Here's the problem. Get two aircraft, each operating from bases hundreds of miles apart, to rendezvous over an island at the edge of the Pacific for an air-to-air photoshoot at precisely the right time and place.
Honeywell chief test pilot Joe Duval explains flight deck differences in the flying testbed. (YouTube/Guy Norris)
And here's an added complication. Although both aircraft are twin-engined, US-made monoplanes, that's about all they have in common. One is a large, subsonic jet-engined transport, and the other a piston-powered World War 2-vintage medium bomber. The prop-engined veteran, a North American B-25, tops out at a max speed close to the stall speed of the jetliner.
Formating with the B-25 (Guy Norris)
To be completely accurate, even the commonality in terms of numbers of engines does not really apply. The jet transport is a Boeing 757 - but not like any other 757 in the world. This aircraft is Honeywell's flying testbed and for this flight mounts an HTF7000 business jet engine on a pylon jutting out from the upper forward fuselage mid-way between the nose and wing leading edge.
Planning for the sortie begins even before the pre-flight briefing for the test flight at Honeywell’s flight test operations unit by Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International airport. It begins with a conference call with the crew of the B-25 ‘Photo Fanny” and the photographer, Paul Bowen. The Honeywell lead test pilot Hellmuth Eggeling and chief test pilot Joe Duval agree with B-25 pilots John Maloney and John Hinton to meet over the island at 2,000 ft. Both aircraft are to arrive by 5.15 pm local time, and begin orbiting clockwise around the coast under visual flight rules at around 180 kts.
B-25 photoshoot pilots John Hinton (left) and John Maloney. (Paul Bowen)
Photo Fanny is owned and operated by The Air Museum Planes of Fame, based in Chino, California. The father of B-25 pilot John Maloney is Ed Maloney, the founder of the museum while John Hinton’s brother, well-known aviator Steve Hinton, is currently president of the museum. Photo Fanny is itself something of a movie star, having worked on both sides of the camera in many film and television productions, both as the photo platform and the subject airplane. It was one of a handful of B-25s that were placed on a barge and towed to Honolulu for the filming of the feature film Pearl Harbor.
Big engine (RB211) below, test engine (HTF7000) on top. (Guy Norris)
Bowen, an award-winning commercial photographer based in Wichita, Kansas, asks for the 757 to trail the B-25 which will fly ahead and slightly above the twinjet for nose-on shots before sliding aft to reposition for other angles. We are also asked to open all the cabin window shades, minimize occupancy of the cockpit to all but essential crew and are advised that is ‘OK’ for the pilots to wear sun-glasses. A VHF frequency of 135.95 is established for air-to-air comms, with 123.45 as a back-up.
Paul Bowen perched in the tail of the B-25. (Guy Norris)
Around four hours later we are flying southeast along the shoreline of Catalina’s rugged coast when visual contact is made with the B-25. The photo session begins immediately to make the most of the bomber’s approximately one hour on-station, the remaining hour of its allotted flight time being taken up with two 30-minute transit flights to and from its Chino base.
Guy Closing in the B-25. (YouTube/Guy Norris)
B-25 between the engines - above Catalina's coastline (Guy Norris)
Lively surf and misty clouds along the cliffs of the island’s northwestern coast provide a particularly dramatic backdrop, while the increasingly low sun angle adds luster to the light quality which improves with every minute. Bowen, seated precariously with his camera in the open air of the modified tail turret position, appears to be only feet away from the 757 flight deck windows as the Honeywell crew carefully nurse the big jet into the B-25’s slipstream with landing flaps and leading edge slats set for slow speed handling. The constant heading, bank angle and throttle adjustments produce a high workload for Eggeling and Duval who, nonetheless, tell me later the photo sortie proves a most enjoyable break from their normal engine flight test routine. Read more details about Honeywell’s flying testbed as well as other industry workhorses in the next edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
B-25 alonside (YouTube/Guy Norris)
Terrain! Terrain! (YouTube/Guy Norris)