Joe Bender

2019 Manassas Airshow by Todd Henson

The Bealeton Flying Circus Wingwalkers

It’s been a few years since I attended an airshow, so this year my father and I made our way to the Manassas Regional Airport for the 2019 Manassas Airshow held on Saturday, May 4. This is only my second time at this show, and I certainly hope it’s not my last. I really enjoy these shows.

This year had some of the same performers as the last show we attended, but it also had new ones to add a little variety. And some of the same pilots were flying different aircraft. The weather looked somewhat questionable at first, with the possibility of rain, and some low lying clouds. Thankfully it cleared enough by noon that the aerial performers were given the go-ahead.

Click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

RJ Gritter and his Bellanca Decathalon

RJ Gritter was flying his Bellanca Decathalon, performing some amazing aerobatics, trailing white smoke through most of the show. His plane is painted in red, white and blue.

RJ Gritter pulling up in his Bellanca Decathalon

RJ Gritter flying by in his Bellanca Decathalon

The Flying Circus Wingwalkers

The wingwalkers from the Bealeton Flying Circus always put on an amazing performance. Chuck Tippett flies their Stearman biplane while Joe Bender climbs out on the wings to perform a number of different incredible moves. He flies like superman, stands atop the plane, and this year they also flew the US flag. Beautiful sight.

Look closely to see Joe Bender flying like Superman between the wings of the Stearman biplane, flown by Chuck Tippett, of the Bealeton Flying Circus.

Chuck Tippett and Joe Bender of the Bealeton Flying Circus flying a US flag atop their Stearman biplane.

Art Nalls and his L-29 Albatross

Art Nalls performed this year in his L-29 Albatross, a very maneuverable jet flown by a very capable pilot.

Art Nalls performing a flyby in his L-29 Albatross.

Art Nalls and his L-29 Albatross may look like they are floating above the runway because of the fast shutter speed I used, but he was, in fact, flying by quite fast.

The Bealeton Flying Circus

This year the Bealeton Flying Circus flew four of their biplanes in formation, circling the airport a number of times. They looked amazing as they turned against clouds, the sun highlighting each plane. I’d love to visit Bealeton and see them perform on their home turf.

Four biplanes from the Bealeton Flying Circus flying in formation against the cloudy sky.

The Bealeton Flying Circus Stearman biplans flying in formation.

Lee Leet and his Super Tucano

I love the look of Lee Leet’s Super Tucano, a turboprop aircraft that was a lot of fun to watch.

Lee Leet flying his Super Tucano.

Lee Leet landing his Super Tucano.

Chef Pitts and his Pitts S1S

Chef Pitts performed some absolutely incredible aerobatics in his small red Pitts S1S. This guy was absolutely amazing. There’s no way I could list all the incredible moves he performed. This was one of my favorite parts of the airshow.

Chef Pitts and his amazingly aerobatic Pitts S1S biplane.

Chef Pitts taking his Pitts S1S down for a 1-wheeled landing.

Warrior Flight Team

The Warrior Flight Team was back, flying a pair of Czechoslovakian L-39 jets, piloted by Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche and LCDR Mark “Crunchy” Burgess. Awesome performance.

Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche and LCDR Mark “Crunchy” Burgess of Warrior Flight Team performing a synchronized flyby in their L-39’s.

One of the Warrior Flight Team L-39’s coming in from a distance, trailing smoke.

US Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team

One of the highlights of this years show was the performance by the US Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team. I have always loved the A-10, both the look of it, and the way it moves. It’s such an incredible and capable aircraft, and they did a great job showing off some of its capabilities.

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt performing a flyby.

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt quickly changing orientation. Notice the air being forced over the tops of the wings near the fuselage and trailing from their tips.

P-51 Mustang in the Parade of Planes

At the end of the show was the Parade of Planes, where a large number of aircraft all took to the sky, one at a time, most of which had not performed in the airshow. One of the highlights for me was an absolutely gorgeous shiny silver P-51 Mustang. I just love the look of this aircraft.

P-51 Mustang taking off. The rear tire has already left the runway.

US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 and the Crowds

In addition to the performances, the Manassas Airshow included a nice collection of static displays. The photo here shows some of the crowd walking around the show, along with a US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 helicopter in the background. The tail of the helicopter was open, with folks lining up to walk through it.

Crowds walking around the 2019 Manassas Airshow, with a US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 helicopter in the background.

Final Thoughts

I had a great time at the 2019 Manassas Airshow. These shows always seem to be over far too quickly. I do wonder sometimes if I should try attending one without bringing a camera, so I can just relax and watch the show. But I really enjoy photographing them, so that would be tough to do.

This year I decided to use my 200-400 mm f/4 lens, a large and slightly heavy lens, but one that works really well for these shows. Though it’s a bit heavy, it’s still light enough to hand hold for short bursts as the planes fly by. A lighter lens would be nice, though. In the past I’ve also used and been happy with a 70-200 mm.

I found myself switching back and further between aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode. I used shutter priority for the slower flying propellor-based aircraft so I could capture motion in the propellers. And I used aperture priority for the faster flying jets to get a faster shutter speed. In the future I think I will just stick to shutter priority and adjust the shutter speed as I see fit. I don’t really know why I kept flipping to aperture priority, other than that’s the setting I most often use.

For the fast moving jets I tended to use a much faster shutter speed, for example 1/1000 to 1/3000 of a second. That helped assure I captured sharp images of the jets, though in one case it captured the L-29 Albatross seemingly hovering over the runway, when in fact it was moving very fast. I should have used a slower shutter speed in that case to blur the background as I panned with the jet.

When the propeller aircraft were flying I lowered my shutter speed to between 1/25 to 1/125 of a second. This increased the chances of blurry photographs, but it assured I’d capture movement in the propeller. If you use a fast shutter speed you may freeze the propeller, which looks very strange when the aircraft is in the air. This also helped blur the background as I panned with the planes when they flew low enough to see trees behind the planes.

This year was a great year for the Manassas Airshow. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I very much look forward to attending again in the future. If you’ve never been to an airshow I’d highly recommend you give one a try.

2016 Manassas Airshow by Todd Henson

Yak-52 Flyby. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche.  Camera settings: 400mm, 1/50 sec, f/29

This was my first trip to the Manassas Airshow held May 7 at the Manassas Regional Airport in Manassas, Virginia. My father and I arrived early to make parking easier and to have time to walk around all the static displays before the overhead air show began, which turned out to be around noon. This is a small airport and, consequently, a smaller air show than some venues, but they put on a great show with plenty of variety. The weather was a bit questionable in the beginning, with cloudy skies darkening right over the airport, but it never did rain, and the clouds made for some interesting photos. There were times I wished the sun would have come out a bit more, but at the same time, it beat a cloudless day with a blindingly bright sun. In general, I didn’t have to worry about blowing out highlights.

I haven’t been to many air shows with my camera, so I’m still learning how to photograph them. At my first show I set up the camera as I often do for wildlife, where I usually want the fastest shutter speed I can get with shallow depth of field. So I usually use aperture priority mode with the aperture close to wide open. This worked great with fast moving jets, but I learned it didn’t work well with propeller-based aircraft. Setting the shutter speed too fast freezes the propeller, which looks unnatural. When the aircraft is moving the propeller should be moving, as well.

This year I adjusted settings based on the aircraft overhead. For jets I used my normal aperture priority mode, but for propeller-based aircraft I switched to shutter priority and experimented with shutter speeds. I tried very slow speeds, around 1/50 to 1/60 of a second to try to capture a full rotation of the propeller. This resulted in lots of blurry photos as I had a difficult time panning smoothly enough to freeze the plane, but occasionally I would get a reasonably in focus aircraft with a nicely blurred propeller. Sometimes I increased the shutter speed to over 1/200 of a second. This helped me capture a few more aircraft in focus and usually still captured some propeller motion, though not a full rotation of the propeller. I really enjoyed the experimentation, and I look forward to future shows so I can get more practice.

One of the early performers was Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche flying his Yak-52, so right away I was practicing slower shutter speeds. I love when these planes turn on their smoke trails, it can really help make some dynamic photos.

Yak-52 Descent. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche. Camera settings: 360mm, 1/60 sec, f/45

Yak-52 in Flight. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/80 sec, f/29

Next up was The Flying Circus, out of Bealeton, Virginia. They had a wing walker climbing all over the wings of the bi-plane. These guys were amazing. You can tell they do this all the time. Great stuff.

The Flying Circus Superhero. Pilot: Chuck Tippett. Wing Walker: Joe Bender. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/50 sec, f/29

Hanging On. Pilot: Chuck Tippett. Wing Walker: Joe Bender. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/80 sec, f/20

Scott Francis had some amazing moves in his MXS aircraft. It’s a beautiful little plane and he really knows how to push it. I increased the shutter speed here to freeze the aircraft. You can see the propeller is blurred but it doesn’t show a full rotation.

Scott Francis in his MXS. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6

A little later the Warrior Flight Team took to the air in a pair of L-39 Albatross. These two were great, performing a number of synchronized maneuvers.

A Pair of Albatross. The Warrior Flight Team. Camera settings: 165mm, 1/800 sec, f/5.6

One of my favorite aircraft at the show was Greg Colyer’s T-33 Shooting Star, named Ace Maker II. There was just something about both the look and moves of this aircraft. Lots of fun to watch and photograph.

Top View of the Ace Maker II. Pilot: Grey Coyler. Camera settings: 370mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6

Ace Maker II Flyby. Pilot: Grey Coyler. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3

Finally, the last aircraft I photographed was the Sea Harrier flown by Art Nalls. This is the first, and at present only, privately owned and flown Harrier, so it was great getting the opportunity to see it in action. I have seen Harriers at air shows before, and they are always a marvel to watch. It’s amazing how little runway is needed to get one of these off the ground. One of the popular moves is towards the end of the performance when they turn the aircraft facing the audience, hover in place, then slowly take a bow with the aircraft. Amazing control! And, of course, there is the vertical landing that only something like the Harrier can perform.

Harrier Bowing to Audience. Pilot: Art Nalls. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3

Harrier Vertical Landing. Pilot: Art Nalls. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3

The Manassas Airshow was a lot of fun. I’m happy my father and I were able to spend part of the day here. It was well worth it. If you’ve never been to an air show go check one out.