Karl Drage's 2009 blogGAR Entries

DEC 26 2009
Karl's Review of the Year

It's fair to say that leaving UKAR to setup GAR was a bit of a gamble and one that didn't win me many friends. The decision to do so was never personal, but it was something that I had to do. For a long time my frustrations as a UKAR 'staffer' had been increasing, and, with no sign of them being resolved anytime soon, I felt I simply had to get away and make a fresh start.

With almost eight months to look back upon I firmly believe the right decision was made, and, with hindsight, my only regret is that I didn't do so sooner.

The target we set ourselves at the outset was to produce a minimum of two new articles each week, and there were team members who were of the opinion that we couldn't consistently do that - certainly not for any great length of time at least - but sure enough, here we are 32 weeks in and there's not been a single week where we've 'failed'. In fact, in that time we've published 113 pieces - and that's without blogGAR entries; far and away exceeding our aim.

None of it of course would've been possible without the fantastic support we've received from contacts both old and new.

From a personal point of view, 2009's seen much more time spent 'domestically' than in recent years and with an emphasis on quality over quantity. That said, time was spent in both the US and Switzerland in the first half of the year.

Highlights have been plentiful and several opportunities have arisen that, in all probability, would not have done so without GAR and the reputation we've striven to build.

The first that immediately springs to mind is flying into London-City Airport's Fun Day with the Swift Aerobatic Display Team and capturing some air-to-air images on the way in. Very few people get to take pictures of other aircraft with the O2 Arena in the background, and I felt extremely privileged to have been given that opportunity. It was also nice that my mum and dad brought Sammy (my son) along to meet us there, and Guy Westgate, team leader, took the time to give Sammy the guided tour of his 'office'. Flying in and out of airshows is definitely the future!!

Shortly after came the 2009 running of the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructors' Course (CQWI) in Scotland, and, once again, Wg Cdr John "JS" Sullivan invited me up to take in a couple of days at RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth. Unlike previous attempts the weather was actually kind on this occasion - to the point where it rained whenever we were inside and was sunny whenever we were outside! Having lost flying days to wind, rain and sea states in the past, I came away feeling as if I'd properly earned some of the images captured this time around.

My relationship with the RAF's Merlin Force stretches back to 2005, but to be one of the few organisations given the opportunity to return to RAF Benson to talk with OC78, 28 Sqn's 2IC (Second In Command) and the Force's SEngO (Senior Engineering Officer) about their imminent deployment to Afghanistan in support of Op HERRICK was very humbling, as well as being an extremely interesting visit.

From an airshow photography standpoint Dawlish once again shone. While the line-up couldn't (for obvious reasons) quite match that which 2008 brought, THAT pass from one of the solo Red Arrows flying down the gully provided one of my favourite shots from the whole year.

Just a week later came the culmination of the series of pieces I'd written on the British Aerobatic Team's build-up to the 2009 World Aerobatic Championships when I attended the penultimate day of competition at Silverstone. The day as a whole was refreshingly different - the proximity we, as accredited media, were allowed to get to the aircraft, crews and the runway - but the undoubted highlight was getting the surprise opportunity to experience some aerobatics with former F-111 pilot Smokey Young in his Extra 300L!

Southport Airshow in September gave me my first taste of a weekend away on the non-public side of the airshow fence, and was also where our opportunity to capture (well, three-fifths of) the 2009 RAF Solo Display group shot came. The sight of Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran, Typhoon Display Pilot manhandling (literally) the King Air into position for me will live with me for a long time!

The nice thing about GAR is the sense of pride that I'm able to take from opportunities that other members of the team have engineered, and Gareth getting the chance to speak to Sir Stephen Dalton, Chief of the Air Staff, at RAF Museum Cosford was one such moment. Dunny's visit to the Merlin Vortex deployment to NAF El Centro, Geoff's invitation to attend the DHL 767ERF press call and Glenn's presence at the unveiling of the 2010 Red Arrows Team also feature strongly in that category.

Another proud moment came when GAR was referenced in The Times newspaper with a quote taken from the first Merlin Force piece we put out.

'Nightshoots' have played a prominent part in proceedings, and I've taken part in no less than six during the course of the year, all of which were extremely enjoyable (even standing out in the pouring rain and howling wind at Northolt's June event as the clock ticked ever closer to midnight!). I'd be lying if I said any had pushed my buttons more than our visit to DHL's East Midlands Airport hub. Danny Pedri, our host was fantastic; incredibly knowledgeable and only too happy to humour our requests. I think I speak for Geoff when I say that both of us could've happily stayed on that ramp all night long!

My penultimate outing for 2009 came when Gareth and I visited RAF Valley as the guest of Flt Lt Tom Saunders, 2010's Hawk Display Pilot (the piece to accompany the visit is provisionally due to be published on the 5th of January). Tom took us through his intended display routine, first on paper and then in the simulator, before we were each let loose for a ten minute go ourselves. We both lost chunks of our tail fins flying under the Menai Bridge, but seeing Gareth crash, not once, but twice whilst trying to land, made my day!

And finally, Geoff and I braved the wintry conditions as we drove down to the Metropolitan Police's Air Support Unit's base at Lippitts Hill (again provisionally due to publish on the 5th of January). We were extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to join the crew of 'Police 251' as they carried out a series of tasks over the Nation's capital. Amongst others we performed security checks at Heathrow Airport and tried to locate a bag containing money stolen during an attack on a security van. While Geoff was on the best side for the Heathrow stuff, the sight of a Thai 747 whipping up moisture from the runway as it sped down 09R on departure, is something that I won't forget any time soon.

Our route took us close to Wimbledon, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the Olympic site, Canary Wharf and countless other landmarks; a real "money can't buy" tour.

As a start-up operation I firmly believe that we could not have hoped for a better beginning to our life. 2009 has confirmed what I certainly felt was possible when I decided to break away from my UKAR ties, and already 2010 is looking hugely exciting for us on a number of fronts.

My sincere thanks go out to everyone we've worked with this year, to our loyal band of visitors and to those who've taken the time to use the 'Comment' feature, or who've chosen to send us feedback direct. It's been hard work, but it's been an absolute pleasure.

Competition - Win a copy of PlanesTV.com's Kemble Air Show '09 DVD

For your chance to win, simply answer the following question:

To enter, please use the Contact Us form at the top of the page. Use "Kemble DVD Competition" as the subject and put your answer to the question in the "Your message" section.

A winner will be drawn from the correct entries at 1800 on 02/01/2010.

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2010-01-05 - Scott Downes
Karl, I just wanted to offer my congratulations on what you have achieved with GAR. The articles by all the team make interesting reading, and the photography is out of the top drawer as always.

I am surprised though that shooting AF1 arriving in the dark at Stansted nearly a year ago didn't feature highly in your year's review :-)

Good luck for 2010

2010-01-02 - Karl Drage
The lucky winner of the Kemble Airshow '09 DVD is Steve Coe who correctly answered "Queen Elizabeth II Bridge".

His name was drawn from all of the correct entries by my son, Sammy.

Congratulations go to Steve, and my thanks go to everyone who entered.

Don't forget that there are still five more DVDs up for grabs from the other blogGAR yearly review pieces.

Happy New Year to all.

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