Every America Strong Flight Is Impressive, But This Massive Formation Is Special.
The formation was so big, it was tough to fit all the aircraft in one photo. That was the challenge for aviation photographer Jonathan Navarro of Radar Images photography.
“I had originally planned to use a 200-500mm f/5.6 lens but I feared that it would have been too much focal length so I switched it before the fly over and turns out I was right.”
Navarro, an expert aviation photographer and owner of Radar Images on Instagram and Facebook, told The Aviationist he used a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens on his Nikon D7100 to fit all 14 F-16s and F-35As in the frame.
Navarro and thousands of others enjoyed what will go down in aviation history as one of the most remarkable spectacles ever: the mass formation America Strong flyover from Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona. The formation flyover took place on Friday, May 1, 2020, over the Phoenix, Arizona area adjacent to Luke AFB, a major training facility for F-16 and F-35 aircraft from around the world. The America Strong formation flight covered a huge area over Arizona on Friday, passing over Buckeye, Litchfield Park, Surprise, Luke, Waddell, Goodyear, Tolleson, Phoenix and Tempe before continuing to Phoenix suburbs Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Deer Valley, Glendale, Peoria, Sun City West and El Mirage.
Over fifteen aircraft participated in the flight, with the most remarkable visual being a 14-aircraft wedge formation that Navarro was able to capture in a photo showing 7 F-16s with 7 F-35As from Luke AFB. The flight also included a KC-135 tanker from the Air National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Navarro, a native of Arizona, has been an aviation photographer for ten years. “I started with a simple point and shoot camera kept upgrading my equipment while also learning more about photography in general.”
While the spectacle of the massive formation was impressive from any angle, capturing the flight in one, definitive photo would be incredibly challenging. Different from airshow photography where photographers enjoy multiple passes, there would only be one chance to get the lighting, composition, timing and the best alignment of the jets in a visually pleasing formation. As it turns out, Navarro nailed it like no other photographer.
“I had heard about the fly over from a few friends before it was officially announced and then when it was officially announced and they released a map of the route they were expecting to take I started planning out where I could go to see them. Part of the route was going to take them over my house and I started coming up with ideas of where I could go to get a good shot from but then a friend had suggested going to Luke so I started thinking that may be a better option. I started thinking that because the spot near my house was towards the end of the route perhaps I could watch the fly by at Luke then immediately go to another location and catch them in another spot. The other spot near my house seemed like a good location because they would have been flying directly south then making a big right turn heading north west so my thought was attempt to get shots of them banking as the light would have been great.”
Navarro went on to tell TheAviationist, “One of the biggest challenges with the flyover was just trying to figure out how and where they would be flying since there was not going to be an opportunity to try again. Would they be sticking to the flight route exactly or would they be a little off course was one of my biggest questions. Also, where exactly they would be turning at the other location I had planned to go to.”
Navarro said the event ran well and people he was with practiced effective social distancing while viewing the flyovers, especially photographers. “I figured there was going to be quite a few people out there but I was stunned to see that they roads near the base were absolutely packed with cars and people who were there to see the fly over. The large amount of people there actually made it more difficult to get out of that area than I had expected so I wasn’t able to get to the other location I had wanted to try and get to. I had met up with a couple of friends and fellow photographers (while still social distancing) so it was nice to see them since I haven’t been able to meet up with anybody for months now.”