Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JAN 20 2010
What a Difference Four Days Makes....

Well, another week's past and despite the best efforts of the weather once again, I still managed a couple of days out.

The Chinook Mk.3 media event at RAF Odiham last Wednesday came first. That one literally did come within seconds of failure though, and all that at the end of a drive to cover the 120 or so miles from home that took three and a half hours. When I did arrive there were no parking spaces left and so I ended up in a residential area a few hundred metres away. By the time I'd got my boots on (I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice in less than a week!) and walked back to the Officers' Mess, our rendez-vous location, the bus, which was the last, had already set off! Fortunately Gareth (who himself had arrived only a couple of minutes earlier) was on-board (all of the other members of the press were already camped out in the Station HQ), and he succeeding in getting the driver to stop and pick me up. Even then we weren't sure we'd get into the briefing room in time, but again, we somehow managed to beat the clock.

Thinking back to all of the things that had conspired against me on my journey, to cut things so fine and still make it was strangely satisfying! Doubtless had it gone the other way I'd be feeling very differently!

The usual rugby scrum ensued for many of the posed photos but there were a few nice opportunities to be had outside the hangar. Odiham really had seen a lot of snow over the previous few weeks...

My sole surviving 20D which had failed to play ball at Luton the previous Sunday started giving me the same 'empty battery' symbol, despite the batteries being freshly charged. I discovered that if I took the battery grip off, removed the circular battery from inside the handle of the body and then replaced it, it'd come to life for two, maybe three shots at a time. It led me to believe that it was probably that battery that was the problem, but that was disproved later that day. As a consequence, I took delivery of a second 50D on Friday…

As some of you may remember, it had been my intention to hang around for the Thursday and spend the day on Salisbury Plain, but as I drove across towards Boscombe Down the visibility, which was already pretty poor at Odiham, got steadily worse. I elected to turn around and head home instead, and having spoken to a friend at Middle Wallop later that evening, I definitely think the right decision was made.

The forecast for Sunday was like chalk and cheese when compared to the weather earlier in the week; early mist to be superceded by almost crystal clear skies until just before sunset. Quite simply these were conditions that needed to be taken advantage of, and so I suggested a trip to Heathrow to Sammy, which he went for immediately. My dad was up for joining us too and we decided we'd have a go at some 27R departure shots from the western side of the M25. Having never attempted it before we knew it'd be trial and error, but the potentially cloudless skies and lack of pollution in the air made it worth the risk.

We arrived in Slough just before 0930 and though the sun was in and out a little to start with, in the main conditions were pretty close to forecast. The biggest problem we encountered was with where the departing heavies were turning. In general they were a long way past us, so we prepared to go off in search of another spot, but as we did so a Qatar A340-600 appeared. Back out of the car, boot open, camera out, and unbelievably it started its turn when slap bang in front of us, showing off the top surfaces perfectly.

Waxing lyrical to my dad about how fantastic it had looked I hit the play button on the camera to review my efforts.

'WHAT?!? The screen's white?!? There's an outline of an A340 in there, but that's it….?'

In grabbing the camera from the boot I'd somehow managed to switch to 'M'(anual) mode, and that meant the settings I was using when shooting inside the Chinook cockpit at Odiham - namely ISO800, f4.0, 1/160th… I've not seen them yet but I'm sure Dad will have some crackers!

We did head off to see what other locations we could find, but few offered much in the way of parking or an unobscured view, so reluctantly we headed back from whence we'd came.

The Singapore and Qantas A380s were both due out five minutes either side of 1100, but both were running a little late. The latter ultimately got away first and shortly afterwards I spotted that a small amount of 'steam' started to appear close to the wing root on more than a couple of the departing heavies - for the first time since we'd arrived.

As the Singapore started to bank left, vapour flashed across the port wing on several occasions, and it was equally apparent on the next few aircraft too.

In comparison to the 380s though, everything else seemed to have lost a bit of its impact, so we decided we'd get some lunch and then head to Myrtle Avenue till the 1500 runway change.

Dunny came down and joined us for a couple of hours, and it was nice to bump into Phil Padley too. The light was generally delicious, but disappointingly the sun disappeared for most of the TAM and the New Zealand 777 approaches - two of the nicer movements while we were there.

Shots from Myrtle can be a bit 'samey', but to be honest there's no reason why that should be the case. You can get everything from side-on landers to shots directly underneath and everything you could imagine in between.

As a BA 757 appeared on the approach Dunny mentioned that we should really be getting shots of them in the bag while we could, as their time with the company was coming to an end. Indeed, we later found four of them in various stored states in the maintenance area - three devoid of titles, with a fourth still titled but with engine intakes taped up.

Another aircraft on the way out of the BA fleet imminently is the CFM56-powered Airbus A320-211 (the few remaining aircraft in the G-BUS series), leaving behind its IAE V2500 engined -232 model brethren. So again, get them while you can!

We had planned to call it a day at the runway change time, but Phil talked us into joining him and his mate in making the "ten minute" (yeah right!) hike to the spot for 27R arrivals. We knew a Kuwaiti 747 and an EVA MD-11F were due, but both arrived just as the last dregs of light had all but faded.

It'd been a good day and the experimentation of the morning certainly produced one or two shots that justified the attempt. With less and less military flying taking place these days, I suspect it won't be the last time I get to Heathrow in 2010!

Looking ahead, we do have a possible engagement this coming weekend, but I guess the weather might have a say in that - if not what's fallen today then maybe the fall-out from recent weeks.

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