Alaska: NAS Whidbey Island
Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island is the home to all but one Squadron of the US Navy's EA-18G Growlers and multiple Maritime Patrol Squadrons flying both P-3 Orions and P-8 Posiedons. The NAS is located on a large island at the northern end of the Puget Sound and borders the sea on the eastern edge of the Island.
After breakfast of waffles in the Days Inn hotel we headed north towards the Island. Passing by both Kings County and Paine Field with brand new Boeing aircraft scattered across both airfields. I would be stopping at Paine Field on the way back from NAS Whidbey Island to see what variety of airlines there were ready to be delivered to their customers.
Catching the ferry at Mukilteo, the short crossing to Whidbey Island was smooth and offered good views around and back towards the mainland. Rolling off the ferry it was going to be an hour before we got to the Naval Air Station but the drive was through some stunning forest areas and offered great views out across the sea.
Coming down the hill towards the NAS, it was great to see the old guard on the entrance to the base in the shape of an A-6 Intruder and EA-6B Prowler and hear the rumble of jet noise in the distance.
Not knowing what runway the aircraft were departing on i headed to the beach car park near the end of runway 14. This would have been a great place to view from if the aircraft hadn't been departing from the opposite end of the runway. Back in the car and it was time to head round to runway 25 where they were departing from and as i pulled the car up I could see two Growlers coming in to run and break to land.
For the next 30 minutes it was non stop with six aircraft being in the circuit and others departing in the gaps between the approaching aircraft. I was amazed by how the Growlers were slammed into the asphalt that almost bounced them back into the air as they put the power back on to completed a touch and go. In amongst the Growlers were some VFA-113 F/A-18Es which were an unexpected surprise and especially to see their CAG bird.
With a lull in the movements of the jets there was the unmistakable drone of a P-3 which appeared with a P-8 in tow to depart as a pair on a training mission. Sadly these were the only departures of the Maritime Patrol aircraft that i saw in the day.
I decided that i would try the opposite side of runway 25 for some different shots of the locally based aircraft. This is a private road but one of the residents is very receptive of aviation enthusiasts, even though after speaking to him he said this could be changing in the future. This position offered views onto the end of the runway and as the aircraft approached to land. Whilst a Growler was on approach a large bird dropped out of a tree near the runway and spread its enormous wings and caught a thermal, a Turkey Vulture. Now i couldn't decide on what subject to photograph. As the Vulture came closer my decision was easily made. Seeing this massive bird of prey with its featherless head was a great sight.
I spent a couple of hours here as 20+ aircraft departed and arrived chatting to a local aviation photographer, but it was soon time for some lunch and as i headed out I pulled over to the road edge and managed to capture some of the Growlers banking in on finals.
Not far from the end of the runway is an ice cream shop which has some unusual flavours and in sizes that could mean you would be eating an entire tub in a waffle cone! We had a bite to eat and watched the approaching jets power over head and then i spotted some smoke in the distance. The P-3 was on its way in. It droned over head for a missed approach as a Growler pulled a tight landing in front of it and turning back round the P-8 was now lining up to land.
As I watched the P-3 travel down wind it banked in tighter than i thought it would which meant it was still turning as it came over head the ice cream shop. It completed a missed approach and I jumped back into the car and drove up the hill, turning left onto East Frostad Road and finding somewhere to park up to try and capture the P-3 banking. It was a great site to see this aircraft banking to line up with the runway in late afternoon light.
It was soon time to head back to Seattle with a stop at the Paine Field on our journey to the hotel.
NAS Whidbey Island is a great place to visit and photograph the locally based squadrons in a stunning location with the hills, forest and ocean in close proximity.