Assignment No25A: RIAT Air-to-Air (Arrivals)

Assignment No25A: RIAT Air-to-Air (Arrivals)

Erik Bruijns goes air-to-air with the aircraft arriving for RIAT 2016

When I heard about this Assignment I was immediately drawn to it. First of all the possibility being able to take air-to-air pictures of fast jets was something very high on my wish list. Take that in combination with RIAT, would mean a great opportunity for a huge diversity of planes. Reading more about it meant working not only with COAP, but also the Aviation PhotoCrew. Well known for their excellent work in air-to-air photography, a combination with COAP sounded like something not to miss. The selection period was nerve wracking. With only two spots available for this Assignment, it was a big gamble. Coming out of the big hat in third place, I was disappointed not making the cut, but that’s life. I was that more surprised a couple of days ago that COAP had arranged an additional seat, so I could still get on-board with the assignment. Now the long wait started for the actual event.

July came closer and also some additional information came available. Eventually we had to settle for two days of flying as that was when the planes were only coming in to RAF Fairford. That would also mean two nicely packed days. One of the good things to start with was not knowing what we would get behind the Skyvan. The cooperation between COAP and Aviation PhotoCrew was great, so all we could hope for was that all they had arranged would also turn up.

Finally it was time for this unique assignment. On Wednesday 6th July, we gathered bright and early at 06:30hrs at Kemble airport. Soon all participants arrived and we could get acquainted. It was a nice mix of nationalities and soon we got a briefing on what was going to happen that day. We were handed our harnesses and started our preparations as we had an early departure. Together we checked if everything was in order. Cameras secured, ‘loose’ parts on the cameras secured, enough memory in the camera and we were ready for our first flight. That meant is was really going to happen and we made way to the Skyvan… We all got an assigned seat/spot, which was rotated during the different flights. This way we would be able to get different shots each time we would get up. 

Everyone got in position and got hooked onto the Skyvan before the engines got started. Tension started to build as we taxied out to Runway 26. Within a couple of minutes the engines were turned to full power and we soon lifted off. As this was the first time for me, sitting on the floor of the Skyvan, flying backwards looking out of the cargo ramp was an amazing feeling. Something you get used to pretty quick. Flying out to our designated area and getting to the required altitude, we started to look more and more outside to spot our first aircraft. Coming straight out of Canada, we soon spotted the CP-140 coming closer. With the pilots of our Skyvan in contact with the aircraft that were joining up, the designated persons on board would give directions to direct the aircraft to the desired positions. This meant that wherever you were in the Skyvan, you would all get amazing shots. After the CP-140 we returned to Kemble for a quick fuel stop. This gave me the possibility to pinch myself and realise that this was really happening. Before I knew it, we were walking back to the Skyvan for another sortie and assigned our new spot. Within 15min of our second take off we had our next plane coming in. This time a Jordanian C-130. The moment you get the aircraft close enough for shots you get into your zone and start taking as many different pictures as you can. Not knowing how long they stay behind the Skyvan, you make the most of every change of position. 

Different join ups followed with fast jets as well. Depending on the possibilities they would get extremely close. Even with all the noise of an open Skyvan and even with ear protection, you could still hear the lovely sound of the engines of the fighters. After the first day we totalled 10 different join ups. It was an incredible rush and this was only the first day. 

The next day we started a bit later. Everyone was still at Kemble airport in time, ready to go up for more. Being so close to each other for a couple of hours, makes new friends quick! So the wait for our next flight was over quick and we get back to our routine of getting strapped in. Today gave us more fighters with some great formations and more unique photo opportunities. After another three flights, we came close to 12 flight hours in two days with an incredible 17 join ups with 36 planes.

Not knowing what to expect upfront, meant there was no disappointment at all. Even though we still missed some join-ups due to weather and time slots. The only problem with this kind of Assignment is that once you have been on it, you definitely want to do it again! The rush of looking out from the open ramp at the aircraft that get really close is amazing. This really is something you have to have experienced as an aviation photographer. The opportunity that COAP and Aviation Photocrew gave was amazing. 

To get an impression of the 2 days and the different planes we got to see, I was able to make the following movie; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gWZRl53k6A&t=3s