Miramar Air Show
from the best seat in the house: my driveway
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For good or bad, we live
on a mesa with line-of-sight view of MCAS Miramar. On the
bad side, we get plenty of jet noise when the Marines are doing
flight training. On the good side, we get a front row seat
to the Blue Angels aerobatic performances as part of the yearly
Miramar Air Show. We have attended the show many times and
it offers close-up views of a multitude of military
aircraft. But, oddly, our driveway provides a better view of
the Blue Angel's performance as the jets fly very close to the lip
of our canyon.
As a side note, our esteemed, dear leader made an appearance in
San Diego some weeks back and just by happenstance I received
delivery of my new Sony A7R4 60MP camera and a 100-400mm zoom
lens. I had expected the delivery for a number of months
since I ordered the camera when it was announced. It wildly
exceeded my admittedly high expectations both in image quality and
real-time autofocus performance. Needing a test case for the
camera, I was provided with said case that afternoon when Air
Force One left Miramar for points east.
All the photos below were taken with the Sony A7R4 camera and Sony
100-400mm zoom lens. Except for Air Force One, all images
were shot in uncompressed RAW format (at about 120mb per
image). Digital images were developed with Capture One and
reduced to 1200x800 pixels for inclusion in this page.
The photos below are
what we saw.
We had a good window on Air Force One's departure time as Mr.
T's visit was widely covered by the local news channels.
Air Force One is based on a Boeing 747 platform with "a few
enhancements". But, one of the enhancements that was not
made was to upgrade the airframe to low-noise engines. We
heard it before we could see it, but when it became visible, it
was impressive. Low on the horizon and just after takeoff,
the heat of the day distorted a clear view of the aircraft.
As it got higher, our view got better. Note the
reflections on the belly of the aircraft; the horizon is clearly
The plane rose quickly and banked north.
The reflection on the belly shows SR-52 in the canyon
below our home. So, as camera test cases go, this was a
good one. I was unable to process RAW images at that time
due to need for a software upgrade, but that requirement was met
later in the day. The reduced size of the images on this
page do not do justice to the quality of images coming out of
the camera. I was pleasantly surprised.
A few days later the Miramar air show came to town. The
show was conducted over 4 days with the first day being the VIP
performance. We heard the jets from the house and I
stepped outside to see a small aerobatic team performing.
Note the swirls in the smoke plumes due to the turbulence of the
The following day was overcast and cloudy providing real
challenges for good photos. That said, despite a bit of
motion blur, I was very impressed at the quality of the photo
above. This was shot is a 1/4 crop at 400mm, roughly
approximating a 1600mm focal length. Handheld!!
The flight path for the Angel's performance has remained roughly
static over the years allowing me to be in position when the
group flew past. They are moving several hundred miles an
hour so there is minimal time for man or camera to react.
The Sony did a fantastic job.
Shooting against the overcast made for very difficult
conditions, but the camera did a great job.
Because the jets are moving so fast, you never know what you
actually got in a photo until it is uploaded for
processing. I was stunned to see the condensation trails
from the points of the aircraft. I could not see these
through the viewfinder. Knowing that 2 more days of
performances were to come, I bagged it for the day.
Saturday was overcast and I did not bother to go outside.
Sunday, however, was clear. The atmospheric conditions
were just right to provide me more contrails of the passing jet.
The contrails were dependent on bank angles and speed and varied
as turns were executed.
I was straining to track the high-speed jet as he passed my
Landing gear and tail-hooks were lowered as part of one of the
All six Angels aircraft are visible in the photo above.
Frankly, I did not see the flight of four through the viewfinder
and only discovered them during processing.
Our position on the canyon rim allowed us many views of the
Given that the jet's speed is several hundred miles an hour, I
was surprised that the camera was able to focus-lock on the
I was hoping to be able to read the pilot's name under the
cockpit, but he was too far away.
Meanwhile, the main group flew a huge loop with their smoke
The Angels regrouped and banked a sweeping turn near the canyon
The group was waiting for the last member to get into formation.
The group of 5 executed another large loop.
Once over the crest, the group sped toward the ground. One
of the jets lost its smoke generator output.
Another high-speed pass near the canyon rim.
The canyon rim and the highway in the valley below provided a
convenient navigation landmark.
Another group fly-by, this time with smoke enabled.
Number 5 and 6 perform a loop with smoke on.
While the 5 and 6 were looping, the main group flew past us
They were soon joined by number 6.
Once the full group re-formed, they executed another loop with
diverting paths on the downward portion of the loop.
Another solo loop, this time inverted.
What goes up, must come down.
One more pass by the canyon.
The Angels were regrouping to land at the end of their
Air Force One was a
blue-bird (an unexpected good thing) and I was very pleased with
the quality of the images that resulted. The Mirmar Air Show
is something that we endure every year. There is no escape
from the onlookers and the noise. Fortunately, it only
happens once a year. And lucky for us, we were in a place
that provided great views of the passing jets.
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