Glenn Beasley's 2010 blogGAR Entries

OCT 31 2010
Catch them while you can...

Itís fair to say that itís been an interesting year in the UK low fly zones, particularly in LFA7 which is best known for its Machynlleth Loop area. The area gained national press recognition when a photograph of a Tornado GR.4 depicted the back seater having a little light hearted humour about the driver in the front seat. Sadly sections of the media and the public interpreted this as the RAF Ďshowboatingí in the hills, wasting taxpayers money and putting the general public at risk. In the weeks that followed there was said to be an enforced Ďno flyí in the low fly zone, with jets pulling out of the most popular locations staked out by photographers.

My own view is that this was a much needed cooling off period, as the hills were starting to become a bit of a tourist attraction, with an incredible 60 people said to be on one hillside during the summer. There is a very serious business being conducted in the low fly areas and whilst anyone is obviously free to find these locations and visit them, it isnít intended to be an airshow in the hills. The campaign by local residents to stop low flying has also intensified this year, with an 800 signature petition handed to the Ministry of Defence. The protestors also point to the £700,000 paid by the MOD in compensation to farmers for damage caused to livestock.

As anyone who undertakes low fly photography knows itís a terribly addictive but also frustrating affair. Itís also very unforgiving in terms of getting the shot, with often only one pass, thereís not much room for error or being unprepared. You have to take the bad days with the good and believe one day you will get the day you think everyone else gets and you donít! Iíve done quite a bit of low fly this year, mainly because itís dynamic in terms of the shots you can get, but I also love spending time in the hills, away from civilisation and the mad rush of everyday life.

After some hit and miss days earlier in the year, I finally feel my luck has changed for the better after my last two visits in October. Iíve tried to ensure my visits take place in the best of weather but that doesnít always guarantee results. The hills were pretty busy all week, when I visited on the 13th October, with the 48th Fighter Wing and the Strike Eagle squadrons being especially active.

The real highlight of that visit was an all too rare appearance by one of the remaining Tornado F.3s in service with 111(F) Squadron, the ĎTremblers.í With my scanner becoming an increasingly reliable aid in the hills, when I heard ĎLeuchars 35í, I immediately began to think he might come through. When he called up to say he was going low level in Swansea, I knew my chances were good. Getting two passes in good conditions was the icing on the cake to a very good day, which also saw passes from 41 Sqn GR.4s and the usual resident Hawks out of RAF Valley.

On the 13th Iíd attempted initially to climb up the most difficult hill in the loop, known as Bluebell, but halfway up I got a bit off track and ended up aborting the climb, heading for the Bwlch Exit which I know a lot better. On arriving in Wales on the 27th October, I found the Bwlch car park full so headed on down to Bluebell. A few days before Iíd been contemplating trying Bluebell again, as I didnít like to be beaten and the backdrop in Autumn is something else. Having driven past and seen a few people heading up I thought Iíd give it a go, as I could follow them up the correct path.

Getting up there involves walking away from the ledge initially and then going towards it at roughly 45 degree angles. The first part was OK, but the second half heading for the ledge was pretty muddy and slippy and my shoes donít give me much confidence, so it was almost an hour until I got where I needed to be. Now all that was needed was the traffic.

With the Strategic Defence and Security Review having decided to withdraw the Harrier from service, I was hoping to catch one in this environment. Little did I know that Iíd be seeing eight Harrier passes during the day by a variety of all current Harrier squadrons! The Hawks were pretty frequent too, so there werenít too many quiet periods. As the light worsened in the day I was able to see my first low level Typhoon, amazing given the days Iíve spent up there, 10 in total this year alone. The 11 Sqn jet certainly looked and sounded the part in the valley though, it was most impressive.

The climb down was even worse. I spent periods of it on my backside, but that was by choice! Iím not the best on my feet it has to be said, but the lure of the hills is difficult to beat. The shots from those two days have a dynamic edge that you canít replicate around an RAF base, hence why I keep going back. I did a quick calculation today that Iíve travelled over 2000 miles this year on trips to Wales and yesterday I was awake for almost 20 hours.

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