Paul Dunn's 2011 blogGAR Entries

FEB 25 2011
Dunny Does Dallas...

Over the last couple of years I have had plenty of opportunity to visit the western US, in particular Arizona and the LA area. I’ve spent much less time in the central and eastern US, so a day off in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was a welcome opportunity to seek out pastures new. Unfortunately a planned visit had to be rescheduled at the last minute, so I was forced to find somewhere else to go.

A quick bit of background research turned up a multitude of possible destinations, so I certainly wouldn’t be bored! Much like Arizona and SoCal, there is a massive variety of interesting aviation in the Texas area, far too much to properly explore in one day, but providing plenty of options.

First stop on my visit was Alliance Fort Worth International Airport. Having done some research on the place in advance, I was hoping for an airfield a little like Mesa-Gateway in Phoenix, one of my favourite haunts. It seems Alliance Airport is a popular transit stop for US military aircraft, especially training types.

USAF flight training is concentrated in the north Texas area (as well as over the border in Oklahoma and Mississippi), so there are huge numbers of training aircraft operating over the region. In order to relieve congestion at their home bases, many crews head further afield to practise circuits etc, meaning airfields like Alliance are popular, especially for a lunch stop!

With light being favourable only in the morning, I decided to get to Alliance early and on arrival I was pleased to find two military aircraft on the ramp: a KC-135R from MacDill AFB and an F/A-18A Hornet from VMFA-112 ‘Cowboys’, a reserve unit based at nearby NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.

After a couple of quiet hours, groundcrew and a pilot arrived for the Hornet and the aircraft was quickly on its way, fortunately coinciding with the clouds starting to break and supply some sunshine.

After the Hornet’s departure, another quiet period followed, during which I photographed some GA movements, including a very smart Beech C90 King Air operated by the FAA and painted in a colour scheme similar to the USAF VIP colours.

Having decided to give myself up until 1300 before leaving and heading elsewhere, I was pleased to see three T-38C Talons from Sheppard AFB arrive in the circuit. Each aircraft flew multiple circuits before landing and taxying in. By this time, the sun had come around so that the light was unfavourable for shooting aircraft on the runway, but it was well placed for photographing the aircraft taxying onto the ramp.

The aircraft stopped for lunch, and I decided to leave and make my way to Fort Worth JRB. Karl had suggested I check out the airfield, home to a very wide variety of units and types, but the locals I spoke to at Alliance weren’t confident that anything would be taking place on a Friday afternoon, but with so much potentially great stuff there I decided to give it a try anyway.

NAS Fort Worth JRB is the former Carswell AFB, once a B-52 base, but now home to a huge variety of interesting units, along with Lockheed Martin’s factory which produces F-16s and the new F-35 Lightning II. Home based aircraft come from the USAF Reserve, Texas ANG, USMC and US Navy and there are also frequent visitors from other bases throughout the US and overseas, adding up to potentially one of the most varied selection of aircraft to be seen anywhere.

When I arrived at the airfield, I was slightly annoyed to see a very smart F-16 in the circuit. The aircraft carried the Lockheed Martin house colours and unfortunately it had landed by the time I got into position. This was a disappointment, but the appearance of another exotically painted F-16 behind it more than made up for the one that got away!

The Moroccan Air Force has ordered 24 F-16s and these are being built at Fort Worth. The aircraft are all from Block 52 and consist of 16 F-16C and eight F-16D models. I was lucky enough to catch the fourth aircraft built recovering from a pre-delivery test flight, with the smart desert camouflage providing a great contrast to the normal grey colours that most F-16s are painted in.

At the same time as the F-16 landed, there were several aircraft waiting to depart, including a visiting C-5 and a C-9B from the based VR-46 ‘Eagles’. Currently VR-46 are trading in their venerable C-9s and replacing them with Boeing C-40 Clippers, so I was pleased to be able to catch one of the older aircraft departing.

Based alongside the Navy units at Fort Worth are two US Marine Corps reserve units who together comprise Marine Air Group 41 – VMGR-234 ‘Rangers’ and VMFA-112 ‘Cowboys’. The Rangers operate the KC-130T, the Cowboys the F/A-18A Hornet.

The USAF Reserve Command has a presence at Fort Worth, in the form of the 457th FS, 301st FW ‘Spads’ flying the F-16C/D. The Spads were very active during the afternoon, flying eight sorties.

In addition, the Texas ANG has a unit based at the airfield, the 181st AS, 136th AW operates the C-130H and several of its aircraft flew during the afternoon, mostly flying circuits, some of which were rather spectacular.

After shooting from the runway midpoint for some time, I decided to relocate to the approach end to catch the Spads recovering. Unfortunately during the time I was moving I missed a three ship of AV-8B Harriers arriving. Fortunately, they were joined by another three (and later a single). All of the aircraft were from VMA-214 Blacksheep at MCAS Yuma.

At this point a great day suddenly became even better with the appearance of a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II outside the Lockheed Martin plant. The aircraft was joined by one of the company’s F-16D chase aircraft and seemed to take an eternity to get through pre-departure checks. In the meantime, I decided to relocate to my original location in order to shoot the aircraft taxying out.

This didn’t quite work out as planned however, when ATC changed runways, meaning the aircraft would now depart from the opposite end. It was then that I noticed an F-16 taxying out from the AFRC ramp which didn’t look like one of the locals. Rather strangely, the aircraft was from the Polish Air Force! A long way from home, the aircraft carried ferry tanks and departed, destination unknown!

In the meantime, the Spads returned, with some aircraft providing nice breaks over the top of my location.

Finally the F-35 and chase F-16 taxied out, with the F-16 departing first. The chase aircraft carried Lockheed Martin’s very attractive house colours and performed a very smart departure and circuit before descending and slowing to perform an “airborne pickup” with the F-35 as it rolled down the runway.

Subsequently I found out that the F-35 I shot was the first production aircraft making its maiden flight. There is a full report already here on GAR.

With the F-35 airborne, I decided to make a move to the approach end to get the F-35 returning. This also gave the opportunity to shoot some of the C-130s flying circuits and also a UAEAF F-16F which had previously departed on a test flight.

With the F-35 safely recovered, activity slowed and it was time to leave. I was later disappointed to see a C-5 on approach in superb light, but I was stuck in traffic on the interstate by then, so no chance to shoot it! Still, it was only a minor disappointment which was soon forgotten when reflecting on what had gone before during the day.

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2011-03-11 - Mike
Great catch with the F-35 Paul!

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