Sea Harrier FA-2

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.