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Article and Photography by Britt Dietz | Published on April 29, 2011
 After the last aircraft took to the skies, it was just a matter of time before the announcement came on saying the flight deck was open for anyone to come watch the show. I was ready to go, so as soon as the announcement came, I bolted out onto the flight deck. I was surprised to already see a ton of flight crew already lining the sides grabbing spots to watch the show, but I was still able to get the spot I wanted, as per my sponsor's recommendation for the best views as he'd just seen a practice show happen before the carrier pulled into Pearl Harbor. Flight deck crew take a moment to sit down and enjoy the Air Power Demonstration Airshow onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzFlight deck crew take a moment to sit down and enjoy the Air Power Demonstration Airshow onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz I found my spot to the port side of the island, all the way to the edge of the deck just above the port side catwalk. The deck was almost instantly super crowded with people, so it was a good idea we got out there right away. I looked up at Vulture's Row, and found them to be beyond packed, with no room to breath. Good time we hadn't been stuck up there anyway. I found myself with a bit of room around me funny enough, probably because I was the only one on the ship with a huge white telephoto lens and two cameras around his neck. At this point, the Carrier was slowing down to just about a full stop after having sped up for the departure of the show aircraft. I checked all my gear and double checked it; I was ready for this airshow as I ever would be. Once everyone was settled and in their spots for the show, the 5MC came on, announcing only to the flight deck, with the announcer for the airshow. Thankfully, I had my sponsor there to also alert me to what would be happening and where I needed to be ready for. The back of the Carrier, from the very last landing wire to the aft of the ship, was closed off and blocked by security and tow tug vehicles as they'd be using that back area for helicopter demonstrations. Thankfully my position meant that I could also spin around and shoot those demos going on, but most of the show would be on the port side of the ship. Another thankful thing was the fact that they had positioned the Carrier so the sun was behind us, which is something I wish many airshow airfields could do! After a brief rundown of what to expect, it was time for the Air Power Demo to begin!

 The first sign of activity was two MH-60S Knighthawks in the distance zipping around in a pattern, probably keeping a close eye on things and people. They then came around in front of us and started to drop smoke canisters into the ocean over the course of what was probably a mile or two, spaced equally giving the other airshow acts a line of sight of where they can perform. It was a bit further away than I had thought they'd be, so I realized right away any shot of the aircraft performing live ordinance demos would end up being at the full range of my 100-400mm telephoto lens. A Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' drops two 500 pound BLU-111 bombs to open the Tiger Cruise 2011 Air Power Demo onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzA Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' drops two 500 pound BLU-111 bombs to open the Tiger Cruise 2011 Air Power Demo onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz The announcer stated that the first act would be a live ordinance demo of two F/A-18 Super Hornet bomb passes. It took a while for the first F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' to appear, but it went from a high up dot to taking that all too familiar shape of an F/A-18. As the F/A-18 came in front a high up and inverted (upside-down) position, it rolled out of the inverted angle and once flying normal with a steep dive still, it pulled up and released two 500 pound BLU-111 bombs while shooting flares. You could clearly see the bombs disengage from the F/A-18 and fall with the same speed and momentum as the Super Hornet. Following the bomb down to the water, it impacted without any flame, but a dark debris filled explosion sending water incredibly high into the air. The shockwave and sound took a second to get to us, and wasn't nearly as powerful as I thought it'd be, but the shockwave still reverberated in your stomach. If anything, the mock explosions I see each year at the MCAS Miramar Airshow in San Diego had more of a pop than the real deal demonstrated here. While the shockwave wasn't as powerful as I thought, the towering water columns that were shot into the air from the bombs were very impressive, and hung in the air for some time. There wasn't really any smoke, just dark mist and white water. Not too long after the mist was settling from the first Super Hornet's run, another F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 roared in doing the same maneuver, and dropping two more 500 pounders. Once again, the water show up into the air and the Super Hornet roared out of the area launching flares as it departed. It was pretty darn exciting being out there at that moment, and I was as giddy as a kid in a candy store. Except my candy was supersonic aircraft dropping live bombs.

Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Super Hornet  Bombing  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18E Hornet   &  EA-6B Prowler - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 Following the live ordinance display, it was time for the first fly-bys, and it took a little bit for the two dots to appear in the distance, but once they got closer I saw it was a F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-137 'Kestrels' refueling a EA-6B Prowler from VAQ-131 'Lancers'. Carrying three extended fuel tanks under the Super Hornet, this updated fighter can actually refuel other fighters without the need for large land based refueling aircraft that are based from airliner designs. The flyby was quick, but pretty close to the Carrier. Out in the middle of the pacific and on a US Navy warship, the FAA has no say at how close the aircraft can get to the ship, how loud they could be, or fast they can go; another reason this show was really special. Machine Gun Rounds from a VFA-151 'Vigilantes' Boeing F/A-18C Hornet strike the Pacific Ocean water in a varied pattern from the Hornet's 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled gatling cannon. - Photo by Britt DietzMachine Gun Rounds from a VFA-151 'Vigilantes' Boeing F/A-18C Hornet strike the Pacific Ocean water in a varied pattern from the Hornet's 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled gatling cannon. - Photo by Britt Dietz Following the nice pass of the two refueling aircraft, it was time for another round of live ordinance demonstrations, this time the powerful Vulcan canons on the older model F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-151 'Vigilantes'. The first Hornet came in from very high up on a very steep downward angle of attack, but because of the distance from the ship, I was only able to see what took place as the Hornet fired through my camera's telephoto. The first thing you see is little black puffs of smoke from the nose of the Hornet where the 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled gatling cannon is located causing what looks like a slightly dark trail of smoke behind the Hornet. That is followed by a whirling buzz noise that is quite loud with the sound having a bit of a delay, and then all of this followed by little white explosions of water in a nice long pattern. It's as if an invisible person is running across the top of the water creating splashes with each step, just like you see in the movies and in flight simulator games. The Hornet then pulled up and headed out of the area just as another F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-151 came in along that steep angle firing on that white smoke that the Knighthawks had dropped at the start of the show. After the second Hornet departed the area and disappeared in the distance, it was time for a tactical dogfight demonstration with two F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-137 'Kestrels'. Performing some pretty sharp angle banks and whipping maneuvers, these two Super Hornets danced along in the sky as the lead Super Hornet ignited flares trying to trick and heat seeking system that could lock onto the Super Hornet. As the Super Hornets played a choreographed number in the sky, they kept pulling vapor trails on the various surfaces of the aircraft due to the increased air disruption from the very high stress maneuvers. It was also a bit of an early demonstration to the maneuvering capabilities of the Super Hornet in a dogfight environment, sadly something that will probably never happen in this age of 'fire and forget' missiles.

Boeing F/A-18C Hornet  Strafing  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18E Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 Next up was the last live ordinance demonstration of the show, and out with a bang (no pun intended) it was time for the much talked about 'wall of water' demo. Two F/A-18C Hornets from VFA-34 'Blue Blasters' appeared in very tight formation up high and with a somewhat steep angle of attack, they left off flares indicating they were starting the bomb run. At least 3-4 500 pound bombs were released from each Hornet in nicely spaced out timing occasionally also deploying another flare. Each bomb, upon being released, opened little mechanical 'air brakes' to slow down their descent and help achieve precise timing on each bomb. It only lasted a few seconds, but each bomb made its way down to the water and promptly exploded in large towering explosions without flame. The resulting pattern and spacing of the bombs created a sort of wall once they had all exploded made of water shot into the air. It was pretty incredible to see and feel as each bomb hit with perfect spacing. It was near impossible for me to get wide shots of all the explosions with the 100-400mm telephoto lens on the camera; at most I was able to fit three or four of them. After the two Hornets bolted into that distant holding ground for all the aircraft, there was a bit of a pause in the show as we waiting for the next act. Up next would be another pass, this time of an E-2C Hawkeye reconnaissance aircraft from VAW-116 'Sun Kings'. A Grumman E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-116 'Sun Kings' roars past the crowd of crew and Tigers watching the Air Power Demo from onboard the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzA Grumman E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-116 'Sun Kings' roars past the crowd of crew and Tigers watching the Air Power Demo from onboard the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz I have to back up a bit and mention that if I looked out to the port side of the ship, which is where everyone was facing the show taking place, to my direct left (aft of the ship) was a F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-6B Prowler parked with their tails hanging off the side of the carrier. It made things a bit difficult to see when they were coming from left to right during the show. Such is the case with the pass of the Hawkeye, I stood ready for the pass with camera in hand, but even then I wasn't prepared for just how closer the Hawkeye would be. Out of what seemed like nowhere, that Hawkeye popped up from behind the two parked aircraft tails, and I only had a fraction of a second to life my camera and start shooting as it passed us by incredibly close and one of the fastest speeds I'd ever seen a Hawkeye do. The sound and sheer power of this big prop plane was pretty spectacular, and you could feel the rumble of the engines as it surprised everyone being so low, so close, and so fast. I'm sure the FAA would pass out from how close that Hawkeye was had this been done at a civilian airshow. As soon as the Hawkeye appeared, it vanished as it banked over the front of the ship and disappeared. But the shock didn't end there; you had no time to comprehend what had just went by when from behind us and the island impossible to see from my position a nicely painted F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-137 'Kestrels' called a 'CAG' Bird (the commanding officer's aircraft of the Carrier Air Group always has the first numbered aircraft such as 100, 200, 300, etc which are usually brightly or specially painted with special paint jobs) performed a near supersonic 'Sneak Attack' directly over the Carrier. I had nearly no time to shoot the CAG Bird and only managed to shoot a couple shots of it heading away in the distance. The high angle of climb that the Kestrels CAG Bird did after the sneak attack made a lot of nice vapor appear on the Super Hornet as it screamed away. It startled pretty much everyone, me included as I wasn't expecting it in the least. You'd think with the amount of times I've seen the USN Blue Angels do this surprise trick; I'd be used to it. But that wasn't the only loud noise that would startle everyone.

Boeing F/A-18C Hornet  Bombing  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18C Hornet  Bombing  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Grumman E-2C Hawkeye    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Grumman E-2C Hawkeye    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 Now that I had a chance to catch my breath from that surprise attack pass of the Super Hornet, it was time for one of the other aspects of this airshow I was incredibly excited about... the sonic boom pass. I was informed by my sponsor of just where the Hornet would be passing, so I got my camera ready with the fastest shutter speed I could get it to go. This would be the first time I've seen an aircraft hitting Mach 1. I've hear sonic booms at airshows many times, but the aircraft are generally so high you can never see them. As such, I've only been able to photograph aircraft traveling near the speed of sound, but not behind it. After a bit of a pause, I anxiously awaited for the shape of a Hornet to pop out from behind those now inconveniently parked aircraft to my left. A Boeing F/A-18C Legacy Hornet CAG Bird from VFA-151 'Vigilantes' breaks the sound barrier travelling at speeds over 750mph causing two sonic booms and creating visible shockwaves (top left). - Photo by Britt DietzA Boeing F/A-18C Legacy Hornet CAG Bird from VFA-151 'Vigilantes' breaks the sound barrier travelling at speeds over 750mph causing two sonic booms and creating visible shockwaves (top left). - Photo by Britt Dietz Soon, the rocketing shape of another CAG Bird, this time a very colorful paint job on the 300 numbered F/A-18C Hornet from the VFA-151 'Vigilantes' rocketed past as break neck speed just a hundred or so feet off the water and not too far out from the side of the Carrier. The sound didn't hit us at once, in fact I'd say it took 2-3 seconds before the sound caught up with us, and was were trailing behind the Hornet was not one but two Sonic Booms, a mini one and then the full boom. It wasn't nearly as loud as I thought it'd be, thinking that the Sonic Booms over land seemed much louder. But I suppose that depends on a lot of varying factors including location, moisture, altitude, and etc. I was able to capture the Hornet in quite a few shots before it was already out of range for any useful shots, and even with only a plain background of blue sky and occasional clouds you can still see the shockwave that was traveling with the Hornet. Unfortunately, it just wasn't the right conditions to get a perfect Sonic Boom vapor cone, but it was still something amazing to behold that close and getting to see the Hornet and realize you just saw something traveling at Mach 1. After the initial shock of the sonic boom pass had worn off, and the laughter subsided, it was time for the next act. Screaming in from the right with a lot of vapor was a F/A-18F Super Hornet, another CAG Bird in brightly painted colors from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters.' It was time for the Super Hornet demonstration, pretty much the same type of Demo you see at most airshows when a Super Hornet is there, just a lot closer and a lot lower. A gear down 'dirty pass' was followed with another high speed pass into a minimum radius turn. Then a quiet inverted (upside-down) whisper pass with the Super Hornet barely making any sound. The demo concluded with a high alpha slow pass where the Super Hornet almost seemed to be floating in the air, then igniting the afterburner the Super Hornet pulled up under its own thrust, and the final pass ended up being a 'top side' photo pass with a nice bank for everyone to grab shots. And with that, the fighter jet section of the Air Power Demo had finished, time for the helicopters to shine.

Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3



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