an impression of one small part of this large memorial – it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area. As for the rest of the shoot...

Sunday was similarly beautiful and shooting in such conditions seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. So, off I went to the delightful Headcorn Aerodrome deep in the Kent countryside to watch the Tiger Club in action for the afternoon.

My journey was delayed close to home by the closure of the A13, following a major road traffic accident, meaning I arrived at Headcorn about 90 minutes later than hoped for. In spite of the delays, it didn’t look as though I’d missed much and immediately on arrival photographed a departing Boeing Stearman – not a bad start to the afternoon.

The Tiger Club flew intermittently throughout the rest of the day, with numerous sorties from the Tiger Moth, Turbulent, Midget Mustang and four of their Stampes, in addition to the Islander used by the local parachute school.

Flying continued well after sun down and indeed, the last movement of the day came at about 4.30pm when two of the Stampes returned from a formation sortie for a flypast over the airfield. Conditions at that time of night are challenging to say the least, but I managed to fire off a couple of keepers in the twilight.

Headcorn is a superb airfield for photography, particularly in the spring and summer months. The aircraft are generally parked in accessible, photographable positions; when the car park field is open during the warmer months, the taxiway and runway are in very close proximity and, to top it off, the sun is behind you all day.

At this time of year the main field is closed, which puts you a little further away from the runway and precludes any taxi shots against the backdrop of the rolling Kent countryside, but with the 400mm prime strapped to my camera, most aircraft were filling the frame nicely. It isn’t as dynamic as it can be during the summer when the field gives you a greater variety of angles and opportunities, but it’s still a top place to visit and vintage aircraft enthusiasts in particular will invariably be very well catered for! The burgers aren’t too bad either...

Subsequent visits to North Weald in the following weeks didn’t yield as satisfying results as my previous trip, but there were still a couple of noteworthy movements to report on. Firstly, Rob Davies’ Yak-11 was spotted outside The Squadron’s hangar on one particularly windy Sunday (what a machine that is!) and, a week later, one of Swords Aviation’s Jet Provosts provided the only movement of note on another day affected by imperfect weather conditions, despite the occasional sunny spell.

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