Nellis in a day from Scotland – Part 2

I was awake before 7am – two reasons. 1: It was really mid afternoon in my head; 2: I was still worried about getting home without a hitch

Anyway, quick shower, check all my camera gear was working and clean; down to reception to meet Dave

I’d allowed for traffic to get to Nellis for 9am, and Dave was driving for the first time in the area so I’d said an 8am departure. As it was, even though it was busy the journey took just over 30 minutes – you can’t beat 10 lane wide highways – with the same amount of traffic on the road around Ayr it would have taken a few hours to travel the 25 miles or so

I showed Dave around the area and then we went and sat at the Speedway end till it was time for me head just across the road and the bus airside. There were a few departures from 03L, all based stuff; F16s and A10s, but the light was wrong to get any decent photos. And when they came back it was to land on both 21L and R so again the light was wrong

It wasn’t too long though before Dave had to take me to the pick up point at one of the remote gates for Nellis. There were already a few people there, some I recognised from before and even one guy I used to work with as an Assistant at West Drayton. I like to keep myself to myself though and so just waited for Laura and the Public Affairs team to arrive with the bus (I did talk to the ex collegue once we were airside – i’m not bad)

After a role call, it was on the bus and over to the runways. Nellis and the Public affairs team have a great set up with plenty of experiance dealing with the Media days. There was a quick brief on the bus: No photos of the Duluth F16s, no rear shots of the B2s and F22s, the RAAF wanted the missle on the left wingtip to be excluded; and no photos to be published of the based OT aircraft(this was a change from before as all the based aircraft were ok with photos). Some of this was going to be difficult as its hard to tell certain things apart until they were going past you – ok, the B2s and F22s were ok to recognise, but not a head on F16. As it was, the B2s still had a Master Sergeant with us who would check our cameras to ensure we were obeying the rules. Annoyingly, the best photo of the whole day for me is of an OT F15E taking off – no publishing of that one then. I’m going to send a print to the Sqn though

I have a favourite spot between the runways, at the 5000ft to go marker for 03L. Sorry, I haven’t explained what happens to us, or rather, what we’re allowed to do airside. There’s no ramp tour, which is understandable, it’s a busy place. We get taken to the Stand-by tower between the runways and are then pretty much allowed to go where we want as long as you don’t enter the cross taxiways or go as close to the runway as the stop bars/holding points. This time they’d marked red lines in the sand parallel to the runway edge.

It does make me laugh watching all the “drifting”. Someone sets up next to the runway, then someone else comes along and stands in front of them and a little closer to the runway, which then makes the previous person creep forward…. and on and on and on. With most people going to the 3000ft to go marker for 03L/R so that they’re right where the aircraft rotate, moving down that extra 2000ft gave me a fairly quiet area

Now, I could go into intricate details about all the movements that took place over the next 4 and a half hours but it would take ages. But as a guide I took around 715 photographs and about 15 minutes of video footage. It is a manic time as both runways are utilised. Again, its hilareous watching people sprint between the runways to catch all the movements. I was well set up with my 70 – 200mm on my 5D and the 300mm on my 300D which meant I didn’t have to move much. I wandered around for a few movements but it really wasn’t worth it; there’s only about 400 feet between the two runways!!

A memorable departure was from the E2. It was up quickly and then flew most of the length of the runway at about 20 feet as can be seen here.

But, i’ve got to say that most of it was memorable. The noise is always good thats for sure. And with the Camcorder here this time, I will be creating a new video soon.

One annoyance was a certain individual that for absolutely no reason came and stood right next to me. He had about 1500 feet to choose from and he was probably no more than 5 away from me. And he kept moving around, so he kept stepping in front of my camera at the wrong time. To make matters worse, when the B2s came in to land he followed me over to the other runway. On the video, all you can hear is his camera going ballistic as he rattled off no less than 30 pictures (i’ve counted them) in less than a 1000ft of runway – I mean, what do you need 30 pictures of one aircraft for? I’ve never got that mentality really – maybe I remember the days of slide film that was 1: expensive and 2: meant you had to change rolls of film all the time if you went crazy

The Duluth F16s were also humerous. I don’t think they’d been told that their base commander had said no photos, as they did some spectacular go arounds and kept the nose wheel up along the runway for as long as possible on landing. They must have wondered why no-one was taking any photos 🙂

It’s amazing how quick the time goes and before I knew it everything was on the ground and it was time to head back. There was a slight “cock up” in that the gate we were dropped off at and that Dave was to pick me up at had been closed, but I managed a lift back to the Speedway and met up with him there. He seemed to have had a good day too.

The next adventure was about to begin though. Back at the hotel it was time to ring United, luckily toll free from the room telephone. Over 2 hours later I had booked myself on the early flight to EWR direct – phew. No worries about missing the GLA flight, but it was a complicated process and there “Is going to be a fee, I hope thats ok?” I’d told myself that it doesn’t matter how much it costs and I’d decided that it was going to be around $400 so when the guy came back to me and said “I’m afraid its going to be $70” I nearly laughed. I quickly gave him my credit card details; and got him to confirm that it was definately a confirmed ticket – and went laughing all the way to The Hard Rock Cafe with Dave

But, you know when you get that feeling something isn’t quite right? I decided that I’d get up early and get over to LAS as soon as I could – just in case. So, at midnight I said goodbye to Dave and went to bed for 3 hours!!

LAS is a weird airport, it basically closes for about an hour and a half; from three to half 4 – something like that. What this does is build up a ridiculous amount of passengers that want to check in and go through security. When I arrived at the airport I went to an e-ticket machine to get my boarding pass. My hunch was right, something had gone wrong with my rebooking. I started a queue at the desks, totally unaware that behind me, by the entrance to the terminal, there was a good 1000 people waiting for the desks to open and that i’d seriously queue jumped. You know what though? no-one said anything!! That wouldn’t happen in the UK 🙂 But, it’s just as well I did as it took about 45 minutes to sort out. Turns out it was a wrong digit entered on my credit card. The lady at the desk gave me a “kind of boarding pass” and told me to head to the gate. By that time there would be a real booking made for me and i’d get my boarding pass there.

It was fingers crossed time again

Luckily, it worked. And I was on my way home. There was a 5 hour stop over at EWR where I didn’t do much. I went and looked for the lady that had helped me before but didn’t find her which is a shame. I wanted to say thanks

I arrived back at GLA at 7am. I still don’t know why it takes so long but, bearing in mind I only had hand luggage so didn’t need to wait for bags etc, why did it take 3 hours to get home? I only live 51 miles away from GLA. The roads and traffic are just shit. It was certainly something I didn’t need after such a little amount of sleep

When I finally got my head down it was 10:30am on Friday the 16th March. In the 78 and a half hours since I’d woken up on the 13th I’d had 7 hours sleep – was it all worth it?

Of course it was 🙂

Nellis in a day from Scotland – Part 1

I’m going to blame the whole thing on Mark McGrath and his “If Carlsberg did vacations…” Tweet. It was about his forthcoming trip to Nellis for Red Flag

I looked at the Nellis web page and it turned out the Media day was during my leave that was coming up three weeks later. Then I noticed the participents – USMC F-18s, USN EA-6 and E-2s, RAAF F-18s, and USAF B-2s; this was on top of the usual various USAF fighters and some RAF Tornados – I had to get into the Media day if I was to make a trip worth while and, having been airside before, this was one of those opportunities not to be missed.

A few hours later I was investigating how many United Air Miles it took me to get to Las Vegas and back and whether I had enough. Turned out I had enough to get there twice so the seed was sown.

The biggest problem was time scales. The Media day was on the 14th of March, I was working on the 12th and I was flying to Spain on the 17th. That meant I had to fly from Glasgow on the 13th, Media day on the 14th, fly home on the 15th to get back to Glasgow early morning on the 16th. And the only flights available were tight coming home: LAS – PHX – DCA – EWR – GLA, with the US internals only having an hour between them.

So, now it was down to the USAF and whether I could get airside. Previously my work pass was enough to get airside, but this time Public Affairs were being more strict. They wanted a magazine to “sponsor” me with a guarentee to publish anything I photographed or wrote about. My first port of call as a sponsor was already taken; but my second one came up trumps and even though I’d just missed the cut off date for confirmation, Nellis Public Affairs agreed and added me to their list

I was worried about the internal flights, I couldn’t miss anything as I was then going to be a day behind schedule and would probably miss my flight to Spain, which would then also need changing – and we all know how flexible Ryanair are. But after a beer and a chat with my girlfriend I decided “What the hell, what could possibly go wrong?” and with that booked the flights, with only the tax to pay.

Finally it was a hotel that needed booking. My usual hotel haunt in Vegas is The Tropicana and there were rooms available at a good rate so all was set for a great time away.

A few weeks later the time had come to travel. I had everything prepared, including deciding to take my HD camcorder, I’d worked out that i’d have plenty of chances for photos and video with the amount of movements involved with Red Flag. I’d bought a new camera rucksack from LowePro. It was stuffed full but still relatively light, surprising as it not only contained my two cameras, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/2.8 lenses and my HD Camcorder; there was also a couple of days clothing, wash stuff, a change of clothes for the night time in Vegas and a magazine to read on the flights. I had also decided to take my tripod for filming (although this just got carried around and never got used in the end)

In the lead up to travelling I’d spoken to one of my Twitter friends, Dave Vickers, who was undecided about where to go for his leave. It just so happened it was during the same week as I was travelling, and before you know it he was booked up for a weeks holiday. We would meet at The Tropicana on my arrival. It also turned out that two of my work mates off my watch were also to be in Vegas on the 13th – it was not only turning into a photography trip, it was turning into a piss up

So it was, at 4am on the 13th March 2012 that my alarm went off and the journey began. In all honesty, there’s not much to tell about my trip to Newark with United. Except maybe for the fact that I don’t think the merger has gone down too well with Continental – the amount of times they said on announcements “……. on this United flight crewed by 100% Continental members of staff” (this happened on the internal flights too). Some of the crew were wearing the coloured wristies “Continental till I die” – that sounds familier with a certain ATC move from one Centre to another

I arrived in Newark 7 hours after pushing back at Glasgow. It was the first time since September 11th that I’d been there and it was strange to see a different skyline. It was now a bit of a waiting game for my next flight to Vegas. It wasn’t for 9 hours. I’d been listed as stand-by for an earlier flight so I was hoping that that would happen as otherwise I wouldn’t be getting into The Tropicana until gone 11pm, and I wanted to go out. But even with the possible early flight there was still a 7 hour wait for the stand-by.

I decided that I’d go to a United desk and see about maybe changing my flights back, getting a stand-by or something for the early flight direct to EWR instead of the three internal flights Miles had given me. I met a fantastic lady at the desk (I really wish I’d remembered her name) who gave me tonnes of assistance. The worry was there though and made me nervous for getting back; the DCA – EWR flight had left an hour and 5 minutes late every day for the last week. This meant it was getting in 5 minutes after my EWR – GLA flight had pushed back – the odds were it would happen a few days later too. But she gave me a few alternatives and advised me to ring up United from my hotel to try and change my flights – “but there may be a charge, a few hundred dollars, maybe more!”

After a bit of spotting, and a beer whilst contemplating missing flights it was time for my stand-by. This wasn’t looking good, there were plenty of others as it appeared there had been some late connections already. I was the only Miles ticket too, the others had paid, so I was at the bottom of the list apparently. Why do Airlines do this?? Why do Miles users get put to the bottom of the list?? If anything they should be at the top, after all it is because of LOYALTY to the Airline that people have built up these Miles to then travel for free, and it is normally after thousands of pounds of spending – maybe the Airlines should start showing some loyalty to their customers too. As it was, I got on and was on my way to Vegas a few hours early.

After I arrived at McCarran, I made a stop at a United desk to try and get my flights changed but with no luck. I decided to leave it till the following night as I was wasting valuable drinking time in Vegas and so set off to hotel.

It’s been a couple of years since I was in The Tropicana and it’s had a refit. I liked the old style Casino that it used to be, it had character. Now, and I guess it’s so it can compete with all the “newer” Casino/hotels, its gone all modern. It’s still nice though, and it’s cheap in comparison to the others, I’ll always stay there until it closes or something

A quick shower and it was down to the bar to meet up with Dave; then over to The Bellagio to meet up with my friends from work, Dave and Simon. Not much to say about the rest of the evening – beer maybe??

At about 2am it was time to head back to the hotel, but with a food stop enroute – a Chilli Burger and fries at a diner. By the time I got into bed it was gone 3am Vegas time – I’d been awake 32 hours; and I had to be up 4 hours later!