To Contact Me
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.
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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)
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”.
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.
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.
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.