Collings Bombers at Moffett

Photo Gallery

As part of the 2009 Wings of Freedom Tour, the Collings Foundation B-17, B-24, and P-51 spent a week at Moffett Field (Sunnyvale, CA) giving tours and rides. The wonderful thing about the Moffett field layout is that it allows a photographer (or anyone else for that matter) to get right underneath the planes as they make their landing approach. It's an amazing experience to have a 4 engined WWII bomber fly less than 50ft directly overhead!

It was at Moffett that my trusty D200 workhorse of a camera basically broke down. Nikon rates the D200 for 100,000 shutter activations, and I had 108,000. Nothing to complain about I guess, but I was hoping to match some other lucky users who've reported half a million or more activations without any problem. So if anyone out there wants to help out with the new camera fund, I wouldn't mind! :-)
Nikon D200 (RIP), D50, w/ 18-105mm and 70-300mm VR lens. - Bernard Zee

B-17 Flying Fortress

So once again this year, I'm hanging about Moffett field trying to catch a few seconds of the bombers as they make their landing approach. However, I just wasn't having the luck at first. Meetings at work meant I couldn't linger in the morning, or I got there a little too late in the afternoon and missed all the flying. It was enough to make me go bonkers!

But, persistance does pay off (sometimes), and I'm finally able to get some shots I was happy with. Trying something different this year - instead of close ups during landing, I opted for an wide angle but intimate perspective. There are some more shots of the B-17G in flight further down.
Not the cleanest sample (a lot of background road noises), but here's a taste of the B-17 as it passes overhead on the way to landing.

On Saturday, I took my daughter in to have a closer look at the planes. Was initially just going to shoot the landings, but afterwards figured we should go ahead and pony up the entrance fee to get that hands on experience. After all, it's going towards a good cause anyway (keeping these birds in the air)!
Here's a hint though, get there early (or towards the end of the day), for less crowds and a better experience!

The Collings Foundation B-17G sports the paint scheme of 'Nine 0 Nine'. Nine 0 Nine lead quite the charmed life - flying 140 missions without the loss of an air crew, or ever having to abort!

Here's showing the bomb bay of the B-17.

This is the navigator and bombardier's position - in the nose of the plane.

B-17's pilot seat. Lots of knobs, levers, and dials for a WWII plane!

This is the view from the top turret machine gun position. Visibility seemed so limited, I wonder how the gunners could possibly defend the aircraft from there!

Now I've been inside the B-17 before, but I don't remember it being so cramped! I must have put on some weight or something! With the plane stationary on the ground, I had a difficult time moving about without banging myself or my cameras. My daughter is pretty slim, and she barely fits in there - she also banged her head while moving about!

I have no idea how they managed to film the movie 'Memphis Belle'... there really just isn't a lot of room to work with in the plane.

The ball turret position. When rotated a certain way, the gunner can climb in and out of the turret from inside the plane. Looks like a very lonely and cold place to be.

One of the 2 waist gunner positions.

One of the thirteen 0.50 cal machine guns the B-17G carries.

External view of the ball turret.

Good thing we got there early, soon after we worked our way through the plane, a long line formed outside!

Along with the B-24, the B-17 symbolized American air power over Europe in WWII.

A rear view of the B-17.

A closeup of the twin 0.50 cal tail guns.

An artsy shot of the B-17.

Later on, they popped the hatch to the ball turret, and we got to have a closer look... The gunner sits down sort of in a fetal position, with his feet up on those stirrup looking things on either side of the round window.

You can see the turret controls and the gun sight in this shot. The ball turret position is quite critical, as it helps protect the bombers from fighters coming up from underneath it.

Looking in on the bomb bay from outside the plane.

Underneath the B-17.

People there had a chance to chat with and listen to stories by WWII bomber veterans - whose ranks are thinning as time marches on.

External view of the waist gun.

Always a joy to see the magnificent Flying Fortress. Even though the Collings Foundation visit was not well publicized, there were a surprising number of people who found their way on-base after noticing them flying about.

Here's the Nine 0 Nine again, on landing approach.

Beautiful blue skies and wispy white clouds help to frame this shot - Probably the most picturesque B-17 shot I got in this series!

Here's a more head-on view, and a tighter zoom.

Another keeper! I really like this one.

Just to complete the pass, here's the rear view.

Looks like he's coming RIGHT AT YOU! Yes, I was directly in line for this landing, and it was fantastic as he bloated out the sky overhead! Even my Daughter thought it was cool (which is saying something!).

B-24 Liberator

Compared to the B-17, the B-24 Liberator was a more modern design which could go faster and further. However, due to the light weight construction, the B-24 could not absorb as much damage as the B-17. Hence the general crew preference for the B-17.

The Collings Foundation's B-24J Witchcraft is one of 2 flying B-24s left (some would say, the only 'True' B-24), and the only one with a chin turret! This B-24 is an awesome looking plane!
Here's a bit of the B-24 as it passes overhead on its landing approach.

The kids loved playing in and around the big bombers.

This is an interior view of the B-24 looking towards the back.

The ball turret position is not open to guest - especially during flight! However, there was an exception made some time ago, as a Youtube video shows the view from inside the fully functional turret while in flight. Pretty awesome view!

Like the B-17, the B-24 was cramped on the inside - but perhaps a little less so.

The B-24 co-pilot's position

Hey, how did she get to be pilot? :-)

Yeah, but the gun's not loaded! Actually, it's just a replica.

External view of the B-24's cockpit.

An odd but interesting juxtoposition of my reflection, my daughter, and someone else's rear (unfortunately), in the B-24's bombardier station in the nose of the B-24.

Chin turret of 'Witchcraft'.

An underwing view of the B-24.

After a bit, lines for the B-24 got long too! Remember, get there early!

An artsy view of the B-24 tail guns.

Witchcraft flew an amazing 130 missions!

A close up of the B-24's Pratt & Whitney 1830 Turbosupercharged radial engine. Me and my daughter's tiny reflections can be seen in the mirrored hub.

Showing the chin turret and bombardier positions from outside.

I was very pleased with this shot of the B-24 coming in for a landing, practically filling the entire frame overhead. It's the best one of the series!

Following him as he passes, the huge hangers of moffett field, along with the B-17 on the side can be seen.

An almost head-on approach of Witchcraft, with beautiful skies behind it.

The long slender wings of the B-24 can be seen here, from a view almost directly below.

P-51 Mustang

Collings Foundation also brought out their P-51C 'Betty Jane' for 'flight training'.

It really is flight training, as the plane has dual controls!

It may seem expensive, but if you can afford it - go for it!

AN-124 Antonov Heavy Transport

This is of course, not the Antonov, but rather a P-3 Orion - which used to regularly fly out of Moffett on anti-submarine patrols.

Out of the blue, an Antonov An-124 'Condor' comes in for a landing! I was just sitting there twiddling my thumbs waiting for the Collings birds to get rolling, and my jaw just about dropped! Grabbed my camera in time, and got some shots of it!

I believe NASA contracts the Antonov to help haul bulky cargo. Here's the Condor taking a knee to help ease the load onboard.

As the sign says, you can fly in one of these historical planes for just a small donation! Maybe after the kids get out of college...

BZ Chino 2009 Gallery Index