Nestled in the heart of downtown Vancouver is the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre. A hidden gem of aviation in the Canada. Home to Harbour Air, Seaair, Tofino Air, and SaltSpring Air, which all serve the coastal communities of the pacific northwest. I spent a few hours watching countless take offs and landings of the seaplanes from the shores of downtown Vancouver at the Flight Center and across the bay from Stanley Park. From a combination of local area flights by residents who use seaplanes to commute to and from home, to tourists who want to take in the local sights, the VHFC is a great place to see general aviation in action.
Stay on the blue line. Deviate and that means detection and potentially failure of the mission, or worse, death. When the $2.2 billion dollar B-2 Spirit is called upon to provide the president and combatant commanders with flexible and effective strategic deterrence and global strike options, it does exactly that. And with style. The sleek, sexy, ominous, dark and mysterious Stealth Bomber cuts through the skies like a hot knife through butter. “And on April 28th, 2014, I got a rare chance to sit right seat in the world’s most technologically advanced bomber and fly along on a simulated “nuclear strike” and “wage war” against our enemies.”
At $2.2 Billion dollars, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is the worlds most expensive aircraft ever built. It has more computers onboard then most small Silicon Valley startups. These computers control everything from flight controls, advanced radar and GPS, telemetry, and precise calculations for bomb calculations. And two very intelligent pilots in the pointy end of the airplane. But what really keeps these aircraft flying are the Maintainers of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB.
When you have a plane that is a major asset to the nation’s global power and strategic deterrence mission, you protect it. When it costs $2.2 billion dollars, you really protect it. And when you have 20 of these aircraft in one place, you protect it at all costs. One such security measure is Boris. He is a Military Working Dog with the 509th Security Forces Squadron / S3K at Whiteman AFB.
Most people assume that in order to fly a USAF jet or bomber, that you need to be a great pilot, have an awesome moustache, or wear really cool aviator sunglasses. While all of that is 100% true, the very first qualification that you need to pass is to be able to fit in the jet. More specifically, the ejection seat. And if I was to fly in a B-2 Spirit, affectionally know as simply the Stealth Bomber, I would need to be able to fit in the ACES II ejection seat. And by fit, I mean not be too tall nor have too long of a femur. While that is the only part of the qualification that you don’t have any control over, the rest of the basic training to fly an orientation flight in a Stealth Bomber is a lot more complicated.
For three years, I tenaciously pursued a story that would bring me back to Whiteman AFB, home of the 509th Bomb Wing and the famed B-2. Back in 2009, I had the rare opportunity to spend a week at Whiteman and witness first hand the close knit community that helps provide our nations strategic deterrence and global power though the B-2. And with all the stars finally lining up, I was invited back to not only spend a week with the men and women of Whiteman, but to be able to strap into an ACES II and actually go up in a B-2 Stealth Bomber.
A computer is just a tool. A collection of 1’s and 0’s. A wealth of information in a canister, and unless interpreted in the right way, a useless mosaic of bits and bytes. A plane is just a tool. No matter how high it flies, or where it goes, it is just a vessel. It goes somewhere, performs a task, and brings home information. And unless that information is processed and interpreted, it is just a plane. The 9th Intelligence Squadron, based at Beale AFB, CA performs evaluation, interpretation, analysis and digitization of the U-2 Optical Bar Camera (OBC). These men and women of the 9th IS help change the landscape of the fight. Below is a collection of images from the 9th IS and some of the tools that they use to help paint a picture and provide valuable resources to Commanders.
After 3 full days at the Transit Center at Manas, it was time to head back to Fairchild, Washington. And not just for me, but for a dozen Airmen that were stationed at TC Manas with the 22nd EARS supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. With just days before Christmas, this was the best present any of them could ask for.
After 18 hours aboard a KC-135 to reach Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, I had my feet on the ground for exactly 38 hours before I would be back in the air once again. But this time it was different. This time, I would be on a combat mission over Afghanistan supporting the Operation Enduring Freedom by refueling US and Coalition fighter jets that were covering troops on the ground.
Half a world away sits an airman on alert duty. He’s waiting for the call so that within an hour, he’s airborne to refuel the fight over Afghanistan. Elsewhere there sits a Marine listening to his music knowing that in a few hours he will finally be heading back home to the United States. The Transit Center at Manas is a small city situated on an airport near the town of Bishkek in northern Kyrgyzstan. 14 hours ahead of San Francisco, this former Soviet country serves as the transit hub to the war in Afghanistan. Established in December of 2001 and located at Manas International Airport, TCM has on average, 4,000+ personnel on base.
K…Y…R….wait what? Where is this place? Eastern Europe, Western Asia…no? Oh, near the Middle East…sorta. Yeah, guess the “Stan” part gave that away. Kyrgyzstan is a country nestled between some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, often compared to the majestic Rockies. And in the northern part of Kyrgyzstan lies a small airport with a large mission. The Transit Center at Manas. But my story doesn’t start there, it starts on the other side of the world on a crowded BART train leaving San Francisco.
With the end of the year on the doorstep, I’d like to share some of my favorite images over the past 12 months. I’ve been very lucky to have several unique adventures in 2013 and have made some great friends along the way. What a trip it has been! This year I visited 3 different continents, had 9 air-to-airs with everything from a 1944 B-17 to the latest USAF F-35, racked up over 84 hours in airplanes so I could take pics of more airplanes, seen the President of the United States twice, sat in Marine One, was apart of 3 Fini-Flights, slept 21 hours on the cold metal floor of a KC-135, had 2 MRE’s (Veggie Lasagna & Cheese Tortellini), flew 15.2 combat hours over Afghanistan, and ultimately shot 33,683 images. None of these image would have been possible with out the friends and pilots who have helped me along the way, the amazing USAF Public Affairs folks who supported me, and the countless men and women of the Armed Forces that went out of their way to help me capture these shots. Thank you for your continued support!
This weekend, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the Municipal Railway (Muni), and Market Street Railways held their Muni Heritage Weekend. They rolled out their vintage motor buses and trolley buses for all the public to enjoy and to get a taste of what it was like to ride the golden rails of yesteryear. Muni is America’s first publicly owned transit system and has been around for over 100 years! The highlight for me was being able to ride Streetcar No. 1, Muni’s very first streetcar. It was built in 1912 and was in immaculate condition. But the best part was the enthusiasm from the operators and volunteers. They clearly took pride in their work and enjoyed sharing the details of these fine machines with all of us.
Celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary, the Reno Air Races put on quite a show and did not disappoint.
The Race had a bit of drama even before the race started with 4 time champion Steve Hinton, Jr switching teams and flying Voodoo. This left legendary Strega being flown by Matt Hill. With Strega suffering a nearly catastrophic canopy damage just a few days prior to the race and then nearly getting disqualified during the Friday qualifying heat, it was shaping up to be one of the best Unlimited Gold races in quite some time.
As they say at the races: Fly low, fly fast, turn left!
I recently had the chance to go aboard one of the Course Security boats during a time trial for Luna Rossa, one of the massive AC72 sailboats that fly across the water. Small but formidable, we were tasked to marshal the area just north of the finish line and in front of the America’s Cup Pavilion. As other boats attempted to enter the race course perimeter, we would rush full speed to intercept the aggressor and direct them back on course. This task ensured the safety of both the civillian vessel and the multi million dollar sailboats flying across the Bay at speeds upward of 40 mph. And in between intercepts I got to take some photos of a beautiful boat! Ciao Bella!!!
On my way to a photo shoot in SoCal, I stopped by Southern California Logistics Airport (KVCV) in Victorville, CA and was astounded by the heaps of scrapped airplanes. These majestic planes once ruled the skies, but now they lay waste in the warm California desert. I saw planes from the 1960’s to the newest airliner, the Boeing 787 out there. One can only imagine how many billions of miles combined these hundreds of airplanes flew. And what stories these releics could tell. But now, only the desert winds can be heard. Continue reading “Where old planes go to die”
Been offline for over a month now, but not because I’ve been sitting idle. I have been very fortunate to be able to have gone flying nearly every weekend and when I wasn’t, it was an Airport-Funday. Because you know what they say, any day at an airport is a good day! And when you add to the fact that your roommate is an amazing formation qualified pilot who flies for the famous Patriots Jet Team. Well, a you get a chance to do some phenomenal air to airs! In those 5 weeks, I logged over 11 hours of flight time in a Cessna 182 (5.6 hours), North American Aviation P-51 Mustang (0.2 hours), and McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender (5.2 hours).
Continue reading “Five Weeks of Flying”
On an unassuming block in a gritty part of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, folks lined up outside Vacation based of a cryptic text tweeted by @Franz_Ferdinand for a surprise concert. For the cost of 5 lotto scratcher tickets, fans of Franz Ferdinand were treated to an intimate concert in the basement of Vacation. Fitting less then 50 people, the basement was hot, sweaty and loud. But Franz Ferdinand filled it with some sweet, sweet music. New songs, old song, it didn’t matter, the crowd got a rare treat. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, they did a second set just for the fans outside who didn’t get a chance to make it in. Needless to say, this was a great moment in music.
The business end of the mighty B-52 is to deliver conventional and nuclear weapons. Sure it’s got a great set of pilots, and an world class Electronic Warfare Officer But at the end of the day, the BUFF is there to drop bombs. Day 3 at Barksdale AFB was a chance to see the various munitions load teams and see how they meticulously load the B-52. It can carry approximately 70,000 pounds mixed ordnance — bombs, mines and missiles, including up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles.
“SKULL23 Flight, cleared for take off runway 33.” As the heavy B-52 Stratofortress in front of us released their breaks and lumbered onto Runway 33 at Barksdale AFB, LA, the Co-pilot of our B-52 started the ‘hack’ on the stopwatch. We would time our take off to be exactly 30 seconds behind the first B-52 so that we could be airborne as quick and safely as possible. “Breaks off, ready, now.” the Co-pilot shouted out. Our pilot pushed the 8 throttle levers forward an the sleepy giant came to life as we slowly inched forward and taxied towards the runway. A few seconds later we lined up on the center-line of the runway and could see SKULL 23 lift-off right in front of us with a massive trail of exhaust coming out from it’s 8 engines balls to the wall.
You would think that an airplane 159 feet long and 40 feet high would have plenty of space. After all, it has 8 massive engines, and is roughly the same size as a jumbo jet. But the answer is that it does not have a lot of space. Well, not for people at least. When Boeing built the B-52 Stratofortress over 60 years ago, they built it around a single mission, to carry as many bombs as possible. And in the latest variant of the giant aircraft, it carries over 70,000 lbs of missiles and bombs. And to get this job done, it takes a crew of 5 to fly this beast (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer). Luckily for me on my flight today, it would squeeze in 10 crew members. Which basically means, 10 people would have to share a space the size of a small minivan. Oh, and did I mention that only 6 of those people get ejection seat? The rest? Well, at least we got parachutes.