There are good aviation photographers and there are great aviation photographers. At Vintage Wings of Canada we’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best - Eric Dumigan, John McQuarrie, Seth Goltzer, Peter Handley and Richard Allnutt to name a few. In the months ahead we will be profiling all of them on our website. There are many who think that all it takes is a seat on a B-25 and a behemoth camera to guarantee great images. This may guarantee good images, but not great ones.
It takes the talent and creative spirit of someone like Richard Allnutt combined with a passion for the flying machine and its place in history to produce the great images - images that evoke emotions, make us linger on the details and put us there in the “delerious burning blue” as a Grumman Wildcat thunders past - on its way to some reckless fight over the Pacific. By virtue of his British birth, Allnutt was imbued with genetic passion for vintage aircraft and in particular fighting warbirds. A professional shooter now living in the Washington DC area, Allnutt chases the ultimate-air-to air shot like a hunter stalks big game - with persistance and patience.
Here are just a few of his amazing photographs and his notes about the time and place they were taken.
Lead Photo: I had a pretty exciting experience at the MAPS air show in Akron, Ohio in 2005. We got up with five other warbirds: a Wildcat, Dauntless, Kate replica, Zero replica and a PBY Catalina. The weather was really murky, so we climbed all the way to 3,500 meters to do the shoot. It was bloody cold in the back of "Panchito"! The wind really rushes through when the waist hatch, and the tail turret are removed from the aircraft. But what a view! Steve Craig brought his beautiful F4F-3 Wildcat in for some stunning photographic opportunities. This aircraft is the only airworthy, non-folding wing Wildcat. It is one of the few aircraft raised from Lake Michigan to make it into private hands.
Joining us for the trip out to Thunder Over Michigan last year were the father-son team of Bob and Chris Baranaskas flying a P-40 Kittyhawk and P-51 Mustang. Here Chris brings his father's Mustang close in to "Panchito" for some air-to-air. Chris is an exceptional pilot, flying formation like a pro. He's also very young, perhaps the youngest active Mustang pilot out there. This shot was pretty tough to get. A full prop arc is every air-to-air photographer's dream, but hard to achieve in sharp focus, since shutter speeds are usually so slow (1/50th to 1/25th sec) that camera shake blurs the image. I was very fortunate on this one. It's not perfect, but still pretty sharp. I wish that the background had been more interesting though.
This is Larry Kelley's Cessna UC-78 Bobcat after a heavy rain shower at the 2003 Georgetown Fly In. It is a delightful aircraft that Larry restored himself more than a decade ago. Sadly another pilot wrecked the aircraft at Oshkosh a few years ago. It is now under very slow rebuild at Larry Kelley's base in Georgetown, Delaware. UC-78's were known as Cranes in Canadian service. On a technical note; I often use a circular polarizer filter for shots like these. It really helps pull out the reflections in the water.
I was fortunate to fly out to the 2007 Thunder Over Michigan airshow in a mass formation of five B-25 bombers, two P-47's, a P-40 and a P-51. It was one of those serendipitous moments where pilots decide to make some fun out of a long journey. We all took off from separate airfields, and met up at specific points along the way before arriving en-masse at Ypsilanti. It was quite an adventure, and most of the aircraft took turns coming up behind us in "Panchito" to have their photographs taken. The two P-47D's came in very close. Here you can see Terry Rush flying "No Guts, No Glory" with Dan Dameo in "Jacky's Revenge". They were so close at times that it felt like I could feel the breeze from their propellers!
A mechanic works on the starboard inner engine of former US Air Force Lockheed VC-121A Constellation 48-609 at the 2003 Thunder Over Michigan air show. This aircraft was a regular performer on the show circuit during the 80's and 90's and known unofficially as the "MATS Connie". Sadly this is no longer the case. It was bought by Pratt & Whitney in 2005 and donated to Korean Airlines. They placed it on outdoor static display in 1950's vintage Air Korea markings at their training school in Jeju Island, Korea.
There was a torrential thundershower just before sunset on arrivals day during the 2003 Thunder Over Michigan air show. Water pooled over a foot deep in places. I went out looking for interesting images and caught the CAF's Helldiver and Dr. Mike Schloss's AD-4 Skyraider in this extraordinary setting.
Five Corsairs showed up for the Corsairs Over Connecticut air show in June 2005. We managed to get three of them to join us for an air-to-air sortie in Larry Kelley's wonderful B-25J "Panchito". Larry is an expert formation pilot, and has been incredibly generous with flying opportunities to me, and many other photographers over the years. Paul Bowen, the world-renowned aviation photographer, was shooting from "Panchito's" tail during this flight. I was in the waist position. It was a real privilege for me to meet and work alongside him that day. It was also a dream to photograph these Corsairs too, as I have a close, personal connection to this aircraft type.
The BBC was making a documentary on the Battle of Midway during 2005. A film crew turned up at the MAPS show that summer to capture images of re-enactors in period clothing working on the CAF's Douglas SBD Dauntless. The lighting conditions were quite dramatic, as this image shows. It almost feels like this photograph could have been taken from the deck of an aircraft carrier in WWII. I was very grateful to be able to piggy-back on the BBC shoot. Later, we went up for some air-to-air with the Dauntless by itself.
I was lucky to be aboard "Panchito" when a BBC crew went up to shoot some film of the CAF's SBD for their Battle of Midway documentary. Larry Kelley flew his aircraft to perfection, but for some reason the SBD never formed up properly for the BBC cinematographer in the waist position. I was lying down on my belly in the tail turret though, looking out through the gaping hole where the guns used to be. It was a perfect view. I told the BBC cinematographer this before we took off, but he ignored my advice sadly, and didn't even roll his camera as the SBD never came into his line of sight. Communications between aircraft in flight can be a very difficult thing for a photographer. Usually the wind noise from the open hatches prevents clear discussion. It is essential, for many reasons, to have a clear pre-flight briefing to get the shots lined up properly and safely. Larry always gives thorough briefings, but sometimes things don't go according to plan.
Jerry Yagen has the great fortune of owning and flying a huge collection of vintage aircraft. He has over sixty, most of which are either airworthy, or being rebuilt to fly. He has had a major impact on the restoration of very rare aircraft. These photographs show him flying his Spitfire Mk.IX through broken clouds over the Delaware countryside. It was a perfect day for photography. This particular Spitfire, MJ730, is a WWII combat veteran with almost 100 bomber escort missions to its credit. It flew with 417 Squadron, RCAF. Alex Henshaw, the famous pre-war aviator and Supermarine test pilot, took it up for its first flight on December 10th, 1943.
We had to make a refueling stop in Akron, Ohio during the group flight out to Thunder Over Michigan last year. B-25 "Miss Hap" and B-25J "Take Off Time" formed up quickly after departure, allowing this interesting shot of them over the Akron suburbs. "Miss Hap" is the oldest Mitchell in existence, and was General Hap Arnold's personal transport during WWII. It is now owned by the American Airpower Museum in Long Island, New York. "Take Off Time" is the former "Green Dragon", and sports new nose art by Gary Velasco for its new owner, Tom Duffy.
Walt Ohlerich flies his SNJ-5 over the Delaware countryside. Walt, a US Navy Korean War veteran, is one of the kindest, most decent men you could ever meet. He is an exceptional pilot and has been instrumental in the preservation of flying vintage military aircraft. He is also the founding member of the EAA's Warbirds of America. One story he told me from his Navy days has always stuck with me though. He was flying a Grumman F9F, a first generation jet fighter, when the engine blew up. The aircraft came completely apart. Somehow Walt was able to eject from the cockpit as it tumbled, end-over-end, to the sea below!
We went for a small air-to-air sortie after the rain cleared up at the 2003 Georgetown Fly In. I was in the tail of Larry Kelley's B-25J "Panchito", and we were in formation with a couple of Texans and a pair of aircraft from Jerry Yagen's fleet, including this TBM Avenger. The cloud formations during this shoot were astonishing. Obie O'brien was flying the Avenger this day. He's an amazing pilot, and a real delight to chat with. He flew Corsairs with the US Navy during the Korean War.
This is Charlie Clements' PBY-5A Catalina. We were flying over Akron at the time, and the "Black Cat" was moving all over the sky. It was the one time I've been a little uncomfortable when flying in formation.
This was the very first air-to-air photograph that I ever took. It was during the 2003 FlightFest Ottawa at Carp. John Baert organized the shoot; somehow getting the pilot of a CF-118 Hornet, and Mike Potter to go for a flight around the city in formation with us in Larry Kelley's B-25J "Panchito". I had been attending the airshow as part of "Panchito's" crew, but was allowed to ride in the tail of the old bomber, while John sat in the waist. It was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had. Nothing can prepare you for what the earth looks like from above when you are looking at it without any barriers in the way. It is so bright and clear. There is just you and the open sky.... and then a Spitfire appeared. I literally had tears in my eyes. I have nothing but profound gratitude to Mike and Larry for that day (and others since). It marked a major turning point in both my career, and my life.
It was Richard Allnutt’s love of vintage aircraft that brought him to the attention of the crew of B-25 “Panchito”. He soon became part of the ground crew and eventually the opportunity came to sit in the tail gunner’s position and employ his professional skills as a photographer. The results guaranteed him many more rides in the world’s best known air-to-air flying tri-pod - the B-25 Mitchell. With these stunning photographs now banked in his portfolio, he is likely to find many pilots who will gladly slide into formation in front of his lens.