Thursday, November 19, 2009

Opa-Locka - Florida's Boneyard

After hearing about Opa-Locka for a long time and never getting there, I recently finally made the trip. Really , it was only a 10 minute diversion off my normal route to Miami, so now I know where it is, I'll be going more and more often as there are always amazing sights at Opa-Locka (KOPF). There are old retired B727's (Champion Air was one I remember), old retired DC-8's, old retired DC-10s - so many I can't remember them all now and I didn't get them in the camera lens as I had a 5 year old that had been for a photo shoot himself that morning and by the time that we got to OPF, was already dozing off - and we still had an hour plus drive home to West Palm Beach. I can tell you this will not be the last blog entry about OPF.

I will start by saying that OPF is not just a boneyard though - it's a great operational airport that happens to have some interesting airworthy aircraft too. The first one that I managed to shoot is a first for me - my first Russian-made aircraft. This AN12-B was one of 3 on the ramp that Sunday afternoon. From what I have heard, the 3 are still operational operating to the Caribbean and South America.

Gulf Air has their home base as Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. For quite a while, they operated B763's all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia and then started to phase the B763's out and replaced them with Airbus equipment. This ex-Gulf Air B763 has been at OPF for a while now, rumored to be going to a private owner, but the colors still remain for the moment.

One thing that is very evident at OPF are a lot of the old propeller engined aircraft. I saw so many, old DC-3's and this one was one of a few DC-7's that still seem to be airworthy and have been restored to their old glory. Next time I go to OPF, I'm going to try and catch more of these old graceful ladies of the skies and get a lot more information about them. In the meantime, this old lady proudly wears the colors of Eastern Airlines.

When talking to some of the other local photographers about OPF, there was a lot of talk about a new arrival at OPF that had arrived in the last couple of days. A S7 Airbus A310 from Russia. I'm not sure at the moment if this is a maintenance call or if she is here for the boneyard or fitting out for a new owner. I'll try and find out what is with her.

A few weeks ago while I was at Ft Lauderdale for a lunch time, I happened to see a Varig B733 taxing out for departure and wondered where it was going for scrapping knowing that Varig had phased out their B733's. Well, I get to OPF and am driving around looking when lo and behold, there is PP-VOZ right in front of me, along with a sister ship from Varig and another B733 from GOL also from Brazil. A little further around the airport, there were another 2 B733's from GOL - one white and one in full orange colors. The engines were being removed so I am guessing they are destined to be broken up here at OPF.

Look for more pictures and associated stories from OPF in the future....

Biz-jets - or how the other 1% flies...

Ever since I started photographing at Palm Beach International (PBIA), I have developed an affinity for biz-jets. For those of us that normally fly cattle...I (economy, the back of the plane, etc), it can only be a dream to be able to see the inside, let alone fly in one of these dream jets that can transport the few as far as a regular commercial jet can take the rest of us. Recently, I spent a Saturday afternoon at PBIA just shooting biz-jets and, it was a busy afternoon.

Now, to start, there are the higher end biz-jets - old commercial airlines that have converted to luxury transports for those that can afford to own and operate one - some that come to mind are Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban and his Boeing 767-200, Russian billionaire Roman Abromovich and his Boeing 767-300 aptly named "The Bandit" for it's color scheme (search any of the regular aviation photography sites for the registration P4-MES) and of course local entrepreneur Donald Trump with his Boeing 727 shown below (which is apparently up for sale - search Craigslist for VP-BDJ).

The rest of the biz-jets are purposefully built for the task. I will say that I have my favorites. The Bombardier Global Express has to be probably my favorite of all. It is one of the largest biz-jets on the market, but from what I have seen of their performance on take-off, it is probably one of the most powerful as well. Every time I see one of these power off a runway either at PBIA or Ft Lauderdale, I always have to go back and try to find a flight plan to see where that one has departed to. I have seen several power off runway 9L at PBIA in just over 3,000' of runway, and it's flying an overnight flight to London Stanstead - they simply are amazing. This one I caught recently at PBIA. If any of my readers is a GLEX pilot - or knows a GLEX pilot - I'd love to talk about this amazing jet.

For the longest time, the Gulfstream seemed to be the best known biz-jet. They were everywhere and so many of them still fly all over the world, from the G-II to the now G-550 and if my memory serves me, the G-650 is the next variant. This G-IV I shot at PBIA last weekend is a visitor from Canada.

Also from the Bombardier stable is the Challenger series - smaller than the Global Express, but still a very sharp looking biz-jet. They come in the -600 and -300 series - this -300 I shot at PBIA the past Saturday as well. It's a plain white color scheme - but I think it makes it all the more sleeker.

One of the first biz-jets I became interest in many years ago was a South African Air Force Falcon 900 registration ZS-NAN. It was the Presidential aircraft at the time, before the BBJ ZA-RSA came along. I had a friend who was the flight engineer on NAN and they were always off taking the South African President all over the world. The Falcon has also come in a lot of variants - the latest one being the 7X which has the blended winglets and an amazing wingspan when you stand in front of or behind it. This one below is a 900EX that passed through PBIA last weekend - going to Customs after landing and then heading off to some other location.

The last one I'll mention in this blog entry has it's roots in England, the land of my birth. When is came out originally, it was known as the Hawker Siddeley HS-125. These I also used to see a lot in South Africa as they were the executive jet of the South African Air Force. Now, they still carry the same design as the original HS-125 and still carry the Hawker name. The one pictured below is a 800 variant.

I must say, it's been so nice being back behind the camera lens in such lovely fall Florida weather. The shooting season is also getting into it's swing - I saw my first foreign charter of the season a couple of weeks ago - a Thomas Cook Scandinavia A330 at Ft Lauderdale - can't wait to see what the rest of the season holds.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Visitors from the North

Come the cool down of fall, the number of movements at Ft Lauderdale always increases. The charters from the cold of Canada as well as the increase of regular commercial traffic adds to the increased traffic. During this time, there can be some interesting schemes to be seen. Here are some that have been seen over the past years, and hopefully will be seen again this winter season.

Air Transat brings in their Airbuses - the A310 and the A330-200 and A330-300. What is always nice about their A310 is they get the Christmas treatment

Canjet got a new color scheme a couple of years ago and since then, I always wanted to get the new scheme - finally last year I did. Canjet sometimes also lease a B737-800 from Transavia in Holland for the season and hopefully this year, they will again and I'll be able to catch that one.

Skyservice is one that operates on an irregular basis and so when they can be caught, it's always nice to get them. Last year, they had just received their B757's from Thomas Cook.

Sunwings are regular visitors in the season. They normally have 3 or 4 different color schemes on their B737-800s. This one is the basic XL color scheme that their lease during the season.

Westjet is really not classed as a charter into Ft Lauderdale as they do operate a scheduled service. However, sometimes, it's nice to get their aircraft that don't normally operate to South Florida - in this case, their B737-600 - they are the only commercial operator of this B737 variant in North America.

Air Canada is the only year round regular scheduled commercial airline from Canada. However, in the fall and winter season, they also start to bring in some of the aircraft that are a change from the normal Airbuses. In this case, their B767-300ER.

Now that the fall and winter season is starting, it's going to be interesting to see what graces our runways and taxiways.....who knows.....