This post is part 1 of a 2 part article… This initial post will focus on the Airshow in Grand Junction Colorado… Part 2, will focus more on the “Cattle Baron’s BBQ and Tailhook Gathering.
The weekend of September 21-23 I found myself on the western side of the Rocky Mountains to attend the Grand Junction Airshow. I had received a “Media Pass” to the event due to my affiliation with The Tailhook Association as the Editor of “The Tailhook Daily Briefing”, the association’s online blog presence. Now, ‘Media Passes’ sound all glamorous and preferential and all… but in reality all they do is allow for access to the field on the Practice Day and then grant me early access to the field on the Show days with preferred parking. (hmm maybe that is preferential…)
As a certified “Aviation Geek”, I look forward to this event every 3 to 4 years, it is really too bad this is not an annual event because the venue is fantastic! Grand Junction Airport is nestled up against the “Bookcliffs” Mesa, with Mt Garfield providing an appropriate bookend to the range. These cliffs provide for an excellent backdrop to photos taken at the show.
Also, Grand Junction’s Airshow is still small enough to have that wonderful ‘Down Home’ feel to it. It is reminiscent of the older style of airshows, much more intimate with attendance measured in the thousands instead of the 100’s of thousands like Miramar. Never the less, it was still quite beneficial for an aviation photographer like me to have access to the flight line the day before the crowds align the rails.
Friday morning, Ginger, Ken Schoeni (who had flown in the day before from his home in Seattle) and I all piled into the GMC and began our roughly 4 hour trek west along I-70 over the Rockies. The drive was splendid… Vail Pass was decked out in all of its Autumn Glory, the aspens presenting explosions of gold among a sea of evergreens. We arrived at the Hotel in Grand Junction right on time, checked in and headed to the room to deposit our bags. Ginger had some work to follow up on so she took the opportunity to hole up in the room and catch up. Ken and I headed over to the Airport. Actually, since we were close enough, we walked the mile from the hotel to the West Star Aviation Terminal where I had been told my Media Pass would await.
Inside the terminal lounge, a variety of people were milling about. Many were West Star employees trying to finish preparations for the show, coordinating everything from fuel for the birds to beer for the spectators. But also loitering were the various airshow performers including a couple of the ‘civilian’ acts, the Navy Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration guys of VFA-106 outta Oceana, and the V-22 Osprey folks from VMM-166 “The Sea Elks” from Miramar. I took a few minutes to introduce myself to the crews, toss about some casual conversation and then proceeded to the counter to inquire about my media credentials.
The young lady (fresh outta high school by my estimates) behind the counter greeted me politely, but then her look rapidly turned to one of confusion. Apparently not an uncommon look these past few days. They seemed to embrace their disorganization more as the status quo than the exception.
“Um… What Media list?” was the response I received from young blonde…
Rather than try to explain what should have been there behind the counter, and apparently wasn’t (…I’ve tried that pointless action before only to end up right back where I started, shorter on patience and 5 minutes closer to my death than I had been…), I simply excused myself for a brief moment to make a phone call. To the Director of Marketing for the show. Within five minutes, the media list was delivered to the girls behind the counter, with my name clearly in attendance. “Sorry for the mix up Mr. Carmichael, please go right ahead…” And off to the flight line, camera gear slung over my shoulder I went. I had Airplanes to photograph!
There is something very surreal about walking onto a flight line that is fully decked out in preparation for the masses to attend, yet few people are about. A photographer’s dream, not having to muscle your way to the front, fighting for a vantage point without obstacles, like speaker stands, trash cans, umbrellas, kids! Nirvana I’m tell’n you!
On the apron static displays abound. Dominating the landscape is one of VMM-166’s V-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor Aircraft. In its shadow, a WWII vintage TBM, looking very well preserved considering her age, a great testament to the love and care provided by her owner. I crawled all through that TBM and with the exception of an oil leak from the cowling… which in these aircraft simply means, “She ain’t Empty!” it was immaculate!
But alas, I was here for the flying!
The first to go for the Friday practice sessions was VFA-106’s US Navy’s Super Hornet Flight Demonstration crewed by, LT Tony “Neon” Rizio and LT Jacob “Rooney” Lerner. And I had front row seats! --- of course, in hindsight, that might have been poor planning on my part!
Ya see… their crew chief directed them out for what was to be a "Right Turn Out"... Which, woulda been fine with me...
What none of us expected was the 170 degree right turn! As I was filming, I realized in a classic "Ahhhhh Craaaap" moment that the Blowers were about to point right at me, just as the "Need for Speed" - (Taxi Speed anyway) came upon the crew. Lemme tell ya, that zephyr is hot! And quite gusty!
I maintained my stance amazingly enough (well, I took a knee actually!), but the VIP folding chairs behind me got blasted all over the Grand Junction Apron! Oh and so did the rest of my camera gear including 2 lenses that happened to be sitting on one of the now "Gone With the Wind" chairs!
I captured and assembled a little video (amateur as it is...) that shows the initial taxi, the turn , and then some stills of the after... The video concludes with stills from the debrief where 'Neon' and 'Rooney' are told of the carnage. [Link]
Ah well, the hazards of Naval Aviation!
The only real casualty of having that big blow dryer pointing at me is that my big lens, the 70-300mm, took a tumble and pretty much has given up the ghost. I know what is now on my Christmas list!
The crew chiefs of VFA-106 were really cool however, and after “Neon” and “Rooney” were well on their way down the taxiway, they came over to help reset the chairs and pick up my yard sale of lenses and other photographer paraphernalia. Also, when the second crew taxied out for their practice hop, the Crew Chief had already briefed them of “Hurricane Neon” and recommended they keep the right turn to 90 degrees… “Grippy” and “Trig” obliged.
The rest of the day was uneventful… well except for the Sound of Freedom from the Super Hornets, the V-22 Osprey, and oh yeah… the Blue Angels!
More images from the show can be found on my Smugmug pages here: [Link]
Part 2 Soon to come… The Party!