For once, I spent more time watching than photographing

We had a behind the scenes meet-and-greet with the US Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron Friday in advance of the Northern Thunder air and space expo at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and it was a fantastic way to spend a Friday! The pilots and crew were gracious hosts, answering all our questions and clearly enjoying themselves when talking about their jobs and their aircraft.

Continue reading

Sentimental startup

I wasn’t able to see the warbirds which stopped in Bismarck this week (aside from a glimpse of them circling town), but I have been able to see them on previous visits. This is a video I shot with my boy back in 2013, as the B-17 “Sentimental Journey” started its engines and began to taxi out for a flight around the capital city.

Caught out of position

I haven’t had much time to get out with my cameras for a few months, but I tried to take a brief pause from my work day today to catch the B-52 flyby. I had been clued in about the flight path a little earlier, and wanted to shoot from the south, but I couldn’t find an angle I liked. I ran out of time and punted, shooting instead from the north.

Thunderbirds and God’s chicken

We got to spend a little time with some of the Thunderbirds last Friday, the day before the big Fargo Airsho, and it was absolutely fantastic. I’m not a huge fan of being in an airplane myself, but I can watch them fly all day. Then when the opportunity to see a fighter jet in action, well…I’m THERE.

Being fifty feet away from one of these when it spools up and taxis away is incredibly cool. The passenger in this photo was nominated in Fargo to receive a forty minute honor flight. Remember when I said I’m not a huge fan of being in an airplane? In this case, I’d make an exception. I did shoot some video, but I’ll post that another time.

Nice tail, huh? Since there are no weapons on these fighters, I guess one could call this the business end. I just love saying the word: afterburner. (No, not the ZZ Top album.)

One thing that’s kinda neat is seeing rather mundane tools being used to service these jets. They get a lot of attention. The crew that keeps these in tip-top condition is enormous. The support package for the Thunderbirds is large, and with the level of precision they require it has to be.

After hanging out for an hour or so, it was time to visit the Fargo Air Museum. That may have to be another post, as there was a lot of cool stuff there.

Oh, one other notable event on this trip: I tried Chik-Fil-A for the first time. Oh my goodness. Now I see what all the fuss is about. I can’t stop thinking about that Spicy Chicken Deluxe. We need to have one of those here, ASAP.

Why any submarines in Bismarck-Mandan were nervous Friday

I walked out of a lunch appointment on Friday and immediately noticed a jet on a very unusual trajectory over Bismarck, far out of position compared to the track usually taken on approach to Runway 13.  It was a short leg, and they were still banking south of Main Avenue.  Even better, it was a touch-and-go.  Well, being the curious type, I had to see what was up.  That’s when I snapped this shot and realized it was a Navy plane, not some wayward bus driver or something.


Just doing laps, as you can see.  A few down the Runway 13 way, followed by a few down Runway 31.  Cruising Main, almost.  My flight app did give an ADS-B entry for this aircraft, but being a military plane that was all I got.  The desktop app, however, was blank. No worries, it doesn’t take long with “the Google” to narrow down that this is a P-8A Poseidon.  There’s a good chance it’s from Whidbey Island, home to those F-18s which stopped in for A&B Pizza about this time last year. AirSOC has an article about the P-8A at Whidbey Island, which you can read here.


This is a particularly cool aircraft (Wikipedia), even though it isn’t as exciting as a fighter jet. It’s a sub-hunter, and apparently a pretty modern one.  Just like those F-18s last year, which are actually two-seater Super Hornets loaded with all kinds of electronic warfare equipment, this plane is chock full o’ goodies.  First off, look at all the antennae on the top.  The 737-800 this is based on doesn’t have those.  It’s also capable of deploying anti-submarine weapons once it detects ’em.  Sweet.  Want to know more about some of the toys?  Click on this link.

A few more laps, and they were out of here.  I listened to a little bit of the CTAF banter on my handheld transceiver, then went on with my day.  I had put in a long week, and it was time to knock off early and play photographer for a while.

Global War On Terror Remembrance Wall

gwot_wall_46136-8The Global War On Terror Wall of Remembrance made its way to Bismarck last weekend, and I was able to take my kids there and give it some context.  One side features terrorist attacks on our country going back over thirty years as well as important points in history along the way.  The other side features names of those who lost their lives due to terrorism or the war against terrorism.


gwot_wall_46150-2I thought ND National Guard Adjutant General Al Dohrmann put it best when he said tht every name on this wall was the most important person in the world to someone.  I sat in front of this wall with my kids and did my best to impress that upon them.


gwot_wall_pano_0087Click on the image for a MUCH larger version

After a long day at the Touch the Trucks event, and hungry as heck, my kids did a great job of patiently listening to me trying to give context to this traveling monument.  On the way to get our Pizza Burgers Flyin’ Style at Big Boy they asked me about how I remember the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and it was good to share my memories of the day.  I hope they don’t have a similar experience in their lifetimes, although I’m not too sure what the odds are on that.

Find out more about this traveling monument here.

Hornets visit Bismarck-Mandan in February (updated)

f18s_44360I got a tip that a group of F-18s were inbound for Bismarck yesterday, so I took a long lunch break to wait for them to arrive.  I love few things as much as military aircraft, despite being afraid of flying myself.

f18s_44378Aren’t they breathtaking?  There was a group of seven of them en route to Washington state, returning from a few weeks in Florida.  A friend of mine who moved up here from Pensacola said he got to see F-18s in the air all the time.  That’d be amazing, until you’re trying to take a nap with the Sound of Freedom roaring overhead.

f18s_44504-6Three of the planes stopped in Sioux Falls, but four of them were able to come to the Bizzo and tank up on fuel from Executive Air and pizza from A&B (of course).  If you were only in North Dakota for an hour or two and wanted pizza, wouldn’t you pick the best too?  I actually think it may have been complimentary for them.  Awesome.

f18s_44522-4I watched as one truck was drained dry and another came up to finish the task.  Perhaps it’s good that they weren’t trying to top off all seven!

f18s_44459-61 Nice tail. Just sayin’. I’ve been told that these are F-18F Super Hornets, which are two seater models and used for electronic warfare. They’re part of VAQ-129, an Electronic Attack Squadron based out of Whidbey Island naval air station in Puget Sound, Washington.

f18s_video1These pods on the wings house antennae.  Lots of ’em, apparently.  So since it’s the navy, the wings gotta fold anyway (for carrier space limitations?) but I’m guessing they also want to protect these from damage.  I forgot to ask if that’s a secondary reason why they folded ’em up when they parked.

f18s_44432-4If I was expected to fuel up visiting aircraft on a daily basis, I’d absolutely live for days when a pack of military jets roll in for some juice.  I’d probably be humming the Top Gun theme, even though they flew F-14s in the movie.

f18s_44355Love the colors on that bubble. It takes a while to fuel four of these, which thankfully left plenty of time for conversation.  A friend’s brother is one of the crew here, so we got to chat him up about the flight.  They were all very nice and accommodating.

f18s_9612Joe gives an interview to…somebody.  Since I don’t work in television anymore I have no idea who most of the reporters are.  I haven’t seen any reports online, and the cameras these days are too small to slap a logo upon, so your guess is as good as mine.

f18_44504-6Last one to get gas.  Yes, they do actually have Navy credit cards they use to pay for their fuel, one per plane.  How’d you like those bonus points?

f18s_video3Then it was time to fire ’em up.  What’s cool about these is that they can start themselves; no need for an APU to power ’em up and get the engines turning.  No remote starter, though, although we joked about that.

f18s_video2Then, with a wave it was time to roll out, one at a time.  They didn’t leave close together, as you can probably tell from the open cockpit in the back.  I suppose they bunched up later after everyone was in the air and headed westward.

I took a little ShakyCam™ (I haven’t trademarked that, but I should) video of the arrival and departure.  Using a still photo lens not suited for video, I still got some passable results.  I do enough video work with actual video cameras that I don’t care to do it with still cameras, but if I do more of this I’ll probably have to nab a stabilizer rig to have with me.  Anyway, here’s the video.  If you view it full screen it’ll be 1080p.

It has been a LONG time since I’ve been able to get out with my camera. This was incredibly therapeutic, even if it was dreadfully cold outside. Getting some photo time feels GREAT!

Something missing in Minot

With great anticipation I awaited the announcement of another Northern Neighbors’ Day at Minot Air Force Base.  The last one I attended was 2009, and I don’t think there had been one since.  So when Summer 2016 brought the return of this awesome event, I was all over it.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as traffic was backed up all the way into Minot for hours, even after the show had begun.  Once I got there with my kids we had a nice time, and I’m sure I’ll comb thru the photos and share them later.  But there was one thing that stood out to me right away as we reached the tarmac:

mafb_sign_missing_42788This sign on the side of one of the hangars had been removed.  The photo doesn’t really do it justice as far as its size; this is an enormous sign.  And it’s gone.  I was actually looking forward to seeing it again.  Why?


mafb_nnd_43619This is what it said last time I was on the base.  I’m extremely proud of the mission the Air Force carries on from our beloved state, and I’m equally proud of the global presence the United States maintains as a force of stability in the world.  Sadly, those things aren’t in vogue right now with the people in charge of our armed forces.


mafb_nnd_43605It seems everything is political today, but the aggressors set the rules – and there are people in power these days that turn everything into a political issue.  That’s why plenty of people at the show even back in 2009 were referring to this little guy as “Obama’s new fighter prototype”.  It’s disheartening, actually.


I hope that we can continue to elect leaders that will strengthen and equip our nation’s armed forces to do what they’ve always done: protect the United States and its allies in an ever more dangerous world.  North Dakota has played a significant role in that mission, and I hope it continues to do so with well deserved pride and satisfaction.


Cold War Mancation, Part Seven: Mission completed

cavalier_38305-7_hdrThis weekend I finished the last thing on my list as far as my Cold War Mancation series.  I’d visited many military and historic sites around North Dakota, but one was missing: Cavalier Air Force Station.  I’d actually had one opportunity to visit, four years ago, then one of my kids took a tumble and had to go in for a possible concussion.  I was twenty miles down the road when my wife called, and I had to do an abrupt u-turn and abort the trip.  No such interruption this weekend.


cavalier_PAR_38284-6_hdrCavalier AFS had an open house with a bunch of cool stuff and activities, but I didn’t take many photos of that.  I arrived later than I’d hoped but with plenty of time to look around.  The point of the trip:  tour the building above.  It’s an enormous Phased Array Radar (PAR), the most powerful space radar in the nation’s arsenal and capable of spotting a softball or smaller object (depending on who you ask) coming over the North Pole.

No electronics are allowed in the building, so naturally photography was out of the question.  In fact, that’s kind of the point.  I had lots of egghead questions for the various people who presented on what they do, and it was absolute geek heaven.  Everything I’d hoped it would be.


nekoma_38333-5_hdrOf course I had to stop in by the giant pyramid in Nekoma, part of a decommissioned system that worked with the PAR during its original configuration to launch and guide nuclear-tipped missiles to intercept ICBMs inbound from the north.

There is so much fascinating history about these two sites that my head starts spinning when I begin to think about regurgitating what I’ve learned about them. Instead I think I’ll simply but emphatically suggest that you do your own research.  They are very fascinating places, and the Cavalier Air Force Station site still performs extremely valuable service to our nation.

This should get you started: Have fun!