Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JAN 12 2010
London-Luton Airport

This time last week I thought I'd be in Japan now rather than sitting here composing this… The plan had been to fly out to Tokyo-Narita with our very own Dunny, who'd be working the trip for his employer, British Airways, but alas he was reassigned less than 48 hours before we were due to depart. It would've only been a flying visit anyway - an afternoon at Narita itself and then a full day at JASDF Hyakuri, where the obvious goal would've been to shoot some of the resident Phantoms. Hopefully we'll get another crack at it before the runway change happens…

And so, to console myself, I decided I had to go out and capture some of images of something in the snow. With Sammy at his mum's on Sunday this looked a prime opportunity. The weather for pretty much the whole country was grey, but at least where I ended up it was dry, unlike many other places that saw the first signs of the thaw setting in.

My chosen destination was Luton Airport. I'd not been there since December 2008, so I was due to return anyway, but I hoped the lane on the far side of the airfield from the terminal building might offer some interesting snowy rotation shots. Admittedly at that stage I had absolutely no idea how much snow was still on the ground.

I left at 0730 and wanted to try a different route - possibly not the greatest idea on a day where the Met Office were advising people to only travel if it was essential, but my journey as far as Hitchin was a piece a of cake. Just south of there I'd planned to get off the A505 and take the back roads to my chosen spot. It was here where it suddenly became snowier!!

The road I found myself on was completely covered, but it was nicely compacted and very easy to drive on. The verges sit considerably higher than the road and there were some spectacular formations to be seen where the snow had drifted and built up. It's very hilly around there and I selected a route that I felt gave me my best chance of reaching my destination, ie the flattest!

Aside from one section where I struggled for traction it was pretty painless and upon my arrival at the crash gate just before 0900 I was slightly surprised to find that no-one else was there. In fact, I didn't see another soul until about 1300! Conditions really weren't that bad…

Anyway, having pulled up I decided I'd sit in the car and get a feel for what was going on. That was a mistake. I should've got my steps out of the boot, the camera out of the bag, and then sat in the car. Sure enough, out of the murk (the cloud-base was very low) appeared a set of lights. Assuming it would probably be an EasyJet something or other I didn't move. As it trundled down the runway it hit me - it was an ATP, an Atlantic Airlines one!

I shot out of the car, grabbed the steps, set them up against the fence, whipped the 20D out, turned it on, nothing. Upon closer inspection I could see that the empty battery indicator was flashing - a symptom of the cold (though not something I experienced at all in Alaska in 2008, where we witnessed temperatures as low as -29C).

By now the aircraft had vacated the runway and only the top of the fuselage was visible as it made its way down the taxiway. Bugger! I took the 120-300mm lens off the 20D and put it on the 50D and turned it on. It came into life immediately.

I'd got six layers of clothing on my top half and thermals beneath my jeans on my lower. The second mistake I made was in not putting my walking boots on. I honestly don't think my feet have ever been as cold as they were by the time I left, some five hours later.

A steady, if unspectacular, stream of Wizz, EasyJet, Aer Arann and biz followed until an Airbus appeared on the approach in a scheme I couldn't immediately identify. The fuselage was white, but the tail very definitely wasn't the orange I was expecting it to be. As it got closer it dawned on me that it had the UAE flag on the tail. A6-HMS, an A320-232CJ, stopped off on delivery flight to its new owner, the Dubai Air Wing. That in itself had made the journey worthwhile, and I can only imagine how long it'll be before that airframe encounters such snowy surroundings again.

Before I'd had the chance to get down from my steps a further set of Airbus lights appeared. These ones belonged to another new carrier for me - Wind Jet, a low cost operation headquartered in Italy. I think their colour scheme's rather nice.

It was noticeable how little snow the EasyJets were displacing on landing compared to their less prolific rivals. While everyone else seemed to be hammering the reverse thrust, the white and orange aircraft were using theirs much more sparingly, much to my disappointment.

One of the other reasons I'd chosen to come to Luton was to shoot an El Al 757 for the first time and as it turned out it was only example of the type I'd see all day. I've got a bit of an affinity with the Seven-Five; it was the first aircraft I ever flew in, when my parents took me to Florida with Monarch Airlines… All that way in one of them… It really is a wonder that I view the type so fondly.

My third clanger of the morning came when I failed to notice a tiny little Falcon 10 taxi out. I only caught sight of the lights as it tore down the runway and didn't have time to mount the steps, instead having to resort to stepping back and shooting it climbing away. It was an extremely smart looking Moroccan-registered example. Pretty rare in these parts, I'd guess…

Perhaps winning the prize for the most exotic aircraft I saw during my visit was a BD-100 registered in Mauritius. The colour-scheme was rather disappointing however.

The yellow King Air that appeared on the approach shortly after belonged to the Scottish Ambulance Service and is used to transport patients between hospitals throughout Scotland, and that may well have been the reason it was visiting Luton in the first place.

A final new airline to be added to the collection on the visit came by way of a 737-400. OK-WGY is leased from CSA and now sports the rather non-descript titles of DanubeWings.com, a Slovak carrier, who commenced operations into Luton from Poprad-Tatry on the 1st of December last year.

By now the feeling in my feet really was starting to go and I made the decision to stay around to shoot the DanubeWings aircraft departing before calling it a day.

I was quite surprised to see much of the snow that had been present in the morning gone by the time I came away. In fact, by the time I arrived home there was hardly any left, and rain and sleet was present in the air.

Japan it might not have been, but it was enjoyable and different all the same.

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