Virginia Nights

Prose: Nicholas Pascarella
Photography: Nicholas Pascarella , James Woodard

Sunset isn't something I usually get to see, given my work schedule. Bummer, right? Even more rare is hanging out on an airfield through sunset and blue hour. The night before the 2019 Leaseweb Manassas Airshow, James and I got to do just that on the Manassas Regional Airport ramp, with our friends RJ Gritter and Chef Pitts. RJ Gritter flies a red, white and blue Bellanca Decathlon, and Chef (Clemens Kuhlig) flies a Pitts S1S in an iconic red and black scheme.

FullDiscAviation_JamesWoodard_-May 03, 2019-03.jpg

We linked up after dinner as the harsh, setting sun cast long shadows from the static aircraft on the tarmac. Chef escorted us over to the hangar where his and RJ's aircraft were snuggled together; opening the massive hangar door. It was great catching up with Chef...we had hoped for an air-to-air shoot but sadly, things didn't work out that way.


RJ arrived shortly after, and we were finally able to chat with him longer than the typical fence line, post-performance pleasantries. The air was cool and the vibe was light; thin clouds floated by and snuffed out our sunset, but as blue hour approached, we set to work pulling out the aircraft from the hangar. We got static shots as the sunlight faded, set up a few light stands, and summoned our pilot friends for the smoke show.

We worked with RJ's mostly white aircraft first, so he jumped in and fired up as the twilight sky behind his aircraft glowed with pastel, spring blues. James and I worked over the front quarters and center with different lenses for alternate perspectives as RJ hit us with bursts of smoke. The Decathlon's silver prop swirled the smoke into a vortex on the ground before being thrust backwards, forming an ominous cloud behind the aircraft.


Chef jumped in his Pitts next and we repeated the same procedure, only with less and less available light progressively as we shot. My shutter speed, which started at ¼sec during RJ's smoke runs, was well into the 2sec range by the time we finished with Chef, doing my best to pull the dark blues out of the sky while keeping his aircraft properly exposed.

FullDiscAviation_JamesWoodard_-May 03, 2019-19.jpg

When the engines were again silent, someone looked at the radar and we called it a shoot. A storm cell was moving in; lightning was starting to dance along the dusky purple Virginia skyline. James and I split from Chef and RJ who were tucking the planes into bed, and used the ambient airport flood lights to shoot a number of military aircraft on the ramp, including a Tucano, a CH-53 and the duo of A-10 Demonstration Team jets.


The show the following day was a blast, and we had a great time with Chef and RJ in show mode, ripping up the sky over Manassas Regional Airport for the good people of D.C. I can't say enough about both of these guys, both Chef and RJ are standout gentlemen and rock star pilots, and we appreciate their time and the opportunity to work with them. This won't be the last time we see these two, so until then, please enjoy this gallery, and be sure to follow @chefpittsairshows and @rjgritter and catch them at their websites and