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Welcome to VCM-Photography, a website designed and written by myself Vernon Metcalfe to showcase my photographic passion for military aviation and wildlife.

My aviation photography is orientated towards the dynamic aspect of military low flying, where aircraft are captured flying landlocked against the countryside, rather than airshow photography, where aircraft are captured against the sky.

My parallel passion is wildlife photography, encompassing all species, but with a preference for the ‘Big Cats’, which has taken me to places such as India, looking for the elusive Tiger, Africa for the Lion, Leopard and Cheetah and to the Brazilian Pantanal for the iconic Jaguar.

Boeing EA-18G Growler Boeing EA-18G Growler low-level in the Jedi Transition. California, U.S.A.

Lion cub lying beside its mother ‘Nkuhuma Pride’ Lion cub. Sabi Sands, South Africa.

Copyright Notice

All applicable copyright laws pertain to all content on this site. Downloading, hot‑linking, copying and/or distribution (by print, electronic media or other means) is strictly prohibited. If you wish to purchase high quality images, or use any images for personal or commercial use please email: vcmetcalfe@btinternet.com

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June 2022. U.S. Navy Hornet Crash. It was announced by the U.S. Navy that a F/A‑18E Super Hornet of Strike Fighter Squadron 113 (VFA‑113) “Stingers” crashed on Friday 3rd June at approximately 2:30pm Pacific Standard Time (PST). The aircraft which was on a routine training flight from N.A.S. Leemore went down in a remote unpopulated area near Trona, California, an unincorporated Mojave Desert community in San Bernardino County. No one on the ground was injured, but tragically the pilot, Navy Lt. Richard Mackenzie “Kuato” Bullock was killed. The Navy is presently investigating the cause of the crash.

By coincidence the aircraft involved in the crash: Boeing F/A‑18E Super Hornet BuNo. 168881 ‘NE‑204’ was photographed by myself the previous Friday (May 27th) when along with another Hornet routed past my location in the Kern River Valley, a part of the Sidewinder military low flying route. (2022 ‑ Sidewinder Trip 1)

F/A-18E Super Hornet #168881/NE-204 F/A-18E Super Hornet (168881 ‘NE-204’) of VFA‑113 caught low-level through the Kern River Valley, California.

Though the recent Hollywood sequel, Top Gun: Maverick portrays the glamorous gung‑ho attitude of the films aircrews, this recent tragedy is a stark reminder of how dangerous a profession real aircrew deal with day‑to‑day. My condolences go to Lt. Bullock's family, friends and fellow colleagues at VFA‑113 “Stingers”.

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Trip Report May 2022. On Friday 20th May after more than a two year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic i finally boarded a international flight to California, USA, in the anticipation of some military low flying photography.

Due to the F/A‑18E Super Hornet crash on the 31st July 2019 at Rainbow Canyon in which Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Charles Z. Walker was killed, the Jedi Transition route and more specifically the canyon has an enforced height restriction of 2000ft AGL which has more‑or‑less scuttled the opportunity of photographing any aircraft low‑level in that area. The Jedi Transition is only a part of the much larger Sidewinder military low flying route, so the aim was to explore and try out new locations.

Monday 23rd - Marble Canyon, Inyo County, which is located within the northern section of the Sidewinder between waypoints E to F (see Sidewinder route). The canyon is located in a remote hot desert area, with the last six miles accessed by a unpaved gravel road. There is no phone reception and the journey should only be attempted ideally with a 4x4 vehicle. I did the journey in a normal hire car, something in retrospect i would not attempt again. It took one hour both ways to drive the six miles, taking great care not to damage or puncture the tyres. Luck was on my side ‘This Time’ so i only visited for the one day.

Marble Canyon, Inyo County, California Marble Canyon looking west towards the direction of aircraft approach.

A local photographer i know through social media has tried this canyon a number of times with mixed results. The canyon is not deep, like Rainbow Canyon, so aircraft can tend to be high (not landlocked) if one is not in a suitable location. For myself this visit was more exploratory to see if it had potential, so i did not push my luck by venturing too far down the canyon, due to the high temperatures and road conditions. Throughout the day there was approximately fifteen to twenty aircraft passes, with the majority of the aircraft passing overhead or routing past to the north of my location. Possible vantage points were noted, which could be explored another time in the cooler months with a more suitable vehicle.

Tuesday 24th to Friday 27th - Kern River Valley. A valley and region of the Southern Sierra Nevada and the start of the Sidewinder low flying route (Waypoints A to B). A number of locations were tried over the four days with mixed results.
The Kern River Valley runs north to south with the locations i tried on the east side of the river off the Mountain Highway 99. The sun can be an issue after midday as one will be facing into the light, which is not ideal for photography. Changing over to the west side of the river in the afternoon is not an option, as the river can be deep and fast flowing, with only one footbridge located fourteen miles north of the town of Kernville. A number of possible photography locations were identified by studying topographic maps and Google Earth, but in reality only two to three were suitable. The climb at these locations was a lot harder than anticipated, partly due to the high temperatures (+90°F by early afternoon), but also the ground conditions, where hard compact dry sand earth gave no grip on the relatively steep slopes. In some areas thick vegetation also hindered access. Future possible vantage points were noted on both sides of the river for exploration on another trip.

U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II routing low-level through the Kern River Valley, California.

In the Kern River Valley i was treated to a number of aircraft passes, with a 50/50 ratio of high passes overhead to low‑level passes where they were landlocked. Notable captures: Four‑ship of F‑35A Lightning II's from Luke A.F.B. Arizona, F‑35C Lightning II's from N.A.W.S. China Lake, numerous Super Hornets from N.A.S. Leemore and a privately owned T‑38A Talon flying from Mojave.
Photographs from my trip will be uploaded to 2022 ‑ Sidewinder Trip 1 during the coming weeks.

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F-35A Lightning II Low Level through the Kern River Valley

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F-35 Lightning Low Level through the Lake District

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Harrier T.2

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Typhoon T.3 Low Level through the Mach Loop

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F-15 Eagle Low Level through Rainbow Canyon

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F/A-18C Hornet Low Level in the Lake District

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MiG-17 San Diego Air & Space Musuem

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Shackleton AEW.2 at Manchester Air & Space Museum

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GR.4 Low level through the M6 Pass

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