Lemoore NAS and the Blue Angels

Start writing Sept 23, 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary, map

This is another photography diary, mostly. It's also longer than I intended, again. And it is about a relatively narrow subject, military airplanes. Read what you want, of course.

At 7:00 am, Saturday morning, I left home to join an expected 80,000 to 100,000 people at the Lemoore Naval Air Station (NAS) air show. Considering tens of thousands of other cars, I circled around to the west, through the vineyards and fruit orchards of the Central Valley. Nice drive that I will need to repeat with photos sometime. Remind me.

trafficrunwayOnce I hit the boundary of the NAS, the "nice drive" changed to something else. There was just a single line of cars, moving slowly toward the north end of the facility, miles away. At one point, we were diverted onto a runway and we could zip along for a few thousand feet, before again grinding to a halt.

HornHorn tents I reached a parking space at about 9:30, two-and-a-half hours after leaving home and set about getting oriented. My friends at Horn Photo had a half-dozen booths, where camera companies were lending out equipment. I tried to avoid this temptation, but did borrow a nice telephoto zoom from Canon for an hour. Do I need more equipment? NO.

flagcrowdAbout 10:00, the show started with the arrival of the American flag, carried by the Bolling Airmedia Skydive Team. The friendly crowd paid proper respect. Throughout the long day, the crowd stayed positive and seemed to have completely forgotten the traffic!

sailor and kidsPart of the opening ceremony was a ceremony honoring recent Navy enlistments at Lemoore and the young sailors took time to impress the even younger kids with stories.

jetsThe rest of us wandered around, checking out the line up of two aerobatic teams, a private group called The Patriots and, the headlining Blue Angels. It would be hours before they took off.

Nearby, the Budweiser Clydesdales made their appearance, completely unfazed by the noise and commotion around them.

There were all kinds of planes and helicopters on display, attracting kids of all ages.

FA18 biplane Stearman
helicopter helicopter 2 new crew

At about 10:45, the air show began in earnest and I started taking pictures, over 2,400 of them by day's end. I have not included ALL of them in this diary, just my favorite 5%. Still, that's a lot, so I am going to try to minimize descriptions and, hopefully, let the photos speak for themselves.

I do include at least some pictures and descriptions from each of the dozen performers and teams because I feel they devoted untold hours preparing to give ME a show, and everyone deserves mention and applause. So, here they are, one by one:

Pacific Aero Ventures A-4 Skyhawk, a privately owned and refurbished carrier-based plane from the 50s and 60s. Some guy's hobbies are pricier than other's.

cockpit takeoff check flyby pass hook down

Acemaker Airshows T33 Shooting Star. Designed in 1948, this trainer served the Navy and Air Force from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. T33s served in other countries' air forces up through just a few years ago.

T33 ground overhead zoom

Vicky Benzing Aerosports Stearman Benzig, a local air show entrepreneur, put on an awesome show in her 75-year-old Stearman. The flames in the last picture are from exhaust as she recovered from an inverted roll in which gravity-fed fuel stops flowing and stalls the the engine. A REAL pilot flying a REAL plane.

flyby up past jets
over top upside down flames

Kent Pietsch Airshows and his Interstate Cadet Pietsch had three separate acts for his day at Lemoore. In one, he was an aerial clown, completed with a falling-apart plane and all sorts of goofy contortions for flying, with and without all his wing parts. In his middle act, he landed on top of a truck and then the pair went back to the runway and he launched himself airborne. The most amazing part was a series of aerial twits and turns and rolls that he performed with the engine off. This act ended with a so-called dead-stick landing where he coasted, precisely, to the show air marshal. Fun acts, but amazing flying skill.

trailer overhead truck landing
spiral prop stopped coast here
plane wave

T-6 Texan

John Collver Warbird Airshow and his AT-6 "War Dog". Collver flew his 80-year-old trainer through a series of graceful maneuvers, despite its reputation as an extremely difficult plane to fly. This was considered an advantage for a basic trainer where learning to handle difficulties was important.

climb descend upside down figure 8


The rest of the show would feature demonstrations by groups with multiple planes.

The first group was the Commemorative Air Force , billed as "the world's largest flying museum". They brought five planes for a WWII Pacific battle re-enactment. A B-25 Bomber was "attacked" by a Japanese Zero, only to be saved by Navy a F6 Hellcat, a F8 Bearcat and a P51. Hats off to this organization that keeps almost 200 vintage aircraft flying for air show visitors.

B25 attackformation
B25 Zero Bearcat Hellcat

The local Navy squadron was next up, first with a demonstration of their twin-engine F/A-18s. They did an impressive series of high speed passes and maneuvers. A pair also demonstrated "buddy fueling" where one plane can provide fuel for it's mate. I did not know they could do that.

twin pipes afterburner run show pass
fueling land point

F35C frontF35C engine

Lemoore is also home to a wing of state-of-the-art F35Cs. The single-engine, stealth-type, fighter-bombers made a number of very impressive high-speed climbs and passes past the fans. One joined the F/A-18s in a final pass.

climb pass left bays open parade

The last piece of local military flying was a particularly colorful F15 Eagle from the Fresno Air National Guard. The show announcer commented that, worldwide, the air superiority fighter has over 100 victories and no defeats. The plane was introduced over 40 years ago and continued production is planned through 2022.

passclimb colors landing


The final piece of local military flying came in the form of a F-4 Fury and F/A-18 escorts. The mid-1950s F-4 looked almost like a toy, compared to its larger Navy cousins. It was as if the young guns were taking care of an elderly grandparent.

group sun bye bye


flightlinecloseupFinally it was time for the two headlining acts, each flying a half-dozen jets. First up was the Patriots Jet Demonstration Team. They fly the Aero L-39, a Czechoslovakia-built trainer-fighter that has sold over 2,800 units. The volunteer pilots and crew are supported by air shows, movies and television, and generous sponsors.

In the picture gallery, take special note of the high speed fly-by of plane #2, so low that it appears to have gone in and out of the flight line parking garage. And of the flat-stall at the end of a climb (last picture). Seconds later, the plane pitched abruptly straight down, the proper recovery from such a maneuver, but I can not imagine the falling sensation.

climb return colors ending
pair crossing low stall

By now, I was hot, tired, hungry, and a bit jaded by all the wonderful flying I had seen. I just wanted the last act to finish, so I could go home. But the last act was the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, and I did not really appreciate how good they could be. From the on-the-ground polish, through the four-abreast takeoff to one hour demonstration of precision flying, nothing disappointed.

parked polish taxi out take off 4
swoosh fly back close photos

The lineup on each multi-plane formation was incredibly precise. No machine was an inch forward or back from the required position.
climbin lineburst returnbreak

The low-level crossings were very impressive, especially those where the cockpits face away from each other, indicating a partially-blind pass. Yikes.

low level pass 1 blind pass four passing
start break more final

The Blue Angels show is filled with formality and ceremony, such as the elaborately-staged welcome back from the impeccable crew and the stylized exit from the cockpits and walk back to greet the chief pilot. Another job well done. Sir.

crew turning wave in
pose 1 pose 2 greet

Precisely at 3:30, the Lemoore Central Valley Air Show was over. Wow.

The 80,000 to 100,000 attendees all left about the same time, or tried to. However, I had expected a long trip, and at least I was sitting in an air conditioned car. By 5:45. I was home.

I'd do it again!


ps: Photography lessons learned.

- My 200 mm lens was good enough, because so many of the planes flew relatively close to the audience. And because, for website use, I can crop away a lot of the blank space. The larger lenses folks were carrying, examples of which I could have borrowed, would just have weighed me down.

- Six-and-a-half hours of shooting in the sun was tiring, very tiring. I definitely felt my 73 years.

- Gear breaks. My camera strap broke and I was remarkably lucky that I did not bounce my camera and the Canon rep's fancy lens off the pavement. Invest in the highest quality straps, clips, and supports.

- Most shots were done at 1/2000 of a second and ISO 2000. That seemed to work, but the pictures ended up a bit grainy.

- Post-processing was necessary for both cropping and getting the color better. I think the high ISO was problematic for color. Lightroom's "dehaze" control was a wizard.

- The Canon 7DII that I use for action can rattle off a huge number of images at high-speed (~10 frames per second). Shooting action like crossing high-speed planes is made possible, but the penalty is extra time "in post".

- The Leica Q2 served well for crowd and wide-angle shots. It's not easy shifting between camera models, but doable.