The visit of a specially decorated airliner caught the interest of Rob Edgcumbe.  He tells of trying to get a shot of the Star Wars jet.

The release of a new movie is usually accompanied by an endless string of merchandising tie ins. Whether it is a food product, an associated toy or the promotion of products appearing in the film itself, there is no shortage of options for linking a product with the new release. Even airlines have got in on the deal. Air New Zealand jumped on the interest in the country generated by the Hobbit trilogy and adorned their aircraft with relevant graphics.

All Nippon Airlines (ANA) has taken things to a higher level with their latest promotion. The seventh episode in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, is released in mid-December. While it is hard to imagine that anyone even vaguely interested is unaware of this, the advertising continues unabated. ANA have created three liveries for the 787-9 aircraft that are based on the film. They announced them long ahead of their release to service, which helped boost interest. The first to enter service was their rendition of the droid R2-D2.


The R2-D2 jet climbs out of San Jose. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource


Korean Air 747-8 overhead San Francisco prior to making its approach. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource


Finally the Korean Air 747-8 touches down at SFO and I can leave. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource

The ANA website devoted to the promotion provides listings of where the jets will be operating in advance. It turns out that San Jose is a regular destination for the R2 jet and I decided to head down and see if it was any good. Of course, you can never guarantee that the right airframe will be in use on a particular day given the vagaries of maintenance and reliability, so I checked online when I got up to see if it had indeed taken off as planned. It had, but it was running 45 minutes late.

This gave me an opening to kill two birds with one stone. Korean Air has started using the 747-8 on the SFO run and I was interested in catching that too. It was due in 45 minutes ahead of the ANA jet and my plan was to catch one before heading down the 101 to San Jose to catch the other. It would be close, but it was manageable – or so I thought.

I started out at SFO with plenty of time in hand. The early light is not ideal but it was improving as the Korean jet came overhead prior to turning in on the approach. I don’t know how far they vectored it out but it then took forever to appear on final approach. I was beginning to get nervous about the time. Finally it came into view, trundled down the approach and touched down.

It was barely on the ground and I was off. The GPS gave me a forecast for arrival that was perilously close to the planned landing time of the ANA jet. I know my GPS tends to be a touch pessimistic and was likely to be a couple of minutes out, but it was still close. I was also concerned that there might be a lot of people wanting the same thing as me and the parking lot might be full. Nothing for it but to keep going and keep hoping.


The Star Wars jet appears through the trees just in time! © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource


Climb out of R2-D2 from San Jose. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource


A Hainan 787 also departs from San Jose. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource

I turned off the freeway and onto the access road that comes around the threshold at San Jose and saw a Hainan 787 turning off the runway. While disappointed to have missed it landing, I knew it was ahead of the R2 jet so thought I might be in luck. I came to the lights just as they turned red. I looked left to see whether there was any traffic coming and instead my eyes locked on the jet on final approach. Uh oh! A load of cars came by before I could turn. A couple of hundred yards later I was screeching in to the parking lot. I would have no time to walk anywhere and there are trees in front of most of it so I headed straight for the far end, jumped out – grabbing my camera, which was already prepared – and the aeroplane came past almost at the same time. I got the shots – just!


Final approach for the ANA jet. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource


Hainan’s Dreamliner climbs en route back to China. © Rob Edgcumbe – Global Aviation Resource

Departure was a far more leisurely affair. The late arrival meant that the departure was a little delayed. I waited at a nice area and gauged the shooting angles from some of the other departures. Eventually ANA pushed off the stand and were soon heading home. Before I did the same, I waited for the Hainan jet to head up too. Its scheme is quite attractive and it was worth getting too, not least after missing the arrival.

In future, I think I shall avoid making plans that are quite so tight and with little margin for change. This time I got away with it, but next time I will skip the jet that will be a regular feature for the one that is of more rarity value!