On a Mission in El Paso

12 October 2016

Back to work tomorrow…

The last few shots from El Paso — from a tiki tour around the very old (and beautifully restored) missions.

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Kiwi in the Desert

2 October 2016

So we’ve been in El Paso with Dave’s family since Saturday afternoon. Fabulous to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a long time, and meet others for the first time.

Today we went on a three-hour guided tour of El Paso with tour guide Rudy — a senior citizen who had spent some time in the military, El Paso’s predominant industry (if ‘industry’ is the right term).

El Paso is in west Texas and sits on the border with Mexico. The two cities of Juarez and El Paso merge along the banks of the Rio Grande (more accurately the Rio Pequeno by the time it gets here — it’s just a trickle). Juarez has a population of about 1.5 million, and El Paso about 750,000. On top of that, Fort Bliss (the biggest military base/posting in the States, apparently), which sits in the middle of east El Paso, houses about 50,000 soldiers (army and air force). The base is huge, and has an airfield big enough for the Space Shuttle to land on (which it may have done), and big enough for the B747 Space Shuttle transport to drop in with the Space Shuttle on board.

The city has grown hugely since Dave left almost 20 years ago, and the road-building continues apace. It’s clear that the military   presence dominates El Paso’s economy and is the primary reason behind the infrastructure investment. But, I guess if your primary theatres of war are in the desert, then investing in training your fighting personnel in a desert is a smart move.

There are a lot of contrasts here. The large military base with immaculately kept everything (including large historic houses that still serve as homes for the various commanders) and opulent homes of all architectural styles; a downtown area as neat as a pin that has turn-of-last-century architecture alongside modern concrete and glass;  and just down the road the border shopping community patronised almost exclusively by Mexicans (the tour driver invited us to ‘count the white folk’!) that reminded me of main-street Papakura. And across the river in Juarez colourful dwellings stacked together in what we would consider little better than shanty towns.

Just some snapshots today from our tour.

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28 September 2016

Today we visited the most spectacular aeronautical museum in my experience to date: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, just down the road from Dulles Airport in Virginia.

After about half an hour on the Metro (from Foggy Bottom station to Wiehle-Reston), about a 20 minute wait, and then 40 minutes on the Fairfax Connector 983 bus — and a fare of only $7.65 each — we arrived. The building (hangar) itself is a spectacular piece of architecture covering 71,000 square metres, but it houses one of the most (if not the most) unique and diverse collection of air and space craft on the planet: the world’s only surviving Arado AR 234 B Blitz, a foldable Japanese float-plane acquired by the Americans at the end of WWII; the Enola Gay, an SR-71 Blackbird and the Space Shuttle Discovery — just for a start! (And yes, we bought the book — two of them, actually!)




Mr Udvar-Hazy even has a New Zealand connection:


Again, this venue is pretty challenging from a photography perspective. The lowest ISO I used was 1250, but most of these needed ISO 2000 to get an adequate shutter speed without the flash (which would have been useless anyway). I’ve de-grained these as much as possible in Camera Raw, but the quality still suffers significantly.

I’ve seen an SR-71 before (about 20 years ago at Everett Field in the museum there), and I know it’s an old aircraft, but it still looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

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Not perhaps as photogenic, but with a far larger impact on history, the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. (And no, the aeroplane doesn’t have a banana-bend in it: it’s just too big to fit in my 24-105 lens at the range available, so I had to panorama it.)

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But the display that kept us transfixed for the longest was the Space Shuttle Discovery. Quite impossible to fit all of it in one image, it is entirely fascinating up close: the heat-shield tiles, all individually numbered, are worn (not surprising, after 39 missions to and from space) and patchwork-like. It’s monstrous and beautiful all at the same time. And I learned that it has a re-entry angle of about 45 degrees, and a split rudder that is deployed as a speed brake at a certain point during the re-entry sequence, and it only weighs about 62 tonnes!

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And then there was Concorde! Yes, I’ve seen one of these before too (fleetingly) at Toulouse earlier this year. I really, REALLY wanted to get into the flight deck, but I couldn’t come up with a good enough story!

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The Boeing Stratoliner was an impressive sight, with all that shining aluminium:

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And, finally, just a couple of shots to give an idea of the busy-ness of the place.




I have hundreds more images, but not enough time to process more of them right now. Maybe later!


Smithsonian Air and Space

27 September 2016

So, this is what happens when a physics teacher and a pilot visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum…


…as well as a couple of ties, t-shirts and model aircraft…

Inside a museum — even one as auspicious as the NASM — isn’t the place to make especially inspiring images. There is always light in the wrong place, as well as other people; and there’s always something you don’t want in the background. But I tried anyway! (If you want to see some really good images, visit their website.)

For a pilot, the pilgrimage to this magnificent place is significant. I was going to say like Mecca for a Muslim, but I think Kitty Hawk would be a better parallel. If you are afflicted by any form of enthusiasm for things aeronautical, I highly recommend adding the NASM to your bucket list (and then ticking it off, of course).

These few images are such a tiny portion of what there is to see, but there comes a point when you just concentrate on enjoying it while you’re there… and then buy the book! (See above.)

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And tomorrow we go to the Udvar-Hazy Center (SR-71, Enola Gay, Space Shuttle Discovery!!)


D.C. Day Two

27 September 2016

Today was tour day. We joined about 30 others to traverse the key points of interest around the Capitol.

Having just watched the first presidential debate, not so much time for typing tonight, so just some basic images.

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Kiwis in DC

25 September 2016

After an epic 25+ hours of travelling (from Auckland via Houston) we made it to our digs in Washington DC at 10pm last night: knackered and well ready for a shower, but having had no disasters en route.

Our home for the next five days is a room in the George Washington University Inn, a well-equipped 1970s time warp with a kitchen and plenty of space.

First stop this morning was the Lincoln Memorial. Beautiful, but still smaller than it looks on TV.




And right out the front ‘door’ of the Lincoln Memorial, is what I call the Forrest Gump pool.


(It’s actually really rather green, and very shallow…)

Not too far away was the Vietnam War Memorial, a large black wall with all of the names of America’s war dead engraved upon it. It was early tourist o’clock, and the tour buses had just arrived. There were people (often older) from one end to the other. A sombre memorial to pointless loss of life.









From there we walked across the Potomac (site of the infamous 1982 Air Florida crash)…


…to the Arlington National Cemetery.

The Cemetery is huge. It’s a weird mix of honouring America’s war dead (and other notable public figures who served in the military at some point) and, for me, a foreigner, somehow glorifying war. New Zealand has nothing even remotely like this — probably because most of our war dead never made it home; having fought and died for foreign nations on foreign soil (including Vietnam, which most Americans don’t realise).

I’m not entirely sure what “No Recreation” means, but I think it basically prohibits running, cycling, walking the dog, having a picnic and so forth. There were joggers everywhere else, and cyclists, but none in the cemetery; so I’m presuming that such activity is deemed inappropriate for hallowed ground.

No recreation?

No recreation?

Most of the graves were simple, white marble headstones with the solder’s basic details on the front, and often his child(ren)’s name(s) on the back. Many had their wives buried with them. The soldiers had a list of their various military achievements; the wives were listed merely as ‘wife’ or ‘beloved wife’.

...and some more prominent figures.



JFK lies beside his wife and the eternal flame. On the half-circular stone wall around the landing next to his grave are a number of his quotes.

JFK's grave.

JFK’s grave.

Next to JFK's gravesite

Next to JFK’s gravesite

The cemetery is positioned on a hill, one side of which looks back over all of DC.

View back towards the Washington Monument.

View back towards the Washington Monument.

And the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a magnificent marble structure, guarded assiduously by a solitary soldier who walks back and forth along a piece of dark-blue cloth about 20m long. He performs a rigid ritual at each end, and then stands stock still for about a minute. He was constantly surrounded by a significant crowd of people, who were all completely silent.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in colour...

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in colour…

...and in B+W.

…and in B+W.

On the way home, we thought we’d drop by Barack and Michelle’s place. We were right up next to the fence when a Secret Service guy (and I know he was Secret Service, because it said all over his uniform) told us all to move away from the fence. We moved back behind the next-closest fence, and were allowed to resume gawping from there. We could see some vehicles out the front of the White House, so presumed someone important was coming or going. As we walked away we discovered that all of the roads around the White House were blocked off by police, so something was certainly up. We’d seen an official looking pair of Iroquois fly over earlier; and another very much more modern fling-wing– so maybe it was the First Family themselves.

Barack and Michelle's place

Barack and Michelle’s place

Two exposures blended together to get everything in focus.

Two exposures blended together to get everything in focus.

This was the street 'behind' the White House. Everything was blocked off.

This was the street ‘behind’ the White House. Everything was blocked off.

Next to the Washington Monument (the big obelisk at the end of the Forrest Gump pond) we found these guys.


As a long-time owner of a piebald, I thought the gentleman on the left had great taste in horses (although my late Toby was much more fine-boned than this behemoth).

On the walk home we succumbed to the need for caffeine, and happily stumbled across a cafe on I Street more worldly than many others: flat whites and with correctly attributed origin (even if they did share it with the Aussies).


So, enjoy your small cups of coffee in your coffee shacks, fellow Kiwis!



31 July 2016

“Home” means very different things to different people.

To four generations of my family, it’s meant an unwavering commitment to being guardians of the land, or kaitiaki in Maori. Since the turn of last century my family have shaped, nurtured and nourished this land; and defended it against the perils posed by increasing numbers of people.

After recently losing Dad, I am up visiting Mum and the rest of the family this weekend, and went for a walk with my camera. The images below are no special photographic endeavour, merely a small and inadequate sample of a multi-generational legacy.

This is my true home.


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