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VCM-Photography

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.

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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



Trip Report March 2024

At 15:30 on Saturday 2nd March I departed London Heathrow International Airport on a British Airways Airbus A330 to Los Angeles, USA, for my first photography outing of 2024. I was again visiting the Kern River Valley, a valley and region of the Southern Sierra Nevada and start of the Sidewinder military low flying route (Waypoints A and B) where I planned to spend five days photographing low flying military aircraft.

In early February an enormous atmospheric river‑fuelled storm unleashed rain and furious winds across California. Los Angeles experienced an astonishing 8.66 inches of rainfall over a four‑day period, which was more than 60% of downtown L.A.'s annual average rainfall. The heavy rain resulted in widespread flash floods and hundreds of mudslides. A couple of days prior to my departure, the National Weather Service forecast heavy snow and blizzard conditions for areas of the Sierra Nevada around Reno, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. On some weather websites snowfall was forecast for the Kern River Valley area which was concerning as I would be accessing the area via the Walker Pass, which is a high mountainous pass with steep hills. If I did get to Kernville the last thing I needed was more snowfall and be marooned in the area unable to get back to L.A. for my flight home. I was dubious of the weather reports, and anyway it was too late to cancel my accommodation, so I decided to go ahead with my planned itinerary and ‘suck it and see’.

Sunday 3rd ‑ After spending my first evening in the Hilton LAX hotel I collected my hire car, a Nissan Rogue, and travelled north away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis over the San Gabriel Mountains into the Antelope Valley towards Palmdale and Lancaster.

Nissan Rogue hire car for the week Nissan Rogue. My hire car for the week.

In Palmdale I visited the Walmart Supercenter to collect some provisions, i.e. food, bottled water etc, before making a quick visit to the Lancaster Municipal Stadium (also known as the Hangar and home to the Lancaster JetHawks) to photograph the NASA F/A‑18 Hornet which is mounted on a display pedestal at the front entrance to the baseball stadium. The blue‑and‑white F/A‑18 Hornet (BuNo. 161214/Tail No. 842) was the 11th pre‑production F/A‑18A Hornet, and a NASA Dryden safety chase and support aircraft. The aircraft has been on loan to the city for public display since March 1987.

F/A-18A Hornet at Lancaster Municipal Stadium Ex NASA Dryden safety chase and support F/A‑18A Hornet, BuNo.161214.

From Lancaster I continued north towards Mojave where I stopped for lunch at my favourite diner: Denny's.
From Mojave I continued north on Highway 14 towards the turn‑off for Highway 178 and the Walker Pass. When I arrived at the Walker Pass the area was devoid of any snow and so was the Kern River Valley, apart from the higher elevations of the surrounding hills ‑ Phew, what a relief. For the remainder of the day I did a recce of potential locations which I had noted on Google Earth prior to my visit.

Monday 4th ‑ Today the weather was dry, but cloudy and overcast with a cool wind. My trip got off to a good start with the first pass at 09:18 by an F/A‑18F Super Hornet, BuNo. 165915 of VFA‑122 “Flying Eagles”. I had another three passes before I decided to leave the hill at 13:30 due to the strengthening winds. Just as I started to pack‑up, the scanner crackled into life announcing an aircraft approaching Point Alpha. Minutes later an F/A‑18F Super Hornet of VX‑9 “Vampires” appeared. Looking through my camera viewfinder I immediately recognised the aircraft as being the retro gloss‑black painted Super Hornet known as “Vandy 1” which I was lucky to photograph on my last visit back in September 2023. A fitting end to my first day in the Sidewinder.

Kern River Valley view Part of the Kern River Valley north of Lake Isabella.

Tuesday 5th ‑ Today the weather was like a nice summer day back in the U.K. with no wind, clear skies and comfortable temperatures. The day got off to a good start with the first pass at 09:21. Throughout the day I had a total of twenty‑three passes. The highlight of the day at 10:28 and 10:30 respectively was capturing two F‑16C's, BuNo. 84‑1244, painted in a blue/grey colour scheme and BuNo. 86‑0299, painted in a digital ghost scheme. Both aircraft were from the USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron, Nellis A.F.B., Nevada. At 11:08 I photographed my first low‑level F‑15C in the valley, BuNo. 86‑0144, from the 194th Fighter Squadron, Air National Guard, Fresno. Another first in the valley for myself at 12:25 was a privately owned Fouga CM.170R Magister, serial N353FM. The last pass of the day at 13:32 was by a F‑35C Lightning II, BuNo. 169940 of VX‑9 “Vampires” Detachment, based at Edwards Air Force Base.

F-16C, BuNo. 86-0299 of the USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron F‑16C Viper, BuNo. 84‑1244 of the USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron, routing low‑level through the Kern River Valley.

Wednesday 6th ‑ A nice clear day with light winds. Today I tried a new location. From this location aircraft could be relatively near or distant, depending on the line they take through the valley. I had eight passes, with most filling approximately 35‑40% of my viewfinder (using a 600mm lens on a full‑frame camera). A nice catch was the CAG F/A‑18E Super Hornet, BuNo. 166871 of VX‑31 “Dust Devils” Air Test and Evaluation Squadron, N.A.W.S. China Lake.

CAG F/A-18E Super Hornet, BuNo. 166871 of VX-31 F/A‑18E Super Hornet, BuNo. 166871. CAG aircraft of VX‑31 “Dust Devils”.

Thursday 7th ‑ A quiet day with the only pass at 12:30 by a F/A‑18F Super Hornet, BuNo. 169971 of VX‑9 “Vampires” Air Test and Evaluation Squadron, N.A.W.S. China Lake.

Friday 8th ‑ I returned to the location I visited on Wednesday. A warm and sunny day with no wind. I had a surprisingly busy day with nine passes. For some of the passes I added a 1.4x extender to my 600mm lens, which gave me a total focal length of 840mm. I had a mixture of F/A‑18's, F‑35's, F‑16's and a high F‑15C Eagle. I left the hill at 13:00, as I had a 220‑mile drive back to Lake Elsinore, western Riverside County, where I was staying for the night.

Saturday 9th ‑ The morning was spent making my way back into Los Angeles, where I dropped off the hire car and made my way to Los Angeles LAX to catch my 15:30 British Airways Boeing 777 flight back to the U.K.

British Airways Boeing 777 awaits at LAX My British Airways Boeing 777 flight back to the U.K. awaits at Los Angels International Airport (LAX).

Photographs from my trip can be viewed at: 2024 ‑ Sidewinder USA Military Low Flying.


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