Nikon sponsored the media house for Sun ‘n Fun and they loaned me a second body (Nikon D500) to use with a Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 lens for the week. I used this combination for all of my aerial shots and my Canon 6D with a 24-105mm f/4L and 50mm f/1.8 for almost all of my ground shots. I decided to join the Nikon crew Thursday morning for a pre-dawn shoot of some of the aircraft. It had been raining all Wednesday night but when my alarm clock went off 5:00 AM, it looked like the worst was over. We made our way to the flight line and I focused on the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk. It was still dark but the long exposures showed the overcast sky and then the lightning started off in the distance. I moved around to the side of the airplane to try and capture the storm in the background. The shots did not come out quite like I had hoped but they were interesting. As the sun rose, the sky started to lighten and the ceiling started to rise.
I made my way out to where the Geico Skytypers were parked on the flight line. I would be going on a flight with them in a couple hours! Four of us met at the planes, met our pilots and were introduced to the “Texans.” The Geico Skytypers fly six SNJ-2 aircraft, also known as the T-6 Texan. This had always been one of my favorite warbirds, distinctly recognizable by the cockpit canopy. I was excited to say the least. We suited up in our flight suits, life jacket and parachute – wait, parachute? We were briefed that if the pilot gave the command, “bail out, bail out, bail out,” we were to slide the canopy open, stand up and dive over the side of the airplane. Ok. Last year, I got the opportunity to fly with the Breitling Jet Team, which you can read about here, which had a live ejection seat. Because of this, I wasn’t able to bring my camera on the Breathing flight and had to keep my hands on the shoulder harness. This flight with Geico was very different, I was not only able to bring my phone to take photos but also my Canon 6D. Once I was strapped in the cockpit, I don’t think the smile left my face. The engine started and I was ready to go. This was my first flight in a warbird! We taxied to the runway, went through a quick run-up and down the runway we went. I left the canopy open the whole time and couldn’t get enough of the wind in my face. This was much different than the Cessna. Although the ceiling was low, I was able to capture some of the first air-to-air shots that I have ever taken. It sparked a fire and I am now hooked. My experience with the Geico team was amazing and I encourage anyone that gets the opportunity to interact with the guys to take it. It was truly the highlight of my trip to Sun ‘n Fun.
I was grounded for the rest of the day but floating on cloud nine. I watched the Blue Angels fly some maneuvers, a group of P-51 Mustangs along with some other performances. Earlier that morning, an American Airlines Honor Flight had left for Washington DC with a group of veterans and their families. The Honor Flights transport war veterans to Washington DC to visit and reflect at their memorials. This is a free service with priority given to senior veterans and World War II survivors. The flight was set to return around sunset so I joined the welcome party for a great end to day three at Sun ‘n Fun.