USA South West
The big trip this year was a tour to the US, framed by the airshows at Holloman and Nellis, and two weeks time for photography at airports and scenic locations along the route.
Where? USA South-West
As the south-west of the United States has so much to offer for the aviation and nature enthusiasts it was really hard not to overload our planned schedule, but after some scheduling the travel plan was settled and on October, 29th we boarded the LH flight at Munich to fly to El Paso via Denver.
During the flight the movie "Surf's Up" was quite amusing and we got what seemed to be the last pieces of Lufthansa's Oktoberfest meal: Bavarian Sausages, Bretzels and a nice dessert. After the arrival in Denver the dreaded immigration procedure was passed without problems and I had the first decisive encounter for the rest of the trip: a big and very tasty Burrito, which was really necessary after the long flight. Inside the Terminal a Curtiss Jenny was hanging under the ceiling and we took some taxi photos before boarding UA Express flight (Emb 145) to El Paso. The women sitting right next to me crossed herself before take-off, so I was quite confident that nothing would happen on this flight!
In El Paso, a city very close to the Mexican border, we were welcomed by a stored NASA T-38, that was parked in front of the terminal, and in the far distance we also saw their Super Guppy. It is parked there due to the better storing conditions than in humid Florida, and the T-38 Talon is a sign for the future Space Shuttle pilot training, that starts here in New Mexico. Though the airport is quite small and not a lot of flights arrived at the same time – actually none – baggage delivery took ages. In the meantime we took over our rental car, a tiny small SUV, which would be our 'home' for the next two weeks. I also installed my TomTom Navigation System with the newly purchased map for America, but didn't get it to work properly, and shouldn't do so during the next two weeks, either…
Anyway, we had an appointment at the Santa Theresa War Eagles Museum as the museum would usually already have closed. The exhibition was really interesting, with many exhibits FJ-2 Fury, AT-19 Reliant or a East German MiG-21. Some of the warbirds were even in flyable condition. But the highlight has most possibly been the Tu-2 stored on the outside.
Santa Theresa War Eagles Museum
There we also discovered a stored DC-6 not far away that gave some nice photos with the setting sun. An A-26 Invader was also stored further down, but too far away to go there, and the guard dogs that suddenly appeared from nowhere also finally kept us from going there. The sun was then already gone when we left to Alamogordo and checked in quite late at the Motel6.
As the cheap hotel prices evidently did only include a morning 'coffee', our first mission of the day was to find a proper place to have breakfast. Fortunately we did not have to go very far and found a waffle & pancakes place to get some cholesterol-enriching food quickly. As I was still impressed by the food at the Denver airport, I certainly had to order the breakfast Burrito, that filled me up until late in the afternoon… While we were sitting there, the sun came up over the mountains and we hurried a bit in order not to arrive too late after the official beginning of the show.
Entering the airbase at Holloman we were very impressed by the row of US, New Mexican and German flags, a clear sign of the close cooperation between these two Air Forces and the close connection to the location. On the long way to the flightline we also passed the Holloman Heritage Park, representing all aircraft that flew here at Holloman. However I do not think that a F-117 will be parked here in the near future as well.
Holloman AFB Heritage Park
Arriving at the show itself we were very surprised as not a lot of people were already on base: no one was queuing to get in the E-3 AWACS or the C-5 Galaxy, usually the crowdcatchers on every show…
--> The rest of the show report can be found in the Airshow Section (Holloman Air & Space Expo 2007)
For dinner in the evening we chose the Golden Corral all-you-can-eat for 10$, wehre we had so many main courses that we didn't manage to take any of the desserts.
The first stop after this airshow week-end on Monday morning was the small airfield of Alamogordo. During the days before we saw that this is also used as a tanker base, but during the period we have been there all airtankers have been in California to fight the severe forest fires over there. But nevertheless we have been given access to the airfield to take some photos of a Gruman Albatross and a gunship version of a P-2 Neptune, that are currently undergoing some modification work and might be brought back to flyable condition.
The next drive was to the very remarkable White Sands National Monument. Whereas the outside temperatures and the strong sun let us feel the warmth of a late autumn day, the emotion induced by the eye was more the one of a cold winter day. That was really, really strange!
Alamogordo / White Sands National Park
The late morning was spent at Holloman Air Force Base, where we have been given access to the German Air Force Tornados and the QF-4E Phantom Drones.
More about that can be discovered in a separate report on this site.
Holloman AFB - preview
We then made our way to Tucson, but decided to stop shortly before sunset at the airport of Las Cruces, which was a good decision, as we saw some white/orange T-34s circling around the airfield. To our big surprise the ramp of this civil airport was full of these military trainer aircraft!
We asked some of the crews near the aircraft if it was possible to take some photos, and permission was granted. Without restrictions! So we really had to hurry as the sun was quickly disappearing behind the mountains, but the photos in the last light of the day were a wonderful end of that day.
There were a total of 24 Navy/Marines T-34s parked on the ramp, 19 coming from Corpus Christi and 5 out of Pensacola as a temporarily detachment "to flee the weather", as we learned after having taken our photos. After asking I still got a patch for free and before leaving to Tucson we still had a look at the other aircraft parked and stored around the airport: PV-2 Harpoon, A-26 Invader, F-100, a MedEvac helicopter and two Marines UH-1 Cobras, one wearing a special "digital" camouflage scheme.
Arriving at Tucson late in the night a few problems were encountered looking for a hotel room as no really cheap motels were available near the airport, but after a longer search we finally found a "Quality Inn" that even had breakfast included, combined with the production of a whole load of plastic waste…
Fortunately it was not far from there to the airport and we started our tour with a quick trip looking at the stored airliners at Hamilton Aviation. But as it is only worth taking photos through the fence at this location in the afternoon, a quick decision was taken to look for a nice photo spot for approaching aircraft. This one was quickly found and it became quite boring as only a handful of airliners came in during the first hour. But we fortunately heard some Arizona Air National Guard (AZ ANG) F-16 taking off in the far distance.
When the aircraft came back some nice topside photos were possible, and the next surprise approached as well. But this time from behind and a black car: the Sheriff! "Taking photos… Bad idea!!" was his reaction to the explanation of our doings there, but after the usual checks and questions we were allowed to continue taking photos, just in time when the UAE F-16s came back from their training sortie! So we were luckily be able to log some more aircraft that were high on our wish list for this trip.
Tucson - AZ ANG F-16s
Around 11am the sun is in a bad position for reasonable photos and we continued to the Pima Air & Space Museum. This excellent place is around 30 minutes straight down the road and offers one of the most amazing collections of aircraft I have ever seen. Not only because of the number of aircraft, but also due to the great variety and the great possibilities to take photos!
Most of the exhibits are placed outside in a vast area, and I have been really lucky that the weather was very agreeable because even with a hat, layers of sunscreen and short trousers it got quite hot. I cannot imagine going there in summer. The photos here are only a short impression out of the collection of more than 275 aircraft and helicopters.
Pima Air & Space Museum
At the museum the bus tours going to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the "Boneyard" and previously known as "AMARC" (C for Center), are offered. Of course we took the tour of around 90 minutes, giving a short impression of this amazing place with over 4000 aircraft on place: It was really an amazing sight to see some famous aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat or even the B-1 bomber being put in storage there. At the beginning "Celebrity Row" was passed, with several special aircraft on display, followed by a quick rush through parts of the remaining area. Unfortunately this was done quite fast and photography through the windows of the bus was therefore really difficult.
And last but not least some of the aircraft approaching the nearby Davis-Montham Air Force Base can be photographed from the premises of the museum.
Fortunately it was only a short hop to Phoenix compared to the day before, and it was quite a difference to arrive there after the last few days of cruising on lonely highways. A cheap but convenient hotel was found in the Mexican quarter near the airport. The nearby supermarket was also very interesting, though shopping was a bit difficult there with only rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language… But for a change and the sake of globalization we had an excellent Chinese buffet for only 7$.
The Phoenix area has a lot to offer for the aviation enthusiast! First of all Phoenix Sky Harbour Int'l Airport, with a lot of interesting traffic and the ANG KC-135 tanker base. During our short visit in the morning we mainly took photos of US Airways and Southwest Airlines aircraft, among them some nice special coloured ones. One KC-135 also took off, but was backlit in the morning, as we were looking southwards to the runway from the parking deck at Terminal T3. Later we changed to T4 and found this one to be an excellent spot for taxi shots on the famous bridges connecting the two runways, but only in the afternoon. And as there was nearly no international traffic it got quite boring and we left to Goodyear.
Phoenix Sky Harbour Int'l Airport (PHX)
Goodyear airport is used for the flight training of several airlines (Lufthansa, SN Brussels Airlines) and the home of several flight schools due its perfect weather conditions. German Luftwaffe pilots will also take their first flight lessons from this airfield. Further on the airport has got a storage area with some more or less exotic aircraft, like an ex-Corsair B747-300, ex-United Airlines DC-10-30, but also some B-727s or a DC-8 and an unknown A340. More was not to be seen there, so we left to Luke shortly afterwards.
Goodyear storage area
Arriving there we had a stop at the local McDo where I got a nice iced coffee with Hazelnut flavour. The approach to Luke was found quite easy, but for the first approaches we were placed not so good as we were standing directly under the approach. But that did not matter, as the chances to take photos there are nearly unlimited. Well, you only get F-16s, but they are flying nearly round the clock. This is no wonder as Luke AFB is the main training base for F-16 pilots, and as this type is used extensively within the US Air Force the demand for them is evidently very high.
We even got tired taking photos, but for the 'number spotters' that must be paradise. Later in the afternoon the light got better and better and we tried some different viewpoints, away from the big streets near a flower field. With some irrigation channels around us we felt a bit like in Matsushima three years ago. Nearly at the end of the day we wondered about the heavily loaded F-16 turning in above our heads, but only to discover happily that these were the Singaporean F-16s, training also at Luke.
But at some time we did stop as the sun was to low, disappearing in the dusty air, giving already a yellow cast and soon disappearing behind the ridge in the east.
Luke AFB - Singapore AF F-16s
Luke AFB - USAF training flights
On the road again, direction south on the highway towards Gila Bend. At the local airport there we made a quick stop and tried some nightshots if the RF-101 Voodoos displayed there, which was quite a surprise to discover them in the middle of nowhere.
For dinner we had chosen this time the local "Subway" fast food restaurant, and after the waitress daughter came to help we were even able to order our food without speaking Spanish… And, what a shame, before leaving the city we found out that have missed the famous Gila Bend Lobster Festival only for some days.
The drive further on to Yuma was less spectacular...
Yuma was also high on our wish list due to the special coloured Aggressor F-5 Tigers flying from there. Once again we were greeted by a glorious blue sky, unimaginable in Central Europe at any time of the year, but not before we have been to "Arnie's Café" for breakfast, what a nice place bringing us back to the 60s and serving nice food. Elvis welcomed us at the entry, and most of the people sitting there seemed to have been there also since that time…
The drive around the airfield did not show a lot of activity, it was even so calm that we suspected that this would be a day of no-flying. But nonethelesse we wanted to give it a try and waited at the northern and of the two parallel runways. Unfortunately too close to one of them, as the first parallel take-off of the Aggressor Tigers was nearly overhead of us. They nearly creeped of unheard out of their sunsheds and were not very noisy during take-off. After some anger we moved backward to a better position for the next take-offs of some more F-5E that were also moving. These shots came out quite good, and we took a quick decision to drive around the airfield to get them for the landing as well.
USMC Aggressors F-5E Tiger II
A good spot was found nearly in the middle of the desert, but unfortunately good photos were only achievable with long lenses- especially for the small Tigers. But they turned in quite nicely and the sun was still in a good position. But the rest of the morning was very calm. We got to see two Harriers and three C-130J Hercules, that were doing practise approaches. Tired of the driving we used to time for sunbathing and decided already at midday to drive on to El Centro. This was due to the low movements and also due to the awkward position of the sun.
Marine Corps Harriers
The drive to El Centro took us along the Mexican border, and we saw a lot of water, sand dunes and people enjoying their time paing around with some quads.
Around El Centro the desert became green again and the airfield was found in no time. It was already late in the afternoon, but the light was still very good to take some photos, and we enjoyed the view of an C-2 Greyhound, that was doing practice approaches. That was the highlight of the day! Furthermore we saw quite a lot of Harriers and Hornets, that were supposedly for training at El Centro. After some days on the road it was also for the first time that we saw other photographers at an airfield.
When we left to look for a Motel we missed a black painted T-34 Mentor coming in, which we should get the next day. A quick look at the civil airport of El Centro revealed some Cessnas of FedEx, but they were out of reach of our cameras.
A motel was once again easily found and that evening we were dining a Mexican restaurant within walking distance, where we enjoyed really excellent food and had a few drinks
a short evening stop at El Centro
After the usual Motel breakfast we hurried to the airfield and placed ourselves near the corner where two taxiways are joining the runway. Standing on the bank of drain channel made it possible to photograph over the fence without any hassle.
The next morning we were as lucky a the day before as many sorties were flown with training bombs, most probably to a range nearby, as many aircraft returned without their weapons load. Once the aircraft returned they were armed and refueled again for the next mission. It seemed that this was most probably an exercise prior to deployment to some dessert place…
El Centro - F-18 Hornets and visitors
The photo possibilities for Harriers – single- and double-seaters, with or without radar noses- and Hornets, some also in special colours, were numerous, and the results very satisfying, so we changed to the other side of the runway for the take-offs, which allowed some photos from the front, but most aircraft were already quite high, and two lucky opportunities when Harriers returned with a break just overhead.
As it was Friday the flying stopped at midday and we were not too unhappy about that as we were able to hit the road a bit earlier, thus arriving at the airshow in Thermal a bit earlier than foreseen.
Jacqueline Cochran is one of the most famous female aviators in the United States, and she was also the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound when she broke the sound barrier in 1953. During her career she attained more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot, male or female.
To remember her achievements the annual airshow and the Thermal Airport in Riverside County, California, were named after her. She was a long-time resident of the Coachella Valley, and is buried in the nearby Coachella Valley Cemetery. She regularly utilized Thermal Airport over the course of her long aviation career.
The 4th annual airshow in 2007 on the first Saturday in November fitted quite well into the trip to the South West of the USA, so a stop was also planned at this event.
Information about the flight program was very difficult to obtain beforehand, but the photos from previous years were promising and a reason to go, especially the demonstration of the California Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection (CDF) Bronco and helicopter air tanker demonstration.
The show is quite special, as the airport has an elevation of -114ft, so it was the first time for me, and surely for many of the performers as well, to display below sea level. Compared to the climate encountered only some days before in the high New Mexican desert it was also relatively warm and humid, and I surely preferred to be there in November and not in mid-summer!
Upon our arrival on Friday afternoon and were very surprised to find many nice warbirds parked on the small ramp, and even the USAF F-16 West Coast Demo team was present as well as US Navy F-18C/D Hornets. For sure this can be related to the strong support by the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, which stands behind this event to push the local economy.
Jacqueline Cochran Airshow - Static Display
The weather was excellent that late afternoon, the light perfect and the people very relaxed, so it was easy to get good photos of the displayed aircraft. Some stored ex-Czech Air Force L-29 Delfin and MiG-21 F-13 aircraft were even discovered when we prowled around the airport! Being the only ones to run around with some bigger camera equipment we surely raised some amazed looks when we explained that we came over from Germany – people just couldn't believe that we took such a long way to go there only for the airshow! After we took our photos we left and were looking for a hotel that we found not very far north of the airport. The burger later on in one of the typical "besides the road diners" was one of the best during the whole trip!
stored Warsaw Pact jets
The next morning the crowds were already pouring into the showground quite early and I was happy about the photos taken the day before. Unfortunately we had to learn this morning that the long awaited fire-fighting demo had to be cancelled, as the aircraft were urgently needed to fight the real fires that were going on in the nearby San Diego area. After a very patriotic start the flying started with some 'previews' for the show in the afternoon, amongst them were the Patriots, a civil aerobatic team flying L-39s, and some of the other airshow acts.
Heritage & Legacy Flights - Aerobatics
As we already saw most of them the day before as well as the US Navy Legacy and the USAF Heritage Flight the day before and the sun was moving in a very bad back light position we decided to leave early and use this Saturday afternoon to do some miles. Partly this listlessness might have also been caused by the many aircraft that we saw during the whole week before and that could be photographed under perfect circumstances.
So we set off with the 'nature part' of our trip and started with the direct climb to the Joshua Tree National Park at an elevation of more than 4000 ft.
Joshua Tree NP
After some more miles we once again found our Motel for the night when it was already dark.
The next few days until Thursday evening were spent with an extensive tour around the Grand Canyon to enjoy the beauty of nature in this part of Arizona, Nevada and Utah with a first stop at the Joshua Tree National Park.
That Sunday we stopped at Laughlin to have a look at the local airport where we saw another Marines C-130 parked on the ramp and an Allegiant DC-9. The spot on the near the airport would be perfect in the morning hours, if there would only be more movements… Kingman and its storage area was next, but we realized that photo opportunities from the outside are better in the afternoon. Nevertheless we tested our car during the off-road track around the airport to take photos of the stored B727s, Lockheed TriStars, Dornier Do328 and many other aircraft.
Laughlin & Kingman airports
On the road again, next stop Valley / Grand Canyon.
The museum at valley is a branch of the famous "Planes of Fame" at Chino, where some nice exhibits can be seen as well. Located at this airport are also the operations of Grand Canyon Airlines, and were very happy to have been given a tour of their historic (original and replica) aircraft in the hangars. It was very nice to see in what excellent – and flying! - condition this small airline is keeping their heritage.
Planes of Fame Museum / Valley
Oldtimers of Grand Canyon Airlines
As it is only a short trip from Valley to the Grand Canyon we arrived soon enough to check in at our hotel just before the park entrance and had enough time to walk along the rim before sunset. Unfortunately it was very cloudy that day which led to a disappointing view of the sunset at Hopi point.
And as if it was not already cold enough it got really freezing when the sun disappeared. No wonder, as we were now at 6800 feet above sea level, or Thermal, where we have just been two days before.
Afterwards the local steakhouse offered a piece of meat and red wine to warm up.
Sunset at Grand Canyon
We got up early to get some photos of the sunrise at 6h50, and to our delight the clouds had disappeared during the night and only some layers of fog were floating in the Grand Canyon. After the breathtaking play of colours most tourists left Mather Point, and it was possible to enjoy it in silence again, before we returned to the hotel to have breakfast.
Snrise at the Grand Canyon
At the airport we took some photos of the Grand Canyon Airlines Vistaliners, Cessnas of Air Grand canyon, another Allegiant DC-9, several Vision Do328, that were flying tourist from Las Vegas in for their one day stay here, and several helicopters as well. The main reason for the stop at the airport was however the 40min. flight over the Grad Canyon.
Grand Canyon from above
Grand Canyon Airport
We then returned to the rim and drove westward with several photo stops admiring the nature, amateur photo models, dogs in baby buggys and being bid farewell by another tourist after he talked with us about our camera equipment: "Peace with you!"
Along the southern rim
When it was already dark we reached Page and checked in at the local Super8 and had a good sleep.
For breakfast the coffee was exceptionally good, though we were warned before tasting it by some American: " I would wait a little bit, the coffee is on the strong side" Well, for us it was just allright. Just south of Page is the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado river, where nice photos are possible in the early or late morning and a good wide angle lens. These having made we continued to the local airport where nothing interesting was seen and continued to the Antelope Canyon. The views during the two hours in the Canyon were really exciting, as was the entrance fee (p.P. 6$ for the Navajo reserve and 35$ for the Canyon, shuttle included…)
Horseshoe Bend / Page
After that we continued to the Monument Valley (where we arrived at 15h30, just early enough to drive around the dusty roads and take some nice photos of the really monumental monoliths from close up. The point near the visitors center offered a good overview for the sunset.
The drive north to Moab was very tiring once again as we had to drive during the night and there was place to eat around the route. In complete darkness we arrived there and were very surprised to find a relatively busy city center with many shops and restaurants. During the summer this place must really be alive as many tourist come here to do sports (mountainbiking, hiking,…) in the nearby national parks.
One again a Super8 was the choice for the night and we had a Burger and a beer in one of the Microbreweries.
One more time we got up early as we planned to do some hiking. Unfortunately the breakfast was not that good compared to the one the day before, but good enough to give some strength for the hike to the famous Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park. After this walk we continued to explore the wonders of this park, though we did not see all of its more than 2000 natural sandstone arches.
Arches National Park
The drive along the interstate eastwards to the Bryce Canyon was tiring once again, though also quite interesting as the landscape was very diversified: canyons and the desert along the interstate, but when we left to a smaller road leading south again we passed a valley with rivers and trees, which was completely different to the landscape we have seen the days before. Just in time we arrived at the Bryce Canyon for the sunset and checked in at Ruby's Inn, nearly the only place where you can stay there – and you surely pay for that…
Sunrise at the Canyon was around 7am local time and a lot better for photos than the sunset. After a hike down through the Canyon we had breakfast at Subways, a stop at the local airport, passed the Zion National Park continued to Las Vegas along a very boring interstate route.
The days of being surrounded by the beauty of nature were over, it was airshow time once again!!
Bryce Canyon NP
Pryce Canon Heliport / Red Canyon / Zion NP
Friday to Sunday were spent at the Aviation Nation 2007 Airshow at Las Vegas, about which a seperate report can be found in the Airshow section.
Friday evening was spent in Las Vegas downtown, whereas we were at the excellent "Viva Zapata's" Mexican restaurant near the airbase, tasting this lovely food for the last time. Sunday was once more spent at the Strip as we left on Monday.
After some slight rain showers on Sunday evening Monday was blessed by glorious sunshine and cold winds. After the disappointing show it Nellis we were very happy about that as we wanted to spend the day until the afternoon with photography at the civil McCarran International Airport. The weather was caused by a strong Northern wind, that was very welcomed by us as it made photos of aircraft taking-off in front of the Las Vegas skyline from the parking decks possible. Around noon we changed due to the position of the sun to the approach before returning our car.
one day of photography at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
The flight back home to Germany was via San Francisco, where we had one last Burrito at the airport. When boarding the pretty empty Lufthansa A340-600 for the direct flight Munich, the holiday was over.
I hope you had some fun with this story, did find some interesting thing or were just enjoying the photos. In any way, you can leave your comments in the guestbook or participate in the recent poll.
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