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As a team of 9 photographers and 1 videographer we are well known in the world of aviation photographers for the many aerial photomissions we fly each year in Europe. Most are in cooperation with the big airshows we have over here, and on occasion we organize our own private events as well. We have been lucky to fly with a ton of warbirds, civilian airshow acts, airliners, all of the demo jets and demo teams and 60+ Air Forces. Somewhere in the second half of the 2023 season we will celebrate the milestone of achieving 2000! safe and successful aerial photoflights.

For many years the team has been a member of the EAC ( European Airshow Council ) and during their annual airshow convention ( similar to the ICAS conventions in the US ) we established longtime friendships with several American and Canadian ICAS members who have attended the European convention as well. For many years in a row, they have told us to come over to North America as the concept we have is non existent with them. I’ve held that invitation off for at least five years in a row with the excuse that “I don’t know anybody in the US airshow industry” ( that turned out to be very untrue ) and “due to the huge distances we can never fly viable projects”.

After seeing so many inspiring videos of Oshkosh last summer I decided that the moment had arrived. If I would not at least try it, maybe I become old and grumpy and regret and whine in the end for never actually have done it. So I called two of our longtime friends from North America – Canadian airshow announcer Ric Peterson and ICAS President John Cudahy – asking them some guidance and advice. I will never forget that reply, and I really don’t believe in coincidence but both their replies were along the lines “oh what a nice coincidence, we were just talking about the Aviation PhotoCrew last weekend in Oshkosh and how good you guys would do over here…..” How is that for a start!! Larry Schleser (ACC/A3TA Aerial Events), another longtime friend also provided his full support and introductions to the US airshow industry, and so the moment had arrived to…well actually get started.

In October 2022 crewmember Giel and myself visited all of the US Skyvan operators across the US to get to know them in person and make sure they could provide us a Skyvan photoship capable of flying the same type of photomission that has made us so famous in Europe. In just seven days we had multiple meetings in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Orlando. As a second step I attended with crewmember Peter the ICAS convention in Las Vegas last December. Many nice surprises for us, as the ‘new’ airshow territory opened up for us. We met our media partners Larry Grace ( International Society for Aviation Photography, ICAS member ) and Ricardo von Puttkamer ( Aviation PhotoJournal, ICAS member ) for the first time in person. And it turned out that a LOT of ICAS delegates already knew really well who we were.

Fast forward to March 2023, and we are super excited to fly out to Arizona for two days of testflights with Skydive Arizona providing the Skyvan photoship. Main purpose is not to have a ton of aircraft joining up on us, but to see how procedures work and if they are comparable to our concept in Europe. We had great support in advance from the FAA, and would focus on two days of flying.

From the Aviation PhotoCrew we had Santi, Tom, Michael, Geert, videographer Max and myself participating, and we were happy to invite Ricardo von Puttkamer and Larry Grace to join us. We also gave an invitation to Kedar Karmarkar, as he was the first US based photographer ever to fly out to Europe and join us in an airshow project….looong time ago. With a USAF photographer from Davis Monthan included, our team was complete!

Day 1, March 22:

Well…a few challenges….I know Arizona from all the pictures on google with a steal blue sky and unlimited visibility, and enjoyable warm weather. None of that was present, and the day before our arrival it was actually raining….in the desert!! At best it would be clouded, but as an unexpected result we would have a backdrop of the desert in bloom with orange and yellow flowers plus a lot of green in the scenery.

The first reality check came very soon. When we fly with USAF assets ( not requested for the testflights ) it is normal we run a lengthy approval process well in advance, it has brought us over the years a wide range of super join-ups with F-15C/D/E, Osprey, KC-135, F-35, KC-135 etc. We were planning to fly with 10! F-35s from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Norwegian Air Force, Italian Air Force and Danish Air Force ( they would have brought out all 6 of their jets stationed at Luke AFB ) Everything was set for an amazing long first flight, but just two days prior to the flight we all found out that military jets operating from a USAF airbase also need an approval from the USAF. Being realistic we knew that the required signatures would not come in time…..but *spoiler alert* , we will be back later this year in Arizona and those F-35 pilots might be waiting for us!

Fortunately civilian contractors did not need the same high level of approval, and so we were super happy to learn that our longtime friends of Top Aces definitely would make our day by presenting us one of the coolest looking badass F-16s out there. They kept the paint scheme from the original military operator ( the Israeli Air Force ) and added the ‘red star’ to become the aggressor as they fly in this role for their clients.

Well, screw that bad weather, high ISO is no problem on modern cameras and we took to the skies to meet with ‘Billy Bob’ showing up behind the Skyvan tack sharp on time. Man, that pilot can fly the F-16 at a slow speed!!! We were flying in the Kitt Peak/Sells military airspace, superb background, and were treated with 35 minutes of every possible photo angle we could have wished for. Fantastic photo and video results, and if you want another *Spoiler* ….I think we gonna meet more Top Aces jet power this year!!!

Another part of our test was to overfly a landmark to determine ideal elevation and speed if we aim to include something cool on the ground ( as we want to do for both the Abbotsford airshow in Canada and the Pacific Airshow in the US later this season ) Nobody complained we choose the Marana airpark with as targets the two stored Boeing 747SP, nailed it!

Day 2, March 23:

For our second day we would operate the Skyvan photoship out of Ryan airport, as it was the ideal location close to the airspace provided to us by FAA and ATC for the civilian participants, as well as the “Fuzzy’ area close to the Mexican border for our military join-up. We were happy and privileged to work with the CAF SoCal Wing for our first US warbird encounter. ‘Donut’ would fly the F6F Hellcat for us, and ‘Lips’ would present the Zero, a magnificent combination that we don’t have in Europe. Briefing was made on the ground face to face, and off we went.

Experience #1: even with a blue sky peeping through the clouds there was still a lot of shadow areas, more than we had hoped not to be there.
Experience #2: are we really flying in Arizona in the desert?? It was cold in the Skyvan sitting so close by the open ramp, I mean for real freaking cold!! Maybe we suffered a bit too much to get the shots…or next time we’ll bring the winter jacket.
Experience #3: now we have done close to 2000 photomissions….and this one enters our top 10 rightaway for most bumpy ride! What the f….?? the desert of Arizona is for sure full of surprises, there goes the ‘full prop’ pictures. I think nobody dared to go under 1/200s for shutter speed.

But all whining aside, what a great start of the photomission, expertly flown in a solo-2-ship-solo presentation. Of course we have great photos and certainly we will see more warbird action in our future flights.

“good morning aviation photographers, are you ready?” Our own private ‘Top Gun’ moment came to us in the shape of the Growlers legacy team from the US NAVY. Little bummer that their CAG bird broke down ( and it had all of their the GoPros installed ), but it really was like in the movie for us: similar backdrop and what a beast that F-18G is, I only noticed smiling photographers around me. It must have been also ‘Top Gun’ flying for ‘Handy’ and his crew, as the Skyvan was not able to provide the necessary speed for the 2-ship to hang on to us. But would any of you complain if you get the Growlers one by one on both side of the photoship? Keep an eye on the Growler Ball 2023 video, yep we gonna be in there with footage from our young videographer Max. And round 2 coming up in Abbotsford guys!!

The next join-up on the list would be the 2-ship of the shiny metal T-33s, filled with smoke and taken off from Davis-Monthan especially for the photoflights. “would be” became “would have been” after 20 minutes of holding, as on the ground something typical happened on a busy airshow arrivals day…their bowser did not arrive on time. Unexpected situations are part of any big airshow operation, and so Round 2 for ‘Wired’ & his friends will be the Pacific Airshow later this year.

On the way back to Ryan airport we had reason to celebrate: we have flown in 14 photoflight seasons with nearly every jet type flying in Europe, so the chance to add a new jet type to our long list is definitely a big round of applause. That goes to ‘Lark’ in his Subsonic MiniJet, but what an airshow treat that is, and with smoke!! Super cool and very happy we got it. For sure it’s the smallest jet powered aircraft we know is flying in North America. Also for Lark we have a round 2 waiting at the Pacific airshow!

Our final participant in the photoflight was famous Red Bull pilot Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540, that must bring us the full propeller photo surrounded by smoke and a very shiny sexy aerobatic aircraft. Only….Kirby did not show up, and the briefing was completed only a few hours prior. On the ground I realized I also earned my first asskicking in the US, as I provided Kirby with the wrong frequency for the join up…. Auch, sorry Kirby, but you are now our primary target for the Pacific airshow.

As a test our two days in the air were a huge success. Test means for sure you don’t get everything we had planned, but flying a Skyvan photoship in the US brought us a ton of useful feedback to progress with our next steps. There was already an extensive meeting with the FAA regarding our set up and procedures, we will have to amend the AOC from any Skyvan flying for us to include our system of operation and obtain FAA and transport Canada approval. We are very well on the way to have the Skyvan photoship fully ready for our next ‘big’ adventure in North America, the Abbotsford International Airshow near Vancouver, Canada where we will fly for three full days and an amazing list of join-ups. Inside we will have the same photographers lay-out, communication and safety features as we use in Europe. Counting the days till August!!

Photowise we were able to use all the lenses in the range from 24mm to 400mm, high ISO on the first day, and too high shutterspeeds on the second day ;)
The rest of our short stay in Arizona was filled with things aviation photographers do when they have some time to spend: drop by with Gosshawk Unlimited to see the FW190 progress, visit the Davis Monthan boneyard, catch a couple A-10s in the landing, walk around in the PIMA museum, and stand at the fence in Mesa in glorious sunshine for the T-38 arrival. Life is not too boring in the Aviation PhotoCrew!

But that weather better be up level next time we come to Arizona, because we have some plans for later this year….some exotic jetfighter plans. Are you joining us? The Aviation PhotoCrew will fly two ‘big, all arrivals’ projects in North America this season:
- Abbotsford international Airshow, Canada. Photomissions will be flown on August 8,9 & 10
- Pacific Airshow, USA. Photomissions will be flown on September 27 & 28,with 29 as ‘tbc’

Both projects are open to other photographers and can be booked now. The line-up of subject aircraft/helicopters is expected to have a lot of military, civilian acts, aerobatic teams and warbirds.

In October they will return to Arizona for another round of testflights and fast jet action. Monday October 2 and Tuesday October 3 are the dates for these flights with a surprising catch and a possible knock-out line up. More info to come.

If you like to join us on one of our aerial adventures, certainly check out the other pages on our website, or to subscribe to our free newsletter to stay updated.


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