Karl Drage's 2012 blogGAR Entries

MAR 05 2012
blogGAR: Operation ELLAMY Mission Marks at RAF Marham

Aside from one abortive day in March 2009, where it transpired that the station was on a 'down day', I'd not taken pictures outside the fence at RAF Marham since June 2008! When I got up on the morning of Thursday, 23 February, it was still in the balance as to whether that would be rectified or not!

It's fair to say the forecast wasn't brilliant with lots of scattered and patchy layers of cloud at various levels anticipated. It seemed it would be pot luck as to whether those layers lined up or not as the aircraft movements took place. With Glenn already well on his way, I decided I'd chance it anyway.

A reassuring text from Glenn while I was en-route told me that the sun was out and that three aircraft were airborne, so it looked quite promising, even if I did seem to be making the journey from the same direction that the weather was coming from, where things were not so pleasant.

Pulling up on the side of the road near the approach at the Runway 24 end, the first thing that really struck me was the smell. The farmer had obviously been 'muck spreading' fairly recently and the word 'stench' is probably a far more accurate description of the aroma present! But you know how it is with smells? Surround yourself by them for long enough and you stop noticing them!!

Glenn was parked a little further up the road and wandered down to see me. Shortly after a 45(R) Sqn King Air appeared in the circuit, followed in fairly quick succession by the GR.4 pair and singleton that were already out. The sun disappeared behind a cloud for all bar a fleeting glimpse during one approach by a fully marked IX(B) Sqn jet. Was this a sign of things to come?!?

With nothing else out, we decided it would be prudent to make our way down the edge of the field to the fence, pending the next wave of departures. Indeed, we wouldn't have long to wait, with three aircraft appearing from the southside HAS site complex literally as we reached our intended spot.

The King Air remained in the circuit and was joined by a pair of Tucanos 'Cordite'. After flying a paired approach, one aircraft landed while the other flew a further two approaches from differing setups.

Another King Air soon appeared, this time a very smart looking Cobham Beech 350 variant with winglets, G-COBM. This aircraft is used to test approach aids and uses the callsign 'Calibrator'. Back in the days where the RAF was doing a lot more flying, the appearance of the calibrator invariably meant you were in for a quiet time of things for a while. It landed straight off its first approach anyway, so the issue wasn't one that was going to immediately affect us.

Following a number of additional departures we soon ended up with eight GR.4s airborne, including at least a couple carrying mission markings, or perhaps more accurately 'weapon release markings', gained whilst supporting the Operation ELLAMY efforts over Libya. What was more, conditions were improving all the time!

To be fair, things had become considerably quieter by the time 'Calibrator' got airborne once again to do its thing, but a series of fly-throughs straight down the runway at least provided the challenge to capture a few full disc shots.

The overhead was fairly busy throughout the day with Lakenheath Eagles heading out to 'play', a Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H operating from Cambridge on a test-flight with Marshalls and a Monarch Airlines A320 flying around at relatively low level (for an airliner) with its undercarriage down for several minutes. The latter, apparently, has recently been acquired from Thomson and was most likely on some kind of test / acceptance flight.

With the sun constantly heading off towards runway heading, the light, sadly, was never going to be great for the recovery of Tornado GR4 ZD715 / 083. The reason this aircraft was of particular interest? It carries no less than 63 Paveway IV, five Brimstone and two Storm Shadow release markings - easily the busiest of the aircraft back at RAF Marham following the cessation of hostilities in the region.

And as the sun continued its path further across the sky and its descent rate started to increase, there was only one aircraft left out that could possibly provide the activity we'd be looking for around sunset. The odds were not in our favour…. When it called up the sun was still too high in the sky but, unusually, a relatively small bank of cloud came to our aid and provided some nice diffusion and made what didn't look possible passable. 'Marham 17' even did his part by staying in the circuit for four or so circuits.

An Eastern Airways Jetstream got in on the action too before a further GR.4 launched, this time on a Tarnish callsign, so presumably one that had been undergoing work at the BAE facility on Marham's northside. It hadn't been in the overhead for more than a few minutes before developing an issue that prompted an earlier-than-planned recovery as the sun did finally disappear.

A day where hopes hadn't been especially high ended up delivering far more than I could have realistically wished for. It's nice when it works out like that.

Unfortunately, I'd end up paying for it in spades a week later when heading to Amsterdam-Schipol Airport for a couple of days, which you can read about next time!

Don't forget, Issue 6 of Global Aviation Magazine will be online from Wednesday and features the second part of Gareth Stringer's interview with the last Lightning display pilot, Jon Fynes, amongst other things.

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