Andrews Air Show 2017

Here in the Washington, D.C. area, we only get an air show every other year at Andrews Air Force Base (Joint Base Andrews) due to DoD budget cuts, which makes the biennial Andrews Air Show a must-see event. This year I went with just my son, and it was an amazing day! 

Air Show Snobs

Air Show Snobs

I missed getting the primo VIP Flight Line Club seats online by a hair, so I made sure to get to the show as early as possible and arrived at FedEx Field just after 8am when the busses started. There was no wait through security and we got right on a bus. As soon as we stepped out on the tarmac, I made a bee line for the VIP area, and luckily was still able to purchase the Flight Line Club seats for my son and I. What does that give you? An amazing view right at show center, plenty of seats and space to move around, picnic tables with umbrellas and shade to rest under along with some tents to really stay out of the sun or cool down if you need to, along with free food and drinks, and a bit mobile bathroom facility that's actually air-conditioned and clean! Actual admission to the show is FREE including transportation to and from Fed Ex field where you have to park, and it's fully open to the public. The box seats and flight line club stuff are all optional.

William is pure B-O-Y. His favorite aircraft is the A-10 Warthog, and it's the first one he wanted to see! BRRRRRRTTT!!!!! 

William is pure B-O-Y. His favorite aircraft is the A-10 Warthog, and it's the first one he wanted to see! BRRRRRRTTT!!!!! 

After scoring our club seat package on-site, we walked around and checked out all of the static display aircraft before the crowds picked up and it got too hot. By the time we were through all of that, it was 10:30am and time for the aerial demonstrations to start, so we went and checked in at our VIP Flight Line Club and enjoyed the rest of the day under a nice shaded umbrella.

William checking out the F-16C. We actually talked to the crew chief for a few minutes since there was hardly anybody there yet, and no huge line with other people waiting. Definitely pays to get to the show EARLY if you want to check out the static displays.

I finally got to check out the F-15E Strike Eagle. I'd actually never seen one of these in person either. It was hidden in the back at the 2015 show, and by the time I saw it we were already at the other end of the tarmac and on our way out.

The F-15 was my favorite aircraft growing up. Anybody else remember playing the Activision F-15 Strike Eagle II game for 286/386 era PCs? :) I had no idea how much bigger the F-15 was than the F-16! Wow!! That is one big aircraft!

I have to say, it was amazing seeing a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-29 Superfortress fly. I'd only ever seen these aircraft in museums before, but getting to see both of them fly, especially the B-29, was a pleasure! I can only imagine the time, dedication, and money that it takes to keep these old warbirds in the air, and the same goes for many of the other aircraft from this era. The heritage flight of the P-51 Mustang and the F-22 Raptor was beautiful, as was the F4U Corsair and P-51 Class of 1945 flights. 

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-29 Superfortress

P-51 Mustang and F-22 Raptor Heritage Flight


Class of 1945, P-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair

Shockwave racing a stunt plane! LOL

Having been to the previous shows in 2012 and 2015, I've seen the F-22 Raptor a few times, and this was my second time seeing the Air Force Thunderbirds flying F-16C Vipers (Fighting Falcons). They're amazing. That's all I can say. The Raptor is a fifth-generation air superiority fighter that still doesn't have a viable adversary, and it's been flying for nearly 20 years. And the amount of skill required to fly six F-16's in such tight formations and incredible maneuvers is mind-boggling. Best to see it in person to not just see, but hear and FEEL these things whizzing through the air.

F-22 Raptor

USAF Thunderbirds flying F-16's.

Photography Gear

  • Canon 7D Mark II with some extra batteries and an empty card.
  • Canon 100-400mm L II IS lens
  • Tokina 12-28mm ultra-wide
  • Fuji X100F

Last year I brought my Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 100-400mm L II lens, and then my old Canon Rebel T2i with an ultra-wide for the wider shots. I ended up taking a zillion photos with the 7D2/400 combo, and only a handful on the ultra-wide in comparison, so this year I decided to just go single body and switch lenses as needed. If you get to the show early like I did, you can just stick with the ultra-wide when you get there for all of the static display aircraft, and we were able to get through most of them before the aerial demonstrations started where you'll want the long lens, which minimized lens switching. After demonstrations, pilots taxi their aircraft past the show line, and my Fuji X100F in a side pockets proved to be the perfect solution for capturing these, without having to pull the 400 off of my 7D2 body. This setup worked very well, and didn't kill my back! 

The magic shutter speeds for the prop aircraft are....

  • Use about 1/60s for a Huey or other helicopters.
  • WWII military aircraft (P-51, F4U Corsair, etc) use about 1/250s
  • Performance stunt planes use higher RPM props and you can get away with 1/500s.

The trick with that is holding a long lens steady enough while tracking fast moving aircraft to freeze their motion and your own body and hand shake blur looking so far away, but using a shutter speed that's still slow enough to get some prop blur, so that it doesn't look like the engine has stalled out and the plane is going to drop out of the sky. The goal is to freeze the motion of everything in your frame, except the prop! Lol. My 3500 photos were easy to sort through, because most of them had one of the above types of blurring, and weren't usable photos. No complaints about the weather, but the lighting was a bit challenging, which binned plenty more photos.

For the jets, I parked it at about 1/2000s most of the time, or 1/4000s or faster for crossing maneuvers. For the head on crossings with closing speed up near 1000 mph, I set it to the max, 1/8000s, and still had a little blur!!! Lol!!! 😆

Other Camera Settings

I used the Canon 100-400mm L II lens in Stability Mode 1, and set the focus limiter to the far range, so that when you inevitably lose lock, the lens won't spend as much time hunting and will get back on target faster. I used Ai-Servo (continuous) autofocus mode, and mostly I used center group select AF. The 7D Mark II is capable of frame rates of up to 10 frames per second, but I tend not to use that mode too often, as it just results in an unbelievable number of photos to sort through. I have my normal continuous shooting frame rate set to 5 or 6 fps I think, but did crank it all the way up to the "machine gun" 10 fps mode for the Thunderbirds, and especially the high speed crossing shots.

The Fuji X100F

I used my Fuji X100F to take photos of various aircraft after they had landed and were taxiing by on the tarmac, but I still wanted to use a slow shutter speed to get some some prop blur, but it was bright out and engines were now at idle! A shutter speed of about 1/60s and the camera's minimum aperture of f/16 was too bright and resulting in overexposure, but no problem! The Fuji X100F has a built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, which I actually have programmed into one of the function buttons, and that let me get ground photos and still have some prop blur with a proper exposure. Viola! I missed hitting that function button in time for one photo that I really liked, which resulted in overexposure, but the Fuji sensor has so much dynamic range that it was still an acceptable shot and made it into the keeper pile. 

In line for the busses to take us back to FedEx Field. No parking allowed at Andrews AFB, so the show and busses are all FREE.

Skipped watching the last Thunderbirds maneuver to bee line for the busses, because I realized the wind direction had changed and...

...we wouldn't get to see them taxi so close right by the VIP Flight Line Club area. Well guess where they did taxi through? The opposite end of the tarmac near the bus lines! Probably saved us an hour of wait time getting on a bus with that maneuver right there. :)

All in all a great day! Fortunately it never got too hot, and we had plenty of shade and cold water to keep us hydrated. William enjoyed the show so much more this year in 2017 than he did in 2015, probably from army and war related iPad games!! Haha!

Prize Shot: The transonic F-22 Raptor pass. It's just stunning! This was right over our heads at a focal length of only 135mm, so my cheap 18-135mm kit lens could have gotten this shot! It helps to have top notch equipment, but you don't "need" to have exotic super telephoto lenses to get great photos!!! 

My son and I had a great day out, and it was another great air show. Looking forward to 2019!

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