Naval Air Facility El Centro Photocall : Fall 2014
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
November 25, 2014
The Fall 2014 NAF El Centro Photocall, which took place on November 20, 2014, will be remembered as another successful NAF El Centro Photocall for aviation photographers from the United States and other parts of the world. This biannual event has become one of the most popular and successful military aviation photography events in the United States. The NAF El Centro Photocall is unique in that A: it is geared towards aviation photographers and not specifically media, and, B.: it allows photographers to line up along the runway and get very intimate with the aircraft as they depart and arrive.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a “Photocall” is: “An occasion on which famous people pose for photographers by arrangement”. In this case, we deviate from the technical definition of a Photocall and replace “famous people pose” with “cool aircraft fly”.
Leadership from aviation photography groups such as: Arizona Aviation Photographers (AzAP), Aviation Photographers of Southern California (AP SoCal), Fencecheck, PHXSpotters, and others worked closely with the Public Affairs Office at NAF El Centro to ensure members of these groups are properly vetted and understand the guidelines for the event.
Naval Air Facility El Centro is located just outside the city of El Centro, California, about 110 miles east of San Diego and 72 miles west of Yuma, AZ. The ideal weather in the area makes NAF El Centro an attractive base for aviators from the U.S. Navy, USMC, and other U.S. and non-U.S. squadrons to train. NAF El Centro is also the winter home of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Blue Angels and the NAF El Centro Photocall in the spring often features a practice performance by the Blues. NAF El Centro is also the site of an annual air show that features the initial performance of the Blue Angels for the year.
In addition to U.S. Navy and USMC squadrons, NAF El Centro has hosted CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache squadrons from the UK, EH-101 Merlin squadrons from Denmark, and other squadrons from countries of U.S. allies. NAF El Centro was in the news regularly a few years ago when Prince Harry (Prince Henry of Wales), or Captain Harry Wales as he was known, trained on AH-64 Apache helicopters there.
The Fall 2014 NAF El Centro Photocall officially began with a safety/ground rule briefing from the NAF El Centro Public Affairs Officer, Kristopher Haugh and a warm welcome speech from the Executive Officer at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Commander Adam Schlismann. Prior to his welcome, Commander Schlismann was mingling with the photographers and introducing himself which made the crowd of 100+ photographers feel welcome. To finalize the briefing, the Commanding Officer at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Captain William Doster returned from an off-site function and welcomed the group to the base.
The Fall 2014 NAF El Centro Photocall was full of activity. Visiting squadrons included McDonnell Douglas T-45C Goshawks from Training Squadron NINE (VT-9) out of Naval Air Station Meridian, MS and McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18 C/D/E/F’s from Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (VFA-106) out of Naval Air Station Oceana, VA. A full ramp at NAFEC translated to plenty of activity for visiting photographers. When there was a lull in the activity, a Grumman C-2A Greyhound from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30) out of Naval Air Station North Island, CA filled the void by practicing carrier-style landings. The Photocall was kicked-off with a visit from a rarely-seen McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 31 (VX-31) out of Weapons Station China Lake, CA.
With temperatures in the mid-seventies, the climate was ideal for flying and photographing. With over 100 photographers lined up along the runway, there was still enough room for everyone to spread out and still get the angles they were looking for. The NAFEC Public Affairs Officer, Kristopher Haugh, and his team did an excellent job getting everyone to the location and keeping them organized.
While photography and videography was the goal of most of the attendees, added exhilaration came in the form of high-powered jets blasting by. There is no feeling like a twin engine Hornet or Super Hornet violently rumbling past you while launching. This feeling cannot be captured on film, only experienced and remembered. The symbolic shot of the NAFEC Photocall is the afterburners of the Hornet/Super Hornet causing mayhem prior to launching.
Overall, the Fall 2014 NAF El Centro Photocall was a very successful one. All the things that could be controlled like the transportation, safety, and crowd control went very well, as did the things that could not be controlled, such as the weather and volume of activity. Thanks to a strong relationship that the people at NAF El Centro built with various aviation photography groups throughout the years, the NAF El Centro Photocall is one of the only military bases that allows non-media to get this intimate with military aircraft. There is no better way to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of high-powered military aircraft then at the NAF El Centro Photocall.
Aviation Photography Digest would like to thank Kristopher Haugh, his team, and the leadership from aviation photography groups such as: Arizona Aviation Photographers (AzAP), Aviation Photographers of Southern California (AP SoCal), Fencecheck, and PHXSpotters for making this event happen. While special thanks goes to Captain William Doster and Commander Adam Schlismann for allowing the event to happen.