October 2012 NAF El Centro Photocall by FC Members
Don’t be mislead by the number of photos posted so far in the Fence Check Forums after the October 24th NAF El Centro photocall – this was the best one yet!
The Naval Air Facility has hosted visits by Fence Check and other enthusiast groups since 2007. Attendees have usually been greeted by swarms of Navy Hornets and flocks of T-45 Goshawks, plus the odd training detachment or transient. This year, that was just the starting point. The number and variety of aircraft present raised the photocall bar to a new height.
Having no tactical aircraft assigned, NAF El Centro’s role is to support readiness training by the Navy and its allies. During the photocall, El Centro was the temporary home for 1366 military personnel from the British Army, Royal Air Force, US Navy, and US Marine Corps, training with Lynx, Merlin, Chinook, H-60, and H-46 helicopters, T-45s, EA-6Bs, and four models of the F/A-18 Hornet. Many of the units present were preparing for deployments; El Centro’s clear airspace, weapons ranges, and proximity to ground training facilities enabled them to achieve a high level of proficiency.
The photocall kicked off at 1 PM and continued until just before sunset, when the sun was lighting the underside of the wings of recovering aircraft. Attendees were exposed to a constant flow of VT-23 Goshawks and VFA-106 Hornets, in singles, pairs, and sections. Pairs of EA-6Bs came out later in the day to add variety and noise. Unfortunately, none of the visiting helicopters came past the end of runway 26 to say "Hi," but as compensation a Miramar-based KC-130J treated photographers to several practice approaches.
However, the star attraction this time was USMC Hornets. It’s not uncommon for F/A-18s from nearby Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to drop into El Centro for "gas’n’goes", but this photocall offered more exotic visitors: two MCAS Beaufort-based squadrons, VMFA-115 Silver Eagles and VMFA-533 Hawks completing a three-week training detachment. The payloads beneath their wings were exotic too. Each launch showed off a different air-to-ground loadout: mixes of Litening targeting pods, Zuni rockets, GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, and unguided 500-pounders, all marked with the yellow stripes of live weapons.
Just as the aviators who deploy to El Centro are honing their combat skills, the photocall was a chance for photographers to expand their abilities by practicing on fast-moving subjects at close range. What was it like? Let’s turn the keyboard over to some of the Fence Checkers who were there.
"I have been surrounded by aviation for most of my life, as both a spectator and a pilot, and the photocall at El Centro is about as spectacular an experience as I have enjoyed."
"I had high expectations based on previous opportunities to shoot on active bases. However, the intimacy and the proximity to the active runway at NAF El Centro was simply unbelievable. I really am impressed that they let airplane nerds like us have that kind of access. "
"I traveled all the way from Ohio just for the photocall. I'd watched some videos of past photocalls so I thought I knew what I was getting into. The videos didn't do justice to what it was actually like. It was just surreal being so close to these amazing aircraft, from the huge C-130 to the body-shaking, deafening burners of the Super Hornets."
"This photo is the first thing that comes to my mind when someone says ‘EC photocall:’ Hornets smoking tires on the bounce. FCLPs in your face!"
"Probably, one of my best memories is of NOT taking a picture, but instead holstering both cameras and simply soaking it all in, as T-45s, F/A-18s, and EA-6s did touch-and-goes."
"The Herk was shot at 18mm! I swear his wing tip was right over our heads. Where else can you get that experience than at NAFEC?"
"The C-130 was largest aircraft I have encountered on a photocall, and shooting it at close range was an experience I won't forget. The Hornets shake your insides to pieces, while the Herk tries literally to blow you away!"
"The image that everyone who comes to El Centro for a photocall has in their heads, and wants their own version of, is a rear-quarter shot of an F/A-18 rolling in full burner. The first time you try, you discover it’s harder than it looks! The blast from the exhaust pushes back as you pan, and you sometimes end up with the front half of the jet missing."
"I was completely blown away (almost literally) by the takeoffs. Feeling the afterburners deep in my chest as the F/A-18's departed at such close proximity, and then having the heat and smell of burnt rubber and jet fuel blown towards me was an incredible rush. What a thrill!!"
"It's hard to tell my friends what the feeling is like when an F/A-18 flies past you with full afterburner. Every single part of your body is vibrating – and then you feel the heat! WOW!!"
"I will never forget how my body felt the second a Super Hornet passed me and the burners were exposed. It's something words truly can't describe. The noise was also unbelievable, even with earphones in and an ear protection headset over top."
"It took me a long time to adjust to the speed of panning at such an extremely close range. I found myself behind on a lot of my early pictures. It’s kind of like when a baseball batter is expecting a change-up and gets served a fast ball. As the day progressed, my timing was better and the photos reflect that."
"With this being my first photocall I found at first I was zooming out too much when aircraft went by. I learned not to zoom out as fast and let them fill the frame instead."
"I am happy that I moved up and down the 2000 feet that we were given to work with, as I have a number of different angles of everything that was going on."
"For me the best part of this last photocall was being able to stay that bit later than usual, allowing the golden light to come in to play. Couple that with my first time photographing the Silver Eagles, with the most bad-ass live loadout of the day, and you have one of my favorite images of the event."
"I was speechless and grateful to have been permitted such a great experience by NAF El Centro. I'll be looking forward to having another opportunity for a photocall."
"This was my second time by the runway and it was as good as the first! I think that all who attended owe a debt of gratitude to the Public Affairs Office and staff at El Centro. The opportunities they provided to the groups were incredible."
"A big "thank you!" to all involved in organizing a such perfect El Centro photocall. A special thanks to Michelle for allowing me the first taste of this ‘smoking, bad to the bone’ El Centro photocall."
Fence Check owes an enormous debt of gratitude, yet again, to the men and women of NAF El Centro, for allowing us to photograph their facility’s vital mission from minimum range. Thanks to:
- Capt Devon Jones, Commanding Officer, NAF El Centro
- Ms. Michelle Dee, Public Affairs Officer
- Mr. Kristopher Haugh, Deputy Public Affairs Officer
- MC1 William Larned, Navy Region Southwest
- AC2 Nicholas Sanchez
- MA3 Jordan Reckmann
- MASN Oronde Vassell