The Big Year

At some point toward the end of 2013, I was sitting on the couch with my wife as she flipped through channels trying to find a movie for us to watch. She stopped on a movie called “The Big Year,” starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, who play bird-watchers who are each attempting to spot more different bird species than any other bird-watcher in the world. My friend Ken Koller, another photographer who shoots a lot of aviation stuff, had suggested the movie, so my wife and I decided to watch it.

As we watched it, I noticed a lot of similarities between bird-watchers and aviation photographers, especially with regard to the film’s portrayal of what gets bird-watchers really excited – rare birds. The movie got me thinking about how many different types of aircraft I see and photograph in a given year, and I thought it would be fun to keep track of all the different types I see and shoot throughout 2014. Being that a lot of my shooting in 2013 was assignment-based, aviation photography started to feel like “work,” which was good in a way, but it also made me feel a bit isolated from the doing-it-for-fun motivation that got me into photography in the first place. I thought this project would be a good way to reconnect with my “roots.”

My first aviation image of 2014, an American Champion 8KCAB Decathlon, shot at the January breakfast fly-in at Coolidge Municipal Airport.

My first aviation image of 2014, an American Champion 8KCAB Decathlon, shot at the January breakfast fly-in at Coolidge Municipal Airport.


I started casually, simply keeping a list of all the aircraft types and variants I photographed. Some issues arose pretty quickly, like how to count aircraft like the Cessna 172, which has well over a dozen variants, or the F-16C/D, with separate production blocks that vary significantly from one another. In the end, I decided to play it conservatively, limiting my inclusion of variants of different aircraft. I settled on two each for the Cessna 172 and 182, decided to treat all F-16C/D production blocks as a single variant, and limited my listing of airliners to hundred-block variants like 737-200/300/400 etc, without getting into the nitty-gritty sub-variants ordered by the separate airlines, except for in the case of freight versions.


With no US operators aside from the famed “Janet Airlines,” the 737-600 seemed like a longshot.  Thankfully, Canada’s WestJet airline services Phoenix Sky Harbor with -600s.  Living under the eastern approach into PHX allowed me to catch several airliners with relative ease.

With no US operators aside from the famed “Janet Airlines,” the 737-600 seemed like a longshot. Thankfully, Canada’s WestJet airline services Phoenix Sky Harbor with -600s. Living under the eastern approach into PHX allowed me to catch several airliners with relative ease.


As the year went on, I started making checklists of aircraft I could reasonably expect to see at different airshows, military exercises, or during day-to-day operations at various airports, and I checked them off as I shot them. At some point in the spring, I decided it would be cool to put together a matrix-type mural with shots of all the different aircraft I shot, and started to create 300 x 200-pixel jpegs of everything I shot.


A few of the lists that I made throughout the year, with aircraft I could reasonably expect to see and the airports I was likely to see them at.

A few of the lists that I made throughout the year, with aircraft I could reasonably expect to see and the airports I was likely to see them at.


Most of the shots I was taking were the shots I’d normally take, in good light with the frame filled, but more and more I was finding myself shooting photos in unfavorable conditions – too far to fill the frame, backlit, etc – simply because I saw an aircraft I wasn’t sure I’d catch again. By early June, I had amassed over 200 different aircraft, which was what I had expected to catch during the entire year. For such a casual project, I was doing far better than I thought I would.


IAI Kfir at Willie.  This was one of my first big surprises of the year.  It seemed that no matter how exhaustive my lists of potential “catches” was, I was always being surprised by aircraft that I had no reasonable expectation of catching locally.

IAI Kfir at Willie. This was one of my first big surprises of the year. It seemed that no matter how exhaustive my lists of potential “catches” was, I was always being surprised by aircraft that I had no reasonable expectation of catching locally.


Then “it” happened.   I had maxed-out capacity on my primary hard-drive and started using my backup external drive as a temporary primary storage drive until I could afford another backup. Murphy reared his ugly head and my backup drive crashed, taking with it all of my original shots from 2014 and a good chunk of 2013. While I had backed-up shots from my paying gigs and whatever I posted to the web, everything else was lost, including most of my shots from this project. I had maybe 100 shots on my primary drive that I was able to recover, as well as some that were still on my CF and SD cards.

With half the year gone, I considered abandoning the project, but the thought of starting over again in 2015 annoyed me. I made a list of what I was able to recover and another list of what I needed to shoot again to catch up. Once I committed to regaining lost shots and accumulating new ones, however, it ceased being a casual “let’s just see what I can get” project and became an obsession to get as many aircraft types as possible. Instead of shooting aircraft that just happened to be wherever I was taking photos at the time, I started checking FlightAware religiously, watching the arrivals and departures for all local airports for any aircraft I hadn’t shot yet.



While Scottsdale Airport proved to be a goldmine when it came to catching business jets, the Dassault Falcon 10 proved elusive through most of the year.  Frequent monitoring of Flightaware finally allowed me to catch one during a lunchbreak in late November.

While Scottsdale Airport proved to be a goldmine when it came to catching business jets, the Dassault Falcon 10 proved elusive through most of the year. Frequent monitoring of Flightaware finally allowed me to catch one during a lunchbreak in late November.


As the summer dragged on, I was once again in the 200s, thinking I’d max out around 300. When I passed 300, I thought the ceiling would be somewhere between 350 and 375. Every “ceiling” I thought I could reasonably expect kept getting smashed through. The Copperstate Fly-In pushed me well into the 400s, and I started eyeing 500, a number I simply did not think possible when I started this. I finally punched through the 500 mark in November, and thought I’d plateau around 525, as my daily Flightaware surveys were not yielding anything I hadn’t shot yet.



Kitfox Classic IV at the Copperstate Fly-In.  Copperstate yielded more than 100 aircraft types I hadn’t shot by that point in the year, including six distinct variants of the popular Kitfox.

Kitfox Classic IV at the Copperstate Fly-In. Copperstate yielded more than 100 aircraft types I hadn’t shot by that point in the year, including six distinct variants of the popular Kitfox.


As I went into December, I realized that there were a lot of local opportunities I had missed and decided to take a day off of work to visit several airports on the west side of town that I didn’t get to very much to see what they might yield. In a matter of a few hours, I had visited Buckeye, Goodyear, Glendale, and Deer Valley airports, as well as Luke Air Force Base. A friend showed me around various parts of Deer Valley and helped me get shots of over a dozen aircraft, none of which were on my list (Wilga, Paris Jet), and a few I didn’t even know existed, like the turbine-powered Luscombe. After this, I was right around 530.


Outside of this project, I likely never would have taken a static shot of an ultralight trike.  While a snapshot would have worked, getting low with a fisheye allowed me to get a frame-filling shot that I’m actually quite pleased with.

Outside of this project, I likely never would have taken a static shot of an ultralight trike. While a snapshot would have worked, getting low with a fisheye allowed me to get a frame-filling shot that I’m actually quite pleased with.


Though I had made up most of what I lost in my hard-drive crash, there were several California-based warbirds I had shot at the El Centro airshow that I’d have to make a trip to re-shoot. I reached out to my friends in AzAP to see if anyone was up for a one-day, out-and-back trip to the Inland Empire to hit Chino, Cable, and Palm Springs, where several of the warbirds I lost in the hard-drive crash were based. My friend Scott Colbath loved the idea, and on December 19th, we made the trek out to California in his Corvette and visited Chino, Cable, Palm Springs, and Flabob airports, bringing me to right around 570.


One of over 30 aircraft types I photographed on a one-day trip to California’s Inland Empire with Scott Colbath.  This Schoenfeld Firecracker replica is part of the Tom Wathen collection at Flabob Airport.

One of over 30 aircraft types I photographed on a one-day trip to California’s Inland Empire with Scott Colbath. This Schoenfeld Firecracker replica is part of the Tom Wathen collection at Flabob Airport.


The last week of December was the holiday cargo push at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and it was a few trips out to PHX that got me the number I finally ended up with, 580. Technically, I photographed more aircraft than that, but there were some that I lost in the hard drive crash that I simply could not shoot again (AC-130W, KC-130J Harvest HAWK, Piasecki H-21, etc), or could not replace with prior shots that I had on hand. This last part may seem like cheating – for those aircraft that I lost shots of and would not have the opportunity to shoot again in 2014, I used older shots I had taken in previous years. Luckily, I wound up getting a few opportunities to re-shoot some of these aircraft and used my 2014 shots to replace the older “placeholders,” but the truth is that I DID see and photograph aircraft like the F-15E and Yak-50 and KC-10 and HH-65 and I wasn’t going to let a hard drive crash change that fact if I could provide photos of those aircraft, even if not from this year. There are also aircraft that I shot and still have shots of, but did not include because the next “griddable” number of images was 588, and I simply didn’t have the shots to get there. These aircraft, as well as the types I used older “substitute” shots for are noted at the bottom of the list on my Flickr stream linked below.


A shot I never would have been excited about outside the context of this project, let alone even taken.  Cessna 404 Titan, backlit, under a sunshade, and with a ridiculous amount of background clutter.   Having never photographed or even seen a 404, I never expected to see one.  Sadly, this was far from my most embarrassing shot of 2014.

A shot I never would have been excited about outside the context of this project, let alone even taken. Cessna 404 Titan, backlit, under a sunshade, and with a ridiculous amount of background clutter. Having never photographed or even seen a 404, I never expected to see one. Sadly, this was far from my most embarrassing shot of 2014.


Overall, this started out as fun, but felt increasingly more like work as it went on, especially after the hard-drive crash. I got particularly tired of spending my entire lunch hour driving 30 miles to shoot an inbound aircraft I saw on Flightaware, spending all of two or three minutes at an airport to photograph it, then heading the 30 miles back to work. While it did reconnect me in a way with the type of shooting-for-the-hell-of-it photography I started out with, shooting for quantity at the expense of quality just never felt right. There were several garbage shots that I NEVER would have taken outside of the context of this project. Aside from a few embarrassingly-bad images, I did try my best to include good, solid shots. I’m proud of hitting a much higher number than I thought I would, especially after the setback of the hard-drive crash, but I’m also fairly certain that without the crash, I would not have gotten the resolve to shoot as many aircraft as I eventually did, and would have ended the year with 100-150 fewer aircraft total. As proud as I am of hitting 580 (592 if you count the shots I lost in the hard drive crash, didn’t include in the big matrix shot, and saw but simply forgot to shoot), the whole endeavor wound up being a huge pain in the ass that isolated me from the type of shooting I want to do. I have no plans to try and beat my own number in 2015, or within the foreseeable future, and will instead focus on creating images that I find compelling or otherwise satisfying to me as a photographer.


My final aviation shot of 2014, a Piper Cheyenne I on the ramp at Willie.

My final aviation shot of 2014, a Piper Cheyenne I on the ramp at Willie.


For a full row-by-row list of all the aircraft I photographed as well as a larger version of the matrix shot below, take a look at the original over on my Flickr stream.


The Matrix.  This image shows 580 of the 590 aircraft I photographed in 2014.

The Matrix. This image shows 580 of the 592 aircraft I photographed in 2014.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Hey! Hey! Hurl! It’s Fat Albert!” – Scott Colbath Flies with the Blue Angels

By Scott Colbath

I got the call on a Thursday evening:

Joe: “Hey Scott. What are your plans for the show weekend at El Centro?”

Scott: “Well, I planned on being there all weekend just in case you needed me. What’s up?”

Joe: “How would you like to go for a ride on Fat Albert?”

Scott: “Sure, but they are probably going to have to carry me off the plane.”

And so it began. Plane Wars…….The Quest for More Vomit.

I am a person who has suffered motion sickness running my sport bike up a twisty road. I have done a track day where I made it about six laps before I had to stop to get myself together before going on, only to do a couple more laps before calling it quits. As a kid, I once hurled in my uncle’s Cessna, when the plane was getting bounced around from turbulence on a flight along the Maine coast. When we reached the abandoned airfield up near Cherryfield, I then had to find a chunk of scrap wood to scrape my barf off the floor and out on to the tarmac. I once made it about one minute before wishing I was dead in one of those theme park rides where they put you in a pod that moves you all over the place, while you stare at a large screen of things coming at you, or flying through the air, or whatever. It’s all designed by sadists who just want to make people like me blow chunks. Now, I was going to strap myself into a large tin can, with similar sadists at the controls. Although this time instead of sadists, it would be a team of phenomenally talented U.S. Marine pilots taking forty or so people through a series of maneuvers demonstrating the full range of the KC-13o’s maneuverability.

Something wicked this way comes . . .
(all images ©Scott Colbath unless noted)


I didn’t have to give this decision a moment’s thought. I’m doing this. This isn’t something that just anyone gets to do. I am one of a fortunate few who gets the chance to do some pretty cool things. My passion for photography has allowed me to be arm’s length from top fuel dragsters as they blew past me, shaking my insides. I’ve wandered the pits and track’s edge at NASCAR races. I have been in cages with wolves and other wild animals at a rescue center. I’ve photographed some great rock stars. But most special to me, are the chances I have had to shoot some of the best aviators in the world, up close. You haven’t lived until you have stood with your toes on the edge of a runway as three F-18 Super Hornets take off, one after another, almost blowing you over. Well, I actually was blown over once, but that’s another story.

So the planning begins. First, I obsess over this opportunity all Thursday night. I hardly sleep. I almost give myself motion sickness just thinking about the fact that I don’t want to get motion sickness. I’m excited. Kid-on-Christmas-Eve excited. But the flight is still a couple weeks away. What to do? Friday morning I start my research into the best way to prevent motion sickness. Thank you Google. I now have a prescription for Scopolamine patches. Talking with an aviator friend yields other options which I must investigate further. Conversation on a couple of internet message boards yields responses such as “Dude, you’re going to puke your guts out” to “Get a seat near a window so you hopefully can stay oriented.” Nothing groundbreaking was uncovered.


An email shows up in my inbox a few days after I got the invite. It is a medical screening form. They ask a number of questions……

Are you between the ages of 18-65?………………………..Check

Are you between the weight of 110-270 pounds?……….Check

Are you able to enter Fat Albert without assistance?……Check




Do you have motion sickness, or fear of flying?………….Shit.

I thought about this for a long time. I have absolutely no fear of flying, so no issue there. But the motion sickness thing. Well, I’ve not been taken down by motion sickness, ever. Just the one time I barfed when I was a kid, and some other times when I felt like hell afterwards. Nothing I can’t deal with. It’s not like I lose the ability to walk or talk. I just don’t feel good for a while. So, I check that box as a “No”, I convince myself that I’m not really lying to them or myself, and I move on. Worst case, it’s just a little white lie.

It’s not like I’ll be doing THIS.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. Now it is the day before my flight. I’m in El Centro, outside the base, watching Fat Albert go through a practice demo. I assume it will be the same thing I’ll experience in just 24 hours. It looks pretty wild. Steep climbs, hard banking turns, high speed passes, and finally, a nose dive at the runway for a fast and short landing. I’m both excited and concerned. Excited because, well, who wouldn’t be? Concerned, because I am wondering just what I am going to feel like when I am up in the air. But it really doesn’t matter. Thursday night I eat light. Friday morning I wake early and have a cup of coffee and a small snack. Nothing else but sipping water until after the flight. I put my Scopolamine patch behind my ear around 0900, figuring it will be working at full strength by 1430 launch time. All is well.

I arrive at the gate at NAF El Centro a little early. I and a few others are greeted by an extremely nice guy named Skip. Or was it Biff? I don’t remember his name for the first few hours while on base. I was under the pre-flight stress one would expect when going up in a C-130 flown by Marines intent on turning my stomach inside out. Later on I learn his name is Zip Upham. Zip is the PAO at NAS Fallon, and a former Naval intelligence officer. He was down for the weekend, helping out an extremely busy Kris Haugh (deputy PAO NAF El Centro) at the air show. Both were gracious hosts and took very good care of us all. Thank you Zip, and thank you Kris.
We were all herded inside one of the hangars where we joined some folks from the U.S. Border Patrol, the local media, and some Navy personnel. Most of us in the room were going on the flight. Others were there just to get some film footage for a story. Roll call was done for those flying this day, and we were all handed a card to fill out. This card made it very clear that if Fat Albert were to hit the ground at a high rate of speed, in a flaming pile, the Navy was not responsible. After weighing the possibility of death versus the chance to take a spin on Fat Albert, I gleefully signed my name on the line. Hey, you only live once.

Yeah, I’m handling this like a pro.

Shortly thereafter, we were driven out to Fat Albert. We then met the crew and experienced the pre-flight briefing. There was one briefing for the crew, and another one for the rest of us. The one for the crew sounded something like another language to me, complete with numbers and terms, the meaning of which I had no idea. But the crew understood perfectly, nodding in agreement, and that is all that matters. The pre-flight for us mere civilians sounded more like English, and included things like “We will be going up in the sky” and “We will be turning”. This sort of language is perfectly understood by my pea brain.

Our pilot on this day was Captain Dusty Lee Cook. A very stout looking, no BS kind of guy, who I could imagine probably enjoying a Subway foot long sub in the cockpit of Fat Albert while he tears across the sky with a bunch of unsuspecting victims in the back of his plane. It turns out Dusty is from Texas, and a Texas A&M grad. No surprise. Dusty and his ilk are a very rare breed. He is not driving a taxi in Newark. He is putting something which is more or less a building with wings, through some very intense maneuvers. The rest of the Fat Albert crew are a bunch of badasses themselves. None of these guys got here by simply being good at what they do. These guys are all the best the Marine Corps – already a highly-selective organization – has to offer.

After our briefing, we all board the plane, and are all issued barf bags that were in nice little envelopes. We were encouraged to keep them handy, because we were told that whatever we brought on the plane, we would be bringing off (if you get my drift). I slipped mine into my boot where it would be easily accessible. But why would I need it? I have a Scopolamine patch on. Right?

I grab the first open seat that comes my way. I’m not near a window, not that it matters much. There is a window across from me, but I can’t see much out of it. We were instructed to fasten our seat belts. I made sure mine was good and tight, and I even put my camera strap through the belt to help keep it with me, having a good idea what was about to come my way. I notice a ladder is strapped down to the floor of the plane, and one fortunate soul is instructed to climb the ladder up to the “bubble”, where he will have a 360 degree view of the outside world as this ride takes place. It sounds like an awesome place to experience this ride.

A few minutes later we were charging down the runway at full power. I could feel the landing gear come off the ground, and we remained just above the runway by a few feet for what felt like ten seconds, then it hit us. The plane pitches upward at a 45 degree angle and we are all jammed in our seats for several seconds. Fat Albert rapidly climbs. The crowd goes wild. We level off for a second or two. Then, just as soon as that ends, the plane is falling out of the sky. I’m experiencing zero gravity. My body is lifted what felt like a foot out of my seat, and I wonder how the hell this is happening, considering how tightly I fastened my seat belt. Towards the back of the plane, crewmembers are, for lack of a better phrase, hanging ten, their legs flying in the air as they hang on to the ladder in zero gravity. A few seconds later, it’s back to normal. But not for long.

Now the series of hard left and right turns start coming at me. I am completely disoriented.  I try shooting video with my camera, but I’m not really sure what I am aiming at. At one point, I almost couldn’t lift the camera out of my lap due to the G force I was experiencing. At times, Fat Albert is banking hard at 60 degrees, and we are feeling almost 3 Gs of force.  No wonder lifting my camera was difficult. How does the Fat Albert crew do this on a daily basis? I couldn’t even tie my shoes right now, if I had to; and they are casually hanging out, floating in the air and chatting it up.

I did slip that barf bag into my boot, didn’t I? Because I think I’m going to ne . . . (photo by Joe Copalman)

I am smiling and completely confused at the same time. Then it starts. My stomach decides it has had enough. The camera is now being ignored in favor of the barf bag that I have pulled out of my boot. I’ve got nothing in me to hurl up, but that doesn’t stop my stomach from contracting over and over. I must have looked like a cat trying to honk up a hairball. I’m completely disoriented. My stomach is convulsing. I have no idea if I am throwing up, or down. And what is up with my Scopolamine patch? It’s failing me! But I’m still smiling.

A steep dive on final approach and the ride is over before you know it.

After a while, my stomach surrenders. It knows there is nothing left, not that  there was anything to begin with. Now I can sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride. We do a few more hard maneuvers and at one point, I see farmland passing by out the window at a very high rate of speed, and also very close to me. We were apparently in a hard right turn, but I could never have told you that based on what my body was feeling. Only the fact that I sat on the left side of the airplane and the small porthole window was pointing almost directly down at the ground was my clue. After a few more intense turns and a high speed pass by flight center, it was time for a nosedive towards the runway for the landing. We touch down and Captain Cook drops anchor and has the plane stopped in less than 1,500 feet. A moment later the ramp drops. The fresh air and smell of smoking rubber from the tires was something my senses welcomed. We taxi back towards the hangars. The ride is over. It feels like it just started.

My shot with the crew, and a very little “gift” in the barf bag. There’s a reason I skipped lunch this day.

Looking back, I would do this again and again. Maybe even with the added benefit of a reduction in my motion sickness. It could be my own little version of SPAD (self-paced airsickness desensitization) which is done by the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute for Navy pilots who experience air sickness. I may be on to something here. Maybe I could become a Navy aviation airsickness test subject, travelling with the Blue Angels all summer and hitching rides on Fat Albert. You know, for science.

That evening, Fat Albert rests in peace, while I still feel like I’m pulling 2.5 Gs.


Many thanks go out to Kris Haugh and AzAP for making this possible. Also, the entire crew of Fat Albert deserves thanks for their extreme professionalism and skill. I was in very good hands.

Categories: Airshows, Marine Corps, Military, Scott Colbath, Uncategorized, US Navy | Leave a comment

NASA Social – Dryden Flight Research Center

Ottosen Photography: Blog Photos &emdash; boeing 747-123 shuttle carrier aircraft (sca)

At 10:30pm on Tuesday, September 18, I jumped into my car and headed west towards Los Angeles, California.  My final destination would be NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, which is a tenant of Edwards Air Force Base, to attend a three-day NASA Social to welcome the Space Shuttle Endeavour to California.


About a week before I left, I received an email from NASA’s Social Media Team informing me that I had been selected for the NASA Social at Dryden.  More than 2300 people applied for a spot, and I was granted one of just 40 spots.  After I contained my excitement I realized that I had to get to work making plans and reservations, this adventure was only a week away!  Due to a weather delay causing Endeavour to depart Kennedy Space Center two days late, this NASA Social went from a two-day schedule to a three-day schedule.  The first day would be all about NASA and Dryden, the second day would include the arrival of Endeavour, and the third day would include the departure of Endeavour on her way to Los Angeles International Airport and then eventually on to the California Science Center.


Shortly after driving through Palm Springs, I turned north towards the Antelope Valley and the towns of Palmdale, Lancaster, Rosamond and Mojave.  Since I was still a few hours early, my first stop would be Mojave to see if I could check-in to the hotel early and also check out the Mojave Air and Space Port.  There wasn’t anything going on at the airport at 5:30am and there wasn’t any chance of checking into the hotel that early in the morning, so I decided to hang out near the Voyager Restaurant and watch the sunrise while enjoying the cool desert air.


Around 6:45am I jumped back into the car and drove south to Rosamond.  The NASA Social participants were to only use the West Gate at Edwards Air Force Base.  We would meet just outside the gate, at Century Circle, get checked in with both the Edwards AFB Security Forces (including having a K-9 thoroughly sniff each vehicle) and NASA, then we would caravan through the gate to Dryden.  Once at Dryden we were escorted through Dryden’s security gate and up to one of their conference rooms.  At first, the setting turned out to be a little strange to me; it felt similar to a college classroom, but everyone was being encouraged to surf the Internet on their laptops and constantly use their cell phones.  It took a little getting used to, everyone taking photos and posting to Facebook and Twitter, but this must be normal during a social media event.  I too eventually joined in and started posting updates to Facebook.  It was a very educational and informative first day:

  • Dryden History
    • From the X-1 to the Space Shuttle.
  • Life Support – Flight and Astronaut Suits
    • Astronaut Suits are custom made to the exact size of the astronaut, they cost around $250,000, and each pilot gets two of them.
  • Weather Balloons
  • Experimental Fabrication Shop
  • Flight Loads Lab
  • F-18 Simulator
    • We were all given the opportunity to fly, this was too much fun!
  • Next Generation of Space Flight (Dream Chaser)
  • Global Hawk
    • It was very interesting to see what NASA is doing with their Global Hawks.  NASA currently has one operating on the East Coast collecting scientific data from tropical storms and hurricanes.  This program is in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Day two started in Mojave with another quick drive down to Rosamond and then over to Edwards’ West Gate.  This was going to be an exciting day for me, this was to be the day that I would see a Space Shuttle for the first time!  Day two’s events included:

  • Dryden X-Press Interview
    • A writer for the Dryden X-Press was gathering information from the social participants for an upcoming article, he asked us questions about what we liked best so far and what was our most anticipated moment.
  • Endeavour/SCA Arrival
    • This was by far my most anticipated moment!


Ottosen Photography: NASA &emdash; boeing 747-123 shuttle carrier aircraft (sca)

  • Endeavour Briefing
    • We were able to discuss Space Shuttle operations and logistics with one of the Shuttle Managers.
  • SCA Tour
    • It was incredible to get inside the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with Endeavour on top.


Day three would start a little different and a little earlier, due to my hotel bookings being done on different days, I had to move to Lancaster the second night.  I also had to start much earlier, I needed to be at Edwards’ West Gate around 5:00am.  We would need the early start so that we had plenty of time to board the bus and get out to the runway prior to Endeavour’s departure.  Day three would also be our shortest day at Dryden:

  • Endeavour/SCA Departure
    • This would be the very last time any Space Shuttle would ever be at Edwards AFB and NASA’s Dryden.

Ottosen Photography: NASA &emdash; boeing 747-123 shuttle carrier aircraft (sca)

  • LIVE on-air group interview with KNBC 4 Southern California

This was a fantastic event with so much to see and learn, and so many people to meet and become friends with.  I would like to give a very large and sincere “THANK YOU” to everyone at NASA who put this together, they dedicated a lot of time to us and to this event.


After departing Dryden and Edwards I couldn’t head home yet, it was time to visit a friend at the Mojave Air and Space Port.  Cathy is Mojave’s Airport Director, and I met her while on tour with the Arizona Wing’s Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey.  I was meeting her and her husband for lunch at Mojave’s Voyager Restaurant.  It was great spending time and catching up with her.  After lunch she took me around to a few of Mojave’s tenants for some quick tours.  One stop was at Orbital Sciences to learn more about the company and their Lockheed L-1011 Stargazer airborne launch and research platform.  We were given a tour inside the aircraft and were also able to learn about various launch missions using Pegasus rockets and also their X-34 program.


Ottosen Photography: Blog Photos &emdash;

After being gone for 73 hours, only sleeping about 10 of those hours, and driving over 1200 miles, I returned home with a memory card full of pictures and my head full of memories that will last a lifetime.

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Boeing 787 Dream Tour

On Friday, March 9, 2012, Boeing brought their new 787 Dreamliner to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX, KPHX) as part of their 787 Dream Tour. The 787 has an extensive partner team, and this stop of the tour was to show the 787 Dreamliner to one of those partners; the employees of Honeywell (Honeywell is one of the top five employers in Arizona with 12,000+ employees). Honeywell Aerospace products and services are used globally on virtually every commercial and business aircraft and on defense and space applications. Their technologies help make flying safer, more reliable, more efficient, and more cost effective. Honeywell built many of the systems in the new 787 Dreamliner, and this was Boeing’s chance to show them how all of their hard work has paid off.

The 787 Dreamliner was scheduled to land at Sky Harbor around 4:30pm and was going to be parking on Cutter Aviation’s ramp for the weekend. Over the weekend there were many festivities planned with both Boeing and Honeywell, but the media was there to greet her as she arrived. Honeywell worked with both Boeing and Cutter to coordinate the media’s access, and for the 787’s touchdown the media was allowed out to the edge of Cutter’s ramp. It was amazing to see the amount of flex in the 787’s wings as she approached, and to hear the sound of so many cameras the moment she arrived. Right after she landed we were ushered back to allow room for the 787 to taxi in and to also make room for Boeing and Honeywell to setup the press conference area, this allowed us a photo op of the airplane as she slowly taxied to her parking spot.

The press conference was brief and included remarks by George Maffeo (Vice President, Supplier Management – 787 Program – Boeing Commercial Airplanes) and John Bolton (President, Air Transport & Regional Strategic Business Unit – Honeywell Aerospace). After their remarks we were invited to get an up-close and personal view of the 787 Dreamliner. We were allowed to view and photograph not only the outside, but also the inside including the cockpit. As we talked to the 787’s captain inside the cockpit we were able to see and learn about some of the systems that Honeywell is responsible for:

     • Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System: With EGPWS, a previously prevalent type of airliner crash where the pilot flies a functioning airplane into an unseen obstacle or terrain has been eliminated on equipped planes.
     • Next-Generation Flight Management System: The NGFMS gives flight crews expanded flight palnning capabilities to select routes, altitude and timing, allowing them to minimize distance, and therefore fuel burn.
     • Flight Control Electronics: Honeywell’s flight control computer, with more than 1.5 million lines of software code, is one of the most sophisticated components on the 787.
     • Navigation System: The navigation system allows the flight crew to determine the airplane’s location anywhere in the world and accurately reach its destination.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner will provide new solutions for airlines and passengers alike. Responding to the overwhelming preference of airlines around the world, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ launched the 787 Dreamliner, a super-efficient airplane. An international team of top aerospace companies is building the airplane, led by Boeing at its Everett, Wash. facility near Seattle.

The 787-8 Dreamliner will have unparalleled performance and will carry 210 – 250 passengers on routes of 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles. In addition to bringing big-jet ranges to mid-size airplanes, the 787 provides airlines with unmatched fuel efficiency, resulting in exceptional environmental performance. The airplane uses 20 percent less fuel than today’s similarly sized airplanes. It will also travel at a similar speed as today’s fastest wide bodies, Mach 0.85. Airlines will enjoy more cargo revenue capacity. Passengers will also see improvements on the 787 Dreamliner, from an interior environment with higher humidity to increased comfort and convenience.

Advanced Technology is the key to the exceptional performance of the 787 Dreamliner, and there is a suite of new technologies developed and applied on the airplane. Composite materials make up 50 percent of the primary structure of the 787 including the fuselage and wing. Modern systems architecture is at the heart of the 787’s design. It is simpler than today’s airplanes and offers increased functionality and efficiency. For example, the team has incorporated airplane health-monitoring systems that allow the airplane to self-monitor and report systems maintenance requirements to ground-based computer systems. New engines from General Electric and Rolls-Royce are used on the 787. Advances in engine technology are the biggest contributor to overall fuel efficiency improvements. The new engines represent nearly a two-generation jump in technology for the middle of the market.

Market response to the 787 has been incredible with customers on six continents; Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The orders have a backlog value of about $178 billion.

Source: Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Honeywell Aerospace

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MCAS Yuma Airshow 2012

Bell/Boeing MV-22B Osprey
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 561 (VMM-561) “Pale Horse”

On March 17, 2012, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma held their 50th Annual Airshow. This year the airshow featured the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, and also celebrated the Marine Aviation Centennial. From warbirds to modern military aviation, there were amazing sights and aviation demonstrations to behold!

McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II Plus
Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311) “Tomcats”

Bell HH-1N Twin Huey
Search and Rescue (SAR)

At 10:30am, the show began with the USMC 3MAW Band playing and the USA Military Free Fall School dropping in with the American flag. We were then treated to the sound of radial engines from the Commemorative Air Force and their F6F Hellcat, P-51 Mustang, and F8F Bearcat, and the Planes of Fame’s F4U Corsair flying in formation. Then four F-5 Tiger IIs, from VMFT-401, roared overhead and made a couple of low, formation passes. The USMC Search and Rescue HH-1N wowed the crowd as they lowered a man to the ground and then hoisted him back up in a display showing how they retrieve downed pilots and other injured Marines from the field. John Collver put his SNJ “War Dog” through an amazing aerobatic performance that included lots of smoke and music. And then we witnessed an awe-inspiring reenactment of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor when the CAF’s Tora! Tora! Tora! squadron took to the air. There was a quick intermission, and at 1:00pm, the MV-22 Osprey showed off some amazing tilt-rotor flight characteristics; V/STOL, hover, and forward flight. VFA-122 then demonstrated the power, speed, and grace of the F/A-18E Super Hornet before being joined by the CAF’s F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat for the Navy’s Legacy Flight. The loudest demo flight of the day was surly the AV-8B Harrier, as VMA-311 showed the power and precision of a combat aircraft that has V/STOL and hover capabilities. The final demonstration of the day was by the USAF Thunderbirds, showcasing the pride and precision of today’s Air Force.

General Dynamics F-16D Fighting Falcon
USAF Thunderbirds

According to the legend, some thought it was a giant eagle, others envisioned a hawk. When it took to the skies, the earth trembled from the thunder of its great wings, creating the legend. Officially, the “Thunderbirds” are known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The squadron’s mission is to plan and present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high-performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft. Within this broad mission, the team has five primary objectives:
      • Support Air Force recruiting and retention programs
      • Reinforce public confidence in the Air Force and to demonstrate to the public the professional competence of Air Force Members
      • Strengthen morale and esprit de corps among Air Force members
      • Support Air Force community relations and people-to-people programs
      • Represent the United States and its armed forces to foreign nations and project international goodwill

North American P-51D Mustang
“Man O’ War”

The sights and sounds of the MCAS Yuma 50th Anniversary Airshow were awesome! MCAS Yuma did an amazing job planning and hosting this event, which drew over 60,000 people. I encourage everyone to get out sometime this year to support the men and women of the United States Marine Corps as they celebrate the Marine Aviation Centennial.

MCAS Yuma History
MCAS Yuma’s history began back in 1928 when Col. Benjamin F. Fly persuaded the federal government to lease the land from Yuma County, and Fly Field became a reality. When the United States entered World War II, an air base was erected with astounding speed. By 1943, Yuma Army Air Base had begun graduating pilots, and the base had become one of the busiest flying schools in the nation. Pilots were training on aircraft ranging from the AT-6 Texan single engine trainer all the way up to B-17 Flying Fortresses. But by the end of the war all flight activity here had ceased, and the area was partially reclaimed by the desert.

In July of 1951, the Air Force reactivated the base, and the airfield was named Yuma Air Base. It was renamed Vincent Air Force Base in 1956 in memory of Brig. Gen. Clinton D. Vincent, who was known as a pioneer of bombing techniques.

In January of 1959, the facility was signed over to the Navy and was designated Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station, and in July of 1962, it changed again to Marine Corps Air Station. From 1962 until 1987, the air station served primarily as a training base for pilots flying the F-4 Phantom, A-4 Skyhawk, and AV-8A Harrier. In 1987, Marine Aircraft Group-13, with Marine Attack Squadrons 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 214 “Black Sheep,” 311 “Tomcats,” and 513 “Flying Nightmares” became the major tenant command aboard the station.

Marine Aviation Centennial
Marine Aviation has a long and amazing history that began on May 22, 1912, when Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham reported for flight training. He soloed after only two hours and 40 minutes of instruction (in a Wright Bros. Model B), and became Naval Aviator No. 5. In his honor, May 22 has become the official “date of birth” of Marine Corps aviation. When the United States joined World War I in 1917, the Marine Corps had just five aviators, including Cunningham. Today, Marines have deployed all over the world, including the protection of American Embassies under attack, and now have been called upon in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These operations were supported by USMC F/A-18 Hornets (refueled in flight by the Marine Corps’ own KC-130 tankers), AV-8B Harriers, and many squadrons of rotary-wing aircraft (including the CH-46, CH-53, UH-1N and AH-1W). As we move into the 21st century, newer, more modern technology is taking to the air, with the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey and the F-35 Lightning II (soon to join Marine west coast air units).

Source: MCAS Yuma Public Affairs and MCAS Yuma Airshow (

Categories: Marine Corps, Military, Warbirds | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment