As a team of 9 photographers and 1 videographer
we are well known in the world of aviation photographers for the many
aerial photomissions we fly each year in Europe. Most are in cooperation
with the big airshows we have over here, and on occasion we organize our
own private events as well. We have been lucky to fly with a ton of warbirds,
civilian airshow acts, airliners, all of the demo jets and demo teams
and 60+ Air Forces. Somewhere in the second half of the 2023 season we
will celebrate the milestone of achieving 2000! safe and successful aerial
For many years the team has been a member of the EAC ( European Airshow
Council ) and during their annual airshow convention ( similar to the
ICAS conventions in the US ) we established longtime friendships with
several American and Canadian ICAS members who have attended the European
convention as well. For many years in a row, they have told us to come
over to North America as the concept we have is non existent with them.
I’ve held that invitation off for at least five years in a row with
the excuse that “I don’t know anybody in the US airshow industry”
( that turned out to be very untrue ) and “due to the huge distances
we can never fly viable projects”.
After seeing so many inspiring videos of Oshkosh last summer I decided
that the moment had arrived. If I would not at least try it, maybe I become
old and grumpy and regret and whine in the end for never actually have
done it. So I called two of our longtime friends from North America –
Canadian airshow announcer Ric Peterson and ICAS President John Cudahy
– asking them some guidance and advice. I will never forget that
reply, and I really don’t believe in coincidence but both their
replies were along the lines “oh what a nice coincidence, we were
just talking about the Aviation PhotoCrew last weekend in Oshkosh and
how good you guys would do over here…..” How is that for a
start!! Larry Schleser (ACC/A3TA Aerial Events), another longtime friend
also provided his full support and introductions to the US airshow industry,
and so the moment had arrived to…well actually get started.
In October 2022 crewmember Giel and myself visited all of the US Skyvan
operators across the US to get to know them in person and make sure they
could provide us a Skyvan photoship capable of flying the same type of
photomission that has made us so famous in Europe. In just seven days
we had multiple meetings in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Orlando.
As a second step I attended with crewmember Peter the ICAS convention
in Las Vegas last December. Many nice surprises for us, as the ‘new’
airshow territory opened up for us. We met our media partners Larry Grace
( International Society for Aviation Photography, ICAS member ) and Ricardo
von Puttkamer ( Aviation PhotoJournal, ICAS member ) for the first time
in person. And it turned out that a LOT of ICAS delegates already knew
really well who we were.
Fast forward to March 2023, and we are super excited to fly out to Arizona
for two days of testflights with Skydive Arizona providing the Skyvan
photoship. Main purpose is not to have a ton of aircraft joining up on
us, but to see how procedures work and if they are comparable to our concept
in Europe. We had great support in advance from the FAA, and would focus
on two days of flying.
From the Aviation PhotoCrew we had Santi, Tom, Michael, Geert, videographer
Max and myself participating, and we were happy to invite Ricardo von
Puttkamer and Larry Grace to join us. We also gave an invitation to Kedar
Karmarkar, as he was the first US based photographer ever to fly out to
Europe and join us in an airshow project….looong time ago. With
a USAF photographer from Davis Monthan included, our team was complete!
Day 1, March 22:
Well…a few challenges….I know Arizona from all the pictures
on google with a steal blue sky and unlimited visibility, and enjoyable
warm weather. None of that was present, and the day before our arrival
it was actually raining….in the desert!! At best it would be clouded,
but as an unexpected result we would have a backdrop of the desert in
bloom with orange and yellow flowers plus a lot of green in the scenery.
The first reality check came very soon. When we fly with USAF assets
( not requested for the testflights ) it is normal we run a lengthy approval
process well in advance, it has brought us over the years a wide range
of super join-ups with F-15C/D/E, Osprey, KC-135, F-35, KC-135 etc. We
were planning to fly with 10! F-35s from the Royal Netherlands Air Force,
Norwegian Air Force, Italian Air Force and Danish Air Force ( they would
have brought out all 6 of their jets stationed at Luke AFB ) Everything
was set for an amazing long first flight, but just two days prior to the
flight we all found out that military jets operating from a USAF airbase
also need an approval from the USAF. Being realistic we knew that the
required signatures would not come in time…..but *spoiler alert*
, we will be back later this year in Arizona and those F-35 pilots might
be waiting for us!
Fortunately civilian contractors did not need the same high level of
approval, and so we were super happy to learn that our longtime friends
of Top Aces definitely would make our day by presenting us one of the
coolest looking badass F-16s out there. They kept the paint scheme from
the original military operator ( the Israeli Air Force ) and added the
‘red star’ to become the aggressor as they fly in this role
for their clients.
Well, screw that bad weather, high ISO is no problem on modern cameras
and we took to the skies to meet with ‘Billy Bob’ showing
up behind the Skyvan tack sharp on time. Man, that pilot can fly the F-16
at a slow speed!!! We were flying in the Kitt Peak/Sells military airspace,
superb background, and were treated with 35 minutes of every possible
photo angle we could have wished for. Fantastic photo and video results,
and if you want another *Spoiler* ….I think we gonna meet more Top
Aces jet power this year!!!
Another part of our test was to overfly a landmark to determine ideal
elevation and speed if we aim to include something cool on the ground
( as we want to do for both the Abbotsford airshow in Canada and the Pacific
Airshow in the US later this season ) Nobody complained we choose the
Marana airpark with as targets the two stored Boeing 747SP, nailed it!
Day 2, March 23:
For our second day we would operate the Skyvan photoship out of Ryan
airport, as it was the ideal location close to the airspace provided to
us by FAA and ATC for the civilian participants, as well as the “Fuzzy’
area close to the Mexican border for our military join-up. We were happy
and privileged to work with the CAF SoCal Wing for our first US warbird
encounter. ‘Donut’ would fly the F6F Hellcat for us, and ‘Lips’
would present the Zero, a magnificent combination that we don’t
have in Europe. Briefing was made on the ground face to face, and off
Experience #1: even with a blue sky peeping
through the clouds there was still a lot of shadow areas, more than we
had hoped not to be there.
Experience #2: are we really flying in Arizona in the desert?? It was
cold in the Skyvan sitting so close by the open ramp, I mean for real
freaking cold!! Maybe we suffered a bit too much to get the shots…or
next time we’ll bring the winter jacket.
Experience #3: now we have done close to 2000 photomissions….and
this one enters our top 10 rightaway for most bumpy ride! What the f….??
the desert of Arizona is for sure full of surprises, there goes the ‘full
prop’ pictures. I think nobody dared to go under 1/200s for shutter
But all whining aside, what a great start of the photomission, expertly
flown in a solo-2-ship-solo presentation. Of course we have great photos
and certainly we will see more warbird action in our future flights.
“good morning aviation photographers, are you ready?”
Our own private ‘Top Gun’ moment came to us in the shape of
the Growlers legacy team from the US NAVY. Little bummer that their CAG
bird broke down ( and it had all of their the GoPros installed ), but it
really was like in the movie for us: similar backdrop and what a beast that
F-18G is, I only noticed smiling photographers around me. It must have been
also ‘Top Gun’ flying for ‘Handy’ and his crew,
as the Skyvan was not able to provide the necessary speed for the 2-ship
to hang on to us. But would any of you complain if you get the Growlers
one by one on both side of the photoship? Keep an eye on the Growler Ball
2023 video, yep we gonna be in there with footage from our young videographer
Max. And round 2 coming up in Abbotsford guys!!
The next join-up on the list would be the
2-ship of the shiny metal T-33s, filled with smoke and taken off from
Davis-Monthan especially for the photoflights. “would be”
became “would have been” after 20 minutes of holding, as on
the ground something typical happened on a busy airshow arrivals day…their
bowser did not arrive on time. Unexpected situations are part of any big
airshow operation, and so Round 2 for ‘Wired’ & his friends
will be the Pacific Airshow later this year.
On the way back to Ryan airport we had reason to celebrate:
we have flown in 14 photoflight seasons with nearly every jet type flying
in Europe, so the chance to add a new jet type to our long list is definitely
a big round of applause. That goes to ‘Lark’ in his Subsonic
MiniJet, but what an airshow treat that is, and with smoke!! Super cool
and very happy we got it. For sure it’s the smallest jet powered
aircraft we know is flying in North America. Also for Lark we have a round
2 waiting at the Pacific airshow!
Our final participant in the photoflight was
famous Red Bull pilot Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540, that must bring
us the full propeller photo surrounded by smoke and a very shiny sexy
aerobatic aircraft. Only….Kirby did not show up, and the briefing
was completed only a few hours prior. On the ground I realized I also
earned my first asskicking in the US, as I provided Kirby with the wrong
frequency for the join up…. Auch, sorry Kirby, but you are now our
primary target for the Pacific airshow.
As a test our two days in the air were a huge success. Test means for
sure you don’t get everything we had planned, but flying a Skyvan
photoship in the US brought us a ton of useful feedback to progress with
our next steps. There was already an extensive meeting with the FAA regarding
our set up and procedures, we will have to amend the AOC from any Skyvan
flying for us to include our system of operation and obtain FAA and transport
Canada approval. We are very well on the way to have the Skyvan photoship
fully ready for our next ‘big’ adventure in North America,
the Abbotsford International Airshow near Vancouver, Canada where we will
fly for three full days and an amazing list of join-ups. Inside we will
have the same photographers lay-out, communication and safety features
as we use in Europe. Counting the days till August!!
Photowise we were able to use all the lenses in the range from 24mm
to 400mm, high ISO on the first day, and too high shutterspeeds on the
second day ;)
The rest of our short stay in Arizona was filled with things aviation
photographers do when they have some time to spend: drop by with Gosshawk
Unlimited to see the FW190 progress, visit the Davis Monthan boneyard,
catch a couple A-10s in the landing, walk around in the PIMA museum, and
stand at the fence in Mesa in glorious sunshine for the T-38 arrival.
Life is not too boring in the Aviation PhotoCrew!
But that weather better be up level next
time we come to Arizona, because we have some plans for later this year….some
exotic jetfighter plans. Are you joining us? The Aviation PhotoCrew will
fly two ‘big, all arrivals’ projects in North America this
- Abbotsford international Airshow, Canada. Photomissions will be flown
on August 8,9 & 10
- Pacific Airshow, USA. Photomissions will be flown on September 27 &
28,with 29 as ‘tbc’
Both projects are open to other photographers and can be booked now.
The line-up of subject aircraft/helicopters is expected to have a lot
of military, civilian acts, aerobatic teams and warbirds.
In October they will return to Arizona for another round of testflights
and fast jet action. Monday October 2 and Tuesday October 3 are the dates
for these flights with a surprising catch and a possible knock-out line
up. More info to come.
If you like to join us on one of our aerial adventures, certainly check
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to stay updated.