Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Thunder

Last year, I really enjoyed myself at the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow. So why do it again?  Come on.  What is there not to like?  Temperatures above 90 degrees for the umpteenth time. A super-saturated atmosphere.  Thousands of children crying because of noise and heat stroke.  "More cars than a beach got sand" (Thanks Dave Mathews! Great line!).  Sunburn.  Obnoxious people.  You can't can't lose.....

....if you have a chance to see historic aircraft and the Blue Angels.  So dad and I called it a "Guys Day Out".

Sadly, like last year, heat and humidity made for a frustrating day of photography.  Everything seemed so damned hazy.  (I wanna see an air show on a cold, dry, winter day for once.)  To make matters worse, I did not have my head-in-the-game and did not transition well on camera settings between prop planes and the jets.  On top of all that, the threat of thunderstorms and unstable atmosphere created all sorts of varying degrees of light (blue skies, hazy skies, and lots of shades of gray scattered all over...). I guess if you are a good photographer, you can manage. But I'm not, so I didn't.  708 pictures later, I have very few where I can say "Hell yeah!" (You'll find "hell yeah" photos here.)

Be sure to click on the photos. It makes them a squeak better.

Winning the award for "The Most Science Fiction-Influenced Aircraft Ever Flown", the B-2 is a complete trip.  Mostly silent and flat, this was the plane that fired the first rounds of the Second Gulf War.  Taking off from MISSOURI, they re-fueled in the air, came in under the radar and knocked out the key Iraqi installations.  Watching this sub-mach thing float around the airfield was memorizing.  Only 21 exist. Makes good sense when you think about their 1 billion (with a "B") dollar price-tag. 


Noticeable "woomp" sounds would occur every time this freakish cloud formed.  While it looks like this F-16 is disappearing into a wormhole, it is all based on physics.  By the very nature of the wing's design, air pressure is greater on the bottom surface of the wing (compared to the top surface).  Little vortices (tornadoes, if you will) form and spin off the wing tips.  They are usually invisible and are a simple function of how the air flows over the wings.  As the pilot jerks the plane into a high "g" turn, the pressure on the top surface of the wing really drops. The inside of the vortices lose pressure so rapidly that the temperature inside the vortex bottoms out. If the temp falls below the dew point, the water vapor shifts to liquid (droplets) making them visible to the guy wielding the nice camera but who forgot sunscreen and ended up with fifth degree burns.  (Okay, not that bad, but I got a little cooked.)  On very humid days, a plane in a very tight turn basically sheds a massive vortex along the entire upper surface of the wing.  That is what is occurring in my photo. 

Despite the long nose and the rear placement of the cockpit making landings a bitch (the pilot couldn't see), the Chance Vought Corsair was a killing machine once the pilots got to know it.  The gull-wing fighter was feared by the Japanese.  Top speeds of 425 mph allowed it blow past the once-intimidating speed of the mighty Zero - an anemic 325 mph.  With six 50-caliber machine guns (an anti-tank caliber in World War I),the delicate Zero would be shredded in no time.  Over 12,000 were made.  Three are above.

In war, average people can make decisions so big that history can swing in a new direction.  During World War II, the opening months in the Pacific Theater were not going well.  The United States was reeling.  During the Battle of Midway, Naval patrols located four Japanese aircraft carriers.  A flight of Dauntless dive-bombers (above) arrived at the expected location only to find the vast oceans empty.  While they could have turned back, Flight Leader Wade McClusky, pieced together the clues that were available (including the lone Japanese destroyer below him), thought to himself "Where would I be if I were them?" and figured out what happened to the fleet.  Low on fuel, they stretched their planes to limit and found the fleet.  Within minutes, three of the four aircraft carriers were wrecks.The Dauntless was a well-built machine and no doubt helped to change the course of World War II.  

As an aside, the Dauntless is a two-seater. One man is the pilot while the other is a rear-seat radio man and gunner.  He has twin .30 caliber machine guns at his disposal.  They fire behind the plane as he sits back-to-back with the pilot.  It is a known fact that George Lucas used World War II imagery for the Star Wars trilogies. I have to think that he used the Dauntless (or perhaps other craft with the two-seat back-to-back arrangement, like the Stuka) for his vision of the Rebel Snowspeeder.  

Of course, damned efficient dive-bombers can't destroy the enemy if you don't know where they are.  Forget satellites. They did not exist in the 1940s.  You intercepted radio transmissions so you could get a basic clue where they were.  From there, you "only" had tens of thousands of square miles of ocean to search. With a flight range of over 2,500 miles, these monsters would be airborne by dawn and patrolling until nightfall.  Observers with binoculars would scour the ocean looking for telltale ship wakes.  Fleet positions, speed and heading would be radioed back to the base.  In addition, this plane can land on the oceans just as easily as it can a runway. Have a downed pilot floating in a life raft? Pick 'em up and have 'em back on base in time for dinner.....

You might liken the Japanese Zero to a boxer. They are powerful and fast. They can dance around you and nail you hard when you least expect it.  Dogfights in the early days of the war between American Wildcats, the stock US dogfighter and the Zero did not end well for the Americans.  Tactics introduced a few months into the war, like the Thatch Weave, started to even the odds.  A few captured Zeros allows American engineers to see the inside the plane and analyze it for weaknesses (not unlike the Rebels and the Death Star in "Star Wars!").  In the case of the Zero, engineers discovered pilot armor and self-sealing fuel tanks did not exist.  The speed and maneuverability of the plane was directly related to the fact it was a lightweight.   If you could hit it, you would drop it.  It had a glass jaw.  Hitting it was the trick.  (I should note, too, that pilots in the Pacific learned through trial-and-error how they could defeat the Zero.  So, in a sense, the engineers with pencils and slide-rules drew the same conclusions as the "field engineers" with did bullets, oil, and blood. Both teams reached the same final conclusions simply using different information.)

While some museums have them, very few flight-capable Japanese Zeros exist today.  Seeing TWO at the airshow was simply awesome. 

The above photo is a MiG-17.  "MiG", by the way, is not a typo.  I did not intend "Mig" or "MIG".  Mikoyan-Geruvich was the designer of many Soviet-era aircraft.  Think "Grumman".  "MiG" is simply a short way of recognizing the builder in the name of the aircraft. Obviously "Mikoyan-Geruvich 17" is a bit harder to say, especially if you had too much Stoli

Any way you look at it, the MiG-17, was introduced in 1954 and became the mainstay for the Air Forces of various Communist Countries.  The plan was simply - fly up there, shoot down big slow bombers and come home.  It also worked well as a dogfighter, but only with cannons. No missiles. Nothing fancy.

Working on the idea that the plane is 37 feet long, I'm gonna guessimate that the flame is 10-12 feet long. I was declined the opportunity to roast marshmallows.

The final three pictures are the best I could really manage with the Blue Angels.  It goes without saying that these guys are really damned good.  The joint Navy/Marine Corps crew is basically there for publicity. Fancy flights and maneuvers are all about recruiting.  The 10-year old kid sees them and says "I wanna be in the Air Force when I grow up!"  Something must be working as they have been doing this since ole Chester Nimitz OKed their formation in 1946.  (I just re-read that sentence.  He approved the formation of the Blue Angels, not the formation of children. Well actually, he did approve of the formation of children. He was a father of four.)

During the Diamond Formation (the third photo), the distance from a canopy on one plane to the wingtip of the other plane is about 18 inches.  That is less than your arm's length.  They could literally roll down the window and touch the wingtip of the next plane (not that the window rolls down at all...I'm just sayin'...). I would not want to be driving on the expressway 18 inches from something, let alone be sandwiched together with other aircraft.  That is just nuts.

All in all?  A good fun day. Dad certainly had fun, too.  It was especially rewarding for him that he was able to retrieve his hat.  During lulls in the action (much more common this year than last year), he would wander over to flight line to see the planes taxi in and out.  It does not take much of a prop wash to send a ballcap flying down the runway!

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