A brief trip to Las Vegas gave Paul Dunn plenty of opportunity to get out and shoot a variety of aircraft, in some rather pleasant Autumn conditions.
On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I decided that I would set myself a primary goal of shooting the 737s of EG&G, the famous Janet Airlines. This meant spending plenty of time in and around Las Vegas McCarran International, an airport which sees a reasonable variety of traffic, and enjoys some unique backdrops. The best vantage point for shooting in the morning is the long stay car park at Terminal 1. From here you get a great view of operations on 01/19L/R, against a rather surreal backdrop of hotels and casinos.
When I arrived just after sunrise, runways 19L/R were in use, along with 25L/R, with the majority of traffic using the 25s. However, as the morning went on, the northerly wind increased in strength, and the switch was made to 01L/R, with most departures using these runways. This led to some great shots with the Luxor and other hotels in the background. Much of the traffic was Southwest 737s, pleasingly including a couple of the special colour schemes.
After a morning shooting around the airport, I decided to head north to Nellis AFB, to see if there was any activity there. Nellis can be a little bit hit and miss outside of Red Flag, and other exercises such as Green Flag West and the those organised by the USAF Weapons School. Most of the photography locations at Nellis are best in the afternoon, but I was able to find somewhere acceptable on the south side of the airfield from which to photograph arrivals. I was pleased to find that it was very busy, with plenty of aircraft returning from morning missions.
Much of the traffic was locally based, with the aggressor F-16s of the 64th AS. Interestingly the jets were flying with external tanks and stores, in contrast to Red Flag missions when they tend to fly clean; at least one aircraft was also carrying a LANTIRN targeting pod, and several were fitted with the intake pylon, albeit without the pod itself.
Visitors included F-16s from the 388th FW at Hill AFB, UT. These appeared to be working with USMC AV-8B Harriers from VMA-223 which were also visiting.
Most of the local traffic landed on 03L, but some aircraft landed on 03R, which was more challenging from a photographic point of view. These included the AV-8s, and also the locally based A-10s from the 422nd TES which conducted multiple approaches. A pair of F-35As also landed on 03R.
When it was clear that recoveries had finished, I decided to head to the Speedway at the north end, in the hope that the afternoon would be as busy as the morning. In fact, there was a long quiet spell over lunch, and I began to wonder if there would be anything happening in the afternoon. The only aircraft to depart were some F-16s from the 16th WPS. These used 03R for departure, so were quite distant and also climbed straight ahead. They were, however, carrying some rather interesting loadouts of live weapons, as witnessed by this aircraft with LGBs and unguided rocket pods.
With no sign of any further movements, and with the F-16s starting to return from the ranges, I decided to return to the Cheyenne area to shoot them coming back. On arrival there I realised that the ‘last chance’ area at the end of the runway was a hive of activity, with large numbers of aircraft from the resident units being prepared for launch! I did have time to photograph some of the returning F-16s, before deciding that it was time to go back to the Speedway!
Fortunately I got back to the Speedway in time and in due course the first aircraft started to get airborne. First up was a formation of six F-16s from the 64th AGRS, all of which stayed low and performed the famous ‘FLEX’ departure, making a hard left turn around the back of the Speedway as they headed for the ranges.
These departures marked the start of a couple of extremely enjoyable hours, where most of the Nellis-based assets flew, and many of those that did fly did the FLEX departure! These included F-15Cs and F-15Es from the Weapons School, and F-16s from the 388th FW also joined the fun late afternoon.
With departures starting to dry up once again, I made a final visit to the Cheyenne end to shoot some of the recoveries. With only a short time until sunset, the light was rather special and presented some great opportunities.
Of particular interest were several aircraft carrying the IAI Elta EL/L-8222 jammer pod, including an F-15C from the 422nd TES and several aggressor F-16s. This pod appears to be in use with the aggressors, presumably to simulate non-US electronic jamming as part of the simulated threat environment. Unusually, the F-15 carried the pod on the forward left hand fuselage station, just visible in the photo below.
The final arrivals before the sun dipped below the horizon were a pair of F-15Es, also from the 422nd TES. A rather nice end to a very successful day.
Next day, it was back to McCarran and Janet chasing. Arriving a little later than the day before, I once again found 01L/R in use for departures. The first thing I noticed was that one of the Sands Casino Boeing 747SPs was not in its parking position, where it had been the day before. Cursing, I assumed it had departed the previous afternoon, or earlier that morning; I was very pleased to see it was actually in the queue for departure! I’ve wanted to catch one of these immaculate classic jets for a while, so it was a very pleasing sight to see it get airborne.
The rest of the day was, once again, spent trying to get a variety of shots of Janet 737s, along with anything else that happened to cross my path. Highlight of the later part of the day was the Condor retro-schemed 767, which brought back memories of family holidays to the Mediterranean in the late 1980s and early 1990s – a clear indication that I’m getting old!
All in all a very satisfying and enjoyable couple of days, which helped to blow some of the cobwebs away and let me rediscover some of my love of aviation photography.