Shooting The Textron Scorpion Air To Air
The Textron Scorpion, a striking aircraft, the twin tail and engine separation almost looks reminiscent of the famous F-14 tomcat with the cockpit of a M-346. The low cost, light attack and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) jet obviously has a massive appeal to different countries, providing a cost effective ISR solution with the ability to strike targets, naturally then it was to be expected that the aircraft drew in a lot of attention at the Paris air show back in June.
After Paris air show the schedule brought the jet over to the UK for maritime trials, working with the Royal Navy and their Sea King Mk7 airborne surveillance and control (SKASaC) helicopters from 849 NAS, based at RNAS Culdrose. So arises the perfect opportunity to shoot the Scorpion in a completely new environment, the idea had been in the pipeline for a number of months but the confirmation was a mere matter of weeks before the jet landed at Boscombe Down to begin UK trials.
During the jets deployment to the UK, myself and the rest of the Vortex Aeromedia team had been tasked with shooting new promotional images and a short video showing the Scorpion operating in a maritime environment, to be used by Textron as new marketing material.
The planning for this shoot had been ongoing for two months, planning a solid brief is the key to a safe and successful air to air shoot and we wanted to make sure our plan for the shoot was the best it could possibly be. The most important aspect was to show the jet operating in a maritime environment, this was the first time the aircraft would be working with the Royal Navy and as such getting photos and videos of the jet in formation with a SKASaC was an absolute must. Easier said than done however, mainly due to the difference in speeds between our formation and the Sea King, our stall speed was higher than the Sea Kings max with the bag out, around 90 knots. So it was decided that we fly past in a loose formation with a safe amount of separation between our formation and the Sea King.
So after months of planning it was time to fly the first sortie, meeting over at 736 NAS where Chris would be guided to by ATC once he had landed in his Beech A36.
Chris was an ex Harrier pilot in the RAF and is currently flying for one of the UKs major carriers, as well as flying previous air to air sorties before so we were in incredibly experienced hands.
Once Chris had landed it was time for a small amount of work on the aircraft, removing the rear door so we had a clear point of view from the Beech and hooking in our harnesses.
Getting clearance from ATC we departed Culdrose and headed north towards our pre arranged meeting point, the weather was less than ideal with the cloud base at about 4000ft and patchy thick lower cloud at around 2500ft. We orbited our RV at 3000ft whilst waiting for the test pilots in the Scorpion to call up and descend from 5000ft and join up in formation.
Seeing the jet descend towards us through a break in the cloud was fantastic, the aircraft is unbelievably stable at slow speeds, it seemed almost effortless to get the jet into a tight formation with us. We made our way into the English channel/Celtic Sea heading towards a shipping vessel the Scorpion had picked up on radar, the perfect backdrop to visualize the ISR and maritime environment the jet was working in.
After making around four passes over the ship flying different lines we moved back away and had the test pilot, Andy Vaughan, fly some hard break away and rejoins for both stills and video. Capturing images of the jets new integrated Thales I-Master radar and L-3 Systems Wescam MX-15 DI sensor was essential as well, I tried to show both the radar and sensors along with the pilot and back seater to give a more operational look to the shots instead of just sensors sticking out from the jet.
A big chunk of our time was taken up shooting video; we were using a BlackMagic pocket cinema camera on a stabilised gimbal system to soak up the movement in the camera ship and smooth out our footage.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye we were making our way back to Culdrose before the weather closed in, not before making a slight detour to St Michaels Mount as we flew a series of five passes over the famous landmark, getting the line right for this proved a little tricky with the first pass but Chris nailed the following passes, a testament to his piloting abilities.
The following days sortie began with much better weather; we launched from Culdrose again and made our way towards St Ives where the Sea King Mk7 and Scorpion would be waiting after completing part of their sortie. Once the Scoprion had joined up with us in a tight formation we lined up with a safe amount of horizontal separation from the Sea King Mk7 as we flew past to capture a photo of the ‘formation’ together showing how they had been working together for the duration of the jets maritime work. After that the Sea King observer directed us towards a civilian vessel off the coast where we could capture more footage of the jet flying over shipping lanes. For this sortie the real focus was getting as much video footage as well could, showing the jet and its manoeuvrability at slower speeds ie rolls and dynamic breaks away from our camera ship. We had the opportunity to shoot a few shots along the coast to get some land into the frames as well, before one more run out to a shipping vessel to capture a few more stills. And that was it, the months of planning and negotiating had paid off, we were walking away with more than we could’ve hoped for.
A highly successful shoot didn’t end there, we worked hard using our media connections to get the images used by as many aviation based websites and magazines, the work was eventually used by Air & Cosmos, AirForces Monthly, Vertical Magazine, Flight Global, Janes Defence, The Aviationist and more.