So there I was. Standing in “Mig Alley“! I really wish I had taken a picture of that sign post. “Mig Alley” is home to the U.S. Navy adversary squadron VFC-13 “Saints“!
When the “Saints” of VFC-13 invited me out to visit their squadron, I was of course, very excited. Come on now. It’s not every day that you get the chance to photograph an operational fighter squadron. I tossed my Canon 70D, along with a couple of lenses in my bag and jumped in the truck.
When I arrived at NAS Fallon. I was meet in that classic, naval aviator style. By a young Lieutenant dressed in his tan flight suit, garrison cap, and sunglasses. And yes, he introduced himself by his call sign *****! Sorry, I cant tell you what it was… But, it was cool! The Lt. escorted me through the squadrons vast maintenance hanger and out we went onto the flight line.
The Flight Line
So there I stood in the half open doors of the hanger. Soaking in the sights and sounds of the F/A-18D’s, F-16A‘s and even an E-2D that were operating at this busy naval base. But, as cool as that was, I was here for the Tigers! That of course that would be the twelve sexy F-5N Tiger II fighters that lined the tarmac.
For the first few minutes all I could do was stare at the jets in front of me. Funny, but I didn’t even give my camera gear a second thought. No sir. It took all of my will power not to do something stupid. Like take a selfie! I had to keep cool and look professional… And that was so very hard! Thankfully a couple of the squadron pilots walked past us. Snapping me back into the moment. I quickly sorted myself out and started shooting. It was time to go to work!
So here is an interesting little tidbit for you. The F-5‘s are the only active duty aircraft that do not have the parachutes attached to the ejection seat. Moreover, the pilots then have to carry the 36 pound parachute with them before and after every flight.
Photographing VFC-13 “Saints”!
I shot most of the day with my go to Canon 18-135mm lens. It was a very sunny day which made it tricky to shoot because the fighters sit under big metal shade canopies. Every time I would snap a shot of a plane or pilot, the back ground would become blown out by the sun. I made adjustments to my camera and shot what I could. Normally I would have used my Godox flash. But, that would have interfered with the pilots and ground crew.
The day was beautiful. Sunny with the occasional clouds rolling by. And, for the most part, I managed to shoot in manual mode at an iso 100 the whole time. Of course I still had to adjust my shutter speed and f-stop. But not as much as you would think.
Now keep in mind. VFC-13 is an operational squadron. There is a lot of activity going on all around you. Jets are starting up, ground crews and pilots moving around preparing for their flights. And there you are, standing in the middle of all this activity. Attempting to frame a great picture while making camera adjustments and trying to remember the rule of thirds. Meanwhile your trying to stay out of everyone’s way while not losing a lens hood into a jet engine.
Another little tidbit for you. The F-5s are the only aircraft left in service that the pilot taxis with its canopy open.
I would really like to thank the pilots and personnel of VFC-13 “Saints”! They were more than gracious and I had an amazing time with them. I plan on writing a few more article about this fantastic squadron. They have a very unique and important role in training their fleet counter parts.