Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

OCT 29 2010
Black & Blue - RAF Northolt & London-Heathrow

That said I have made it to a couple of events and managed to squeeze a day in at Heathrow chasing the British Airways retro 757.

The Coventry Airport 'Heroes Fly-in' has already been fully covered on GAR, but I've not yet offered my take on the seventh Northolt Night Shoot. Dunny and I were invited down early afternoon to catch up with all the latest developments at Building 27, of which there'll be more in an upcoming Battle of Britain Microsite update.

Unfortunately there were once again a few participant cancellations for the night shoot itself, but I think most people present will have been of the view that it was worth it for the Royal Navy Jetstream alone!

Increasingly so it seems to be that Phil Dawe's hardcore supporters are there as much for the social side of the event as for the aircraft. Wherever you look there are familiar, friendly faces, and the fact that there are aeroplanes present is almost viewed as a bonus! For the longevity of this series of events this can only be seen as an incredibly positive thing.

Believe it or not my next outing with the camera wasn't for another 25 days! With a free day, an outstanding forecast and it being my only available window to catch British Airways' fantastic looking retro 757, it wasn't hard to decide what to do on Monday of this week.

Sammy and I were on the road for 0600 but with more than 20 miles of narrow lanes and 50mph average speed cameras on the M1 and then the M25, it took us 2hrs 20mins to make it to Heathrow - a good half an hour plus more than I'd hoped for.

I knew they'd be landing 27R until 1500 - a first for me - and with a few nice bits and pieces due out during the morning, I elected to position us near the Esso garage, opposite T5 at the 27L departure end.

As we walked over to the spot, a couple of fellow snappers came into view: Messrs Andy Chaplin and Sandy Abel, neither of whom I'd seen in an absolute age! I was a bit surprised to see Chappy shooting civvies at all, to be honest, but I think most of us are resigned to the fact that increasingly the decision is going to be 'civvies, or new hobby'.

Anyway, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but by heck was it cold! It actually got markedly colder as we stood there, and the grass that had been green when we arrived started to go white in places before reverting back to its original colour. The aforementioned Esso garage was worth its weight in gold, both for the breakfast pastries and the hot chocolate with which I was able to ply 'the boy' and keep him relatively happy for the duration of the day.

It was a day of firsts for me, clearly a sign that I don't get to LHR as often as I should! The first of these came by way of the Royal Brunei 777-200ER; I'd only ever seen 767s in those colours before. G-STBA, the first of six 777-300ERs to be delivered to BA as a stop-gap while the company awaits the delayed arrival of the 787s which were ordered in 2008, departed mid-morning to Delhi. A second example has already been delivered but that aircraft didn't depart during my time at 27L. A wingletted American Airlines 767-300ER - my first 767 with winglets full-stop! - completed the morning tally of firsts.

I knew the retro 757 was due in from Malaga at 1315, to runway 27R, so when 1200 rolled around Sammy and I headed back to the car to drive to Cains Lane. That did mean we wouldn't see any of the three A380s depart, but the primary aim of the visit was to get that 757! From Cains Lane it's about a mile and a half walk to the favoured spot for 27R arrival shots, but we'd got plenty of time and so took a nice, steady stroll around, past the BA engineering base and Concorde, as well as a couple of 757s that had already had their BA titling painted over, pending delivery to their new owner.

We arrived with about 25 minutes to spare, though 'she' (G-CPET / 'Stokesay Castle') ended up being a few minutes late anyway. Regardless, getting there when we did was no bad thing as it meant I caught my first ever El Al 747-400. I must admit, it is the 'heavies' that excite me the most about my trips to Heathrow, and I guess the venerable Jumbo is another type that we should be making the most of while they're still around in decent numbers and operating with plenty of airlines.

In the end we shot all three of the 757s that remain in service with BA in their final week of operations, which I was particularly happy about as, with the help of British Airways itself, I've put together an article on the type's retirement that will go live in next Tuesday's main site update.

We decided we'd stay at 27R until the runway change at 1500, and that provided not one but two EgyptAir A330s, both in the stunning new colours, and both within the space of a handful of movements too. I don't think I've ever shot anything other than a 777 belonging to them before, and certainly nothing in their latest scheme. The PIA 777-300ER was also my first glimpse of that company's new colours too, though its move away from their stunning regional tail series can only be seen as a bad thing, as smart as this latest offering is.

Runway change complete we started out trek to Myrtle Avenue, where I hoped there might be the possibility of some sunset shots. The weather was certainly right for it and the only potential sticking point was whether the sun would make it round to the centreline or not before disappearing below the horizon.

On our way back we stopped amongst the 27L approach lights for a while. I must admit I do have a bit of a thing for reasonably wide-angled images of big aircraft on short-final. The other thing that I always find fascinating is watching the reaction, or, more often lack of reaction, from the horses that share the field with the lighting poles as aircraft pass over their heads. Indeed, as Sammy stood stroking one particular horse's nose an A7-registered A330 passed directly over us on its way in. I didn't give it a second thought until we met up once again with Andy and Sandy on the grass at Myrtle and they told me it belonged to the Qatari Amiri Flight! :-( What a mistake-a to make-a!

The remaining couple of hours of daylight were lovely. As the sun dropped the colours reflecting off the white sides of the arriving aircraft became ever more golden. Unfortunately the sun never did make it past the centreline, so the sunset shots didn't happen…. going a week or two earlier might have been necessary to help with that….

One final bonus of the day did come along by way of the almost-30-minutes-early Ethiopian Airlines 757 - an airline that I've never caught before at all!

A trip to Heathrow is always good value and at least you know you're virtually guaranteed of seeing plenty. There are still so many locations and angles that I've never got around to trying though and I do need to get down there a bit more often. It's always difficult to prise yourself away from a spot you know when movements are scheduled for things you've not shot previously! Hey ho!

Finally, before I go, I was saddened last week to hear that my old snapping buddy, Lee Hellwing, had lost his Mum after a protracted five year battle with myeloma - a cancer of plasma cells.

In an attempt to raise awareness of the disease and funds for Myeloma UK, the only UK registered organisation dealing with myeloma and its related diseases, Lee has had a number of prints produced of two of his paintings (see below).

A Just Giving page has been setup and anybody donating £20 or more will be entitled to receive a signed copy of one of these lovely prints. The URL for anyone wishing to donate is http://www.justgiving.com/Leehellwing

Should you require further information about the above, please drop me a line via the 'Contact Us' link at the top and I'll be happy to put you in touch with Lee direct.

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