Assignment No4B: Wittmund Air-to-Air
Mark Sutherland goes flying with A-4 Skyhawks and EF2000s out of Wittmund, Germany
I forget the day of the week but there it was, a Facebook post from Rich and COAP that a place had become available on an air-to-air sortie out of Wittmund with the A-4 Skyhawks of DA Defence Services. The deal was that it was to be the first e-mail to be received at 10.00hrs the following morning that would be joining COAP and the Aviation PhotoCrew for a mission over northern Germany.
There followed a lot of thought overnight – any air-to-air is going to be expensive but this was the proverbial once in a lifetime opportunity. A check of my finances confirmed that I could afford it, so at the appropriate time, off went the e-mail. I consoled myself about the cost, in that everybody was going to put in for it, so I stood no chance of getting it…
A check of my e-mail on my phone a while later revealed a surprise – I'd got the flight! Well you can imagine my reaction, punching the air and exclaiming a loud YES! Which was embarrassing, as I was in Sainsbury's…
So after some planning I found myself on a Monday morning at Wittmund for my first fast jet air-to-air sortie. Then began the challenges. Some brief explanations might be in order here. I'm sure most of you are aware that DA Defence Services provide a variety of training solutions to the German military with its fleet of A-4s. To that end they were on board for the sortie from the start of negotiations, but with the proviso that it must include the resident Eurofighter unit – no Eurofighter, no flight. It made good sense to show what they do and this was the perfect way.
Well fine, but obviously Rich and the Aviation Photo crew have to brief and coordinate both units and it is then that the challenges of a shoot such as this start to become apparent. The original plan had been for a flight of two EF2000s and two of the colourfully marked A-4s.
Winston Churchill one said that ‘All things are always on the move, simultaneously’, First off the weather. Well the weather wasn't exactly bad it just wasn't exactly good enough, so we had to wait for it to improve which it was planned to do and simultaneous phone calls and e-mails are exchanged. The weather fluctuates and aircraft become unserviceable. Also, it’s time to get my safety harness sorted, the one that was of course used previously by a much smaller person than me, and I keep reminding myself to get a few last-minute pointers on air-to-air photography from Rich.
Rich (not Winston Churchill) said that with these flights you spend all day hanging around then find yourself rushing to get on the aircraft as time is running out and yes, you’ve guessed it time ran out. So we find ourselves walking to the Skyvan for a rendezvous with one plain grey Skyhawk and one Eurofighter. I of course never got to speak to Rich, so am desperately trying to remember all he said about air-to-air in one of his workshops, and of course I can't remember much with so much running through my mind! Oh and one other thing, I'm not that keen on heights.
I've thought very hard about how to describe the flight. Clearly it was brilliant and exhilarating.
It was also mentally, quite challenging. Clearly I started shooting away once the subject aircraft joined up, but after about 5-10 minutes I started to realise that I needed to think a bit more and try and think about the composition. Rich’s words were coming back to me now. Now we were obviously in the hands of the subject aircraft pilots and the brief set up by Photocrew/COAP, of which I had no input into, also your actual position in the camera ship has a significant bearing on what you get as there is actually quite a lot of variety to be had. To some extent you have to take what's there, but I was racking my brain trying to be as creative as possible within those constraints. I suppose I wish I'd mentally prepared myself better, but over the years I've looked at enough images by Katsuhiko Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter, John Dibbs etc and I can only hope to have channeled a bit of what I've seen in books. You will have to judge by the images attached. All I know is that in know have developed a very severe and expensive addiction to air-to-air photography!