Elliott Marsh's 2011 blogGAR Entries

MAR 31 2011
A tilt in the right direction - Osprey hunting at the Hall

Wednesday 23rd March 2011 saw the start of the first deployment of the CV-22 Osprey to the United Kingdom, with the arrival of two Special Operations Squadron (“SOS”) ‘tilt-rotors’ at RAF Mildenhall. This pair was followed on Friday 25th by a further two examples; the quartet remains at Mildenhall, where they are set to conduct operations over the UK for a number of weeks. At the time of writing, it is unclear exactly how long they are due to remain in-country.

Having booked Tuesday 29th March off work to visit Old Warden to lay the foundations for some future features with the Shuttleworth Collection (many thanks to Jon Habicht for the excellent guided tour),and with a full tank of petrol in the car, it seemed logical to take advantage of the fine spring weather by heading elsewhere later in the day. After all, with petrol prices at their current rates, you don’t know how often you’re going to enjoy the luxury of riding off on a jolly around the countryside…

Heading down the A505 to Duxford for a spot of late lunch – and a glimpse of my first warbird display of 2011, with Martin Willing displaying the T-28 Fennec – I was determined to make the most of my day out of the office and decided to keep heading east, with Mildenhall firmly in my sights.

Knowing that the CV-22s had been ground running over the weekend, it seemed a fair bet that they were due to conduct their first UK sortie imminently. Arriving in a downpour (the earlier blue skies were a thing of the past by the time I left Duxford), I wondered whether it would be worth it. Grey aircraft against a grey sky in poor visibility; the photographer’s curse! However, it quickly became apparent that something was afoot, with two of the Ospreys receiving a lot of attention from their ground crew before flight-suited crewmen with bone domes were seen boarding their mounts and soon after, lights started flashing, almost teasingly.

It felt like an eternity – much of it spent huddled in the car as the rain aggressively lashed against the roof, almost daring me to step outside to crack off a few shots of the departing local KC-135 and MC-130P – before two of the CV-22s spooled up and rotors started turning. Another long period of pre-flight checks followed before they finally began to move – we were going to get some action!

Lining up and lifting off together, the CV-22 pair offered an imposing sight. Quite unlike anything I’ve seen or heard before, the Ospreys had me feeling genuinely excited, and with the sun breaking through the evening clouds, it was looking like a promising evening of aviation.

The Ospreys flew a fairly tight circuit after take-off, turning into the approach in loose formation above a dramatic sunset attempt. The CV-22 is a real beast of an aircraft, with a tremendously foreboding, almost indescribable oral signature that gives it the aura of a gritty, purposeful war machine.

Having flown a number of approaches, the Ospreys headed off to fly higher altitude night manouevers, indicating an end to the day’s activity at John’s field. It was an evening I won’t be forgetting in a hurry and I’m sure I’ll be back at the fence in a matter of weeks.

All that was left to do was take on a curry at the Gandhi Tandoori in Mildenhall before scraping home on less than a quarter of a tank, arriving home on fumes at 10pm just in time for the BBC3 Eastenders repeat…

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