Paul Dunn's 2012 blogGAR Entries

MAY 14 2012
blogGAR: ...Las Vegas Two Times

Las Vegas is a destination where I have not spent a lot of time. In fact, my only previous visit was in 2010 for a Red Flag media day, so aside from that I had no experience of shooting at any of the city’s airfields. Recently however, I ended up making two visits in fairly close order, so seized the opportunity to do some photography.

My first visit was during Red Flag 12-03. Unfortunately, as it was a weekend, there was no exercise flying happening from Nellis AFB, so I had to settle for shooting airliners at McCarran Airport. I was actually rather looking forward to this as the airport has some nice locations for photography and is reasonably tolerant of photographers too.

Having arrived after sunset, on the way to the hotel I decided to take a detour via Signature Aviation, one of the FBOs who mainly deal with corporate jets. Fortuitously there I bumped into Mark McGrath, visiting from Scotland, who informed me of a couple of rather nice US Navy visitors hidden away further up the ramp. Through the fence I was able to capture this lovely TC-12 Huron.

Next morning I decided to start the day on top of the multi-storey car park at the main terminal. It’s a nice vantage point for shooting in the morning, but runways 19L/R are rather distant and, to be honest, most traffic uses 25L/R, especially in the morning. Despite this, I was still able to get some shots from there, and the backdrop of casinos is rather special.

As it was a weekend, the “Janet” fleet was mostly parked up in front of their dedicated terminal, rather than operating to wherever it is that they normally fly during the week!

Later in the morning, I headed to the arrival end of 25L, spending time in the viewing area and also slightly further down the road. The viewing area is a really nice spot, where you are able to capture the aircraft just prior to touchdown, with a rather pleasing backdrop. Unfortunately, you have the fence to contend with and many a good shot was ruined by its wires!

The spot further down the road is really only good for side-on sky shots, but at least the fence is no longer a factor.

For a period in the afternoon I lost interest, tiring of the endless streams of Southwest Airlines and the other usual suspects, so I headed off to a couple of other airfields in the area, but I returned for the evening, and got some rather nice movements in very pleasant light.

After the Philippines A340 had arrived, I decided to call it a day, but paid a brief visit to the west side of the airfield to photograph a rather lovely US Navy T-39G Sabreliner, which had nightstopped the previous night and not flown during the day.

Next morning I headed out of town in search of some of the helicopters which operate Grand Canyon tours, but returned to McCarran for the afternoon. I was particularly hoping to catch some of the Mexican arrivals, and I was especially pleased to photograph a Viva Aerobus 737 – an operator I’d never heard of before.

The first of two Virgin Atlantic 747-400s brought a friend from the UK.

The previous day I’d noticed that the moon could come into some shots in the afternoon, but sadly it didn’t quite work out that way. This Allegiant MD-80 came the closest, but even this shot is something of a crop!

I was joined by Chris Wood for the last couple of hours of the day, before I had to head back for the flight home. I stayed just long enough to catch the Philippines A340, and I was just driving away when I noticed that the 737 on short finals wasn’t a Southwest Airlines aircraft...!

Just a couple of weeks later I found myself back in Las Vegas, this time during the week, so I was hopeful of getting some military activity at Nellis AFB, even though there was no Red Flag exercise ongoing at the time.

I started the day by once again making the trip to the top of the multi-storey car park at the airport, arriving just in time to see a Janet 737 rolling for departure! I was slightly irritated to have missed the 737 taking off, but a slightly smokey trail on the approach to 19R looked interesting.

My first thought was an elderly Gulfstream or similar, but as the aircraft got closer I was delighted to see that it was a BAC1-11! As it got even closer I realised that it was no ordinary 1-11 (although can there really be such a thing as an ordinary 1-11 these days!), but in fact one of Northrop Grumman’s test aircraft, with modified nose section and large canoe fairing on the left hand side.

The aircraft did not stay long, and departed shortly afterwards. I had hoped that it might return, and sought out a location to shoot 19R approaches from, but the classic airliner did not return. I did get to shoot a Janet 737 on the approach though, so not all was lost.

Having shot my fill of McCarran regulars on my previous visit, I decided to make the trip up to Nellis AFB in the afternoon. I found the base reasonably busy, with based aircraft flying plenty of sorties and a few nice visitors too.

As usual, shooting from outside Nellis AFB was a slightly frustrating experience! I tried to capture aircraft turning from base to finals, a less than predictable exercise at the best of times, but a strong wind made it even more tricky. When I arrived, the light had not quite come around to the favourable side of the runway, which was a shame as eight US Navy Hornets arrived in the circuit. The aircraft consisted of four F/A-18Cs from VFA-15 ‘Valions’ and a further four F/A-18Es from VFA-86 ‘Sidewinders’.

Fortunately the Hornets from VFA-15 flew later in the day and returned in rather nice light, and turned in at just the right place. Pleasingly, one of the aircraft was the squadron’s rather smart CAG bird. Sadly the Super Hornets did not fly again, but there was some activity from the based squadrons.

Next day I once again headed to McCarran Airport in the morning, but this time tried to shoot aircraft turning onto the visual approach for 19L/R, with little success – just as frustrating as doing the same at Nellis!

I then headed to the departure end of the same runways and managed to get some nice departure shots, although the majority of traffic uses 25L/R for arrival/departure.

Later in the day, I also tried to shoot some of the Janet 737s departing from 19R. Their departure involves a fairly steep climb out and a prompt right turn after take-off, so I was hoping to be able to get a decent topside departure shot, but it was not to be. Definitely one for another day though!

I find these Janet 737s fascinating – OK, so they are ‘just’ 737s, but they are interesting for the secret places that they go to within the Nevada National Security Site, especially Groom Lake, the famous Area 51.

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