Friday, June 5, 2009
Outside Tracy on the way to the Brentwood is a turnoff for the small community of Byron. It is nice place, not much to visit there, a small diner for breakfast, a new catholic church and across a set of railroad tracks and tucked away toward the hills is a small airport. You can learn to skydive there, fly in a sailplane or if you’re lucky you might catch sight of four black jets headed off to a practice flight. The Byron airport is home to the Patriots Jet Demonstration Team.
There are only a handful of civilian airshow pilots that fly a jet and fewer that fly more than one. The patriots are a four-ship demonstration team flying the Boeing/Aero-Vodochody L-39C Albatross jet, a subsonic trainer designed in the Czech Republic. The jet has maximum rated speed of 560 mph, does not use an afterburner and has a rated maximum 8 positive G’s and 4 negative G’s in maneuvering.
The team has evolved through the years from a two ship team to three aircraft to their current four-ship show with plans to add two more for a six plane team for the 2010 airshow season. The airplanes feature a computerized red, white and blue smoke system and custom paint job for their performances. I watched their two-ship show a few years ago at Moffett Field so I was eager to see their full team.
It is a little different shooting jets at an airshow than a propeller driven aircraft. While a slow shutter speed is required to show the turning blades of the propeller there is no limitation on jets. I cranked up the shutter speed as fast as I could, as jets would be moving faster than the prop driven airshow performers. I was mindful to try and keep a mid range aperture to hold some depth of field in the formation from one plane to another. My only worry was the gloss black paint scheme against the late after haze. Figuring the abundance of black airplane in the frame might induce overexposure I dialed in – 1/3 exposure compensation and got ready for the show.
The Patriots fly the show a lot like the military jet teams like the Navy’s Blue Angles and Air Force’s Thunderbirds. They have a main formation, the four-ship diamond which they call “the black diamond”, an opposing solo and then some two ship passes. Without six planes for the time being they can’t get into the large delta formation but they do opposing passes and four ship formations including diamond and echelon. Taking a page out of the Blue Angels book they have one plane streak across the show line in the “sneak pass” to startle the crowd while they are watching the other planes as they climb high into the sky.
Their performance lasted about 20 minutes or so and was quite good. While their L-39s lack the thundering din of an afterburner equipped jet they did amaze me as one jet appeared to come to a stop and tail slide through his smoke trail while another jet circled around him. Their formations were close and the L-39 in its black livery has a sinister look to it making for an impressive view in the air.
All to soon the airplanes pitched in to the landing pattern and headed back to the runway. The Legends Over Madera 2009 was over but I have my thousands of pictures to remember the acts by. I look forward to more airshows and the thundering roar of the airplanes and crowds.