With the recent news announcement that RAF Lakenheath’s 492nd and 494th Fighter Squadrons would be grounded until the end of September as a result of sequestration in the United States, putting out a blog of images from three visits in late 2012 and early 2013 seems to have taken on greater significance than it did previously.
RAF Lakenheath – 10/12/2012
RAF Lakenheath is, and has been for many years, home of the United States Air Forces Europe’s 48th Fighter Wing, flying three squadrons of F-15 Eagles. Two of these, the aforementioned 492nd and 494th FSs, operate the F-15E Strike Eagle, while the third, the 493rd FS, operates the F-15C/D.
The first of the three rapid-fire visits came as something of an afterthought. The original plan had been to spend the day at RAF Marham, but that looked desperately quiet on arrival, so Lakenheath it was!
Runway 06 was the order of the day, so the Forest Entry was the place to be for any departing aircraft. The weather to begin with was nice. Clear blue skies and sunshine. A number of F-15Cs were already airborne, and by the time the Es came out to play, the blue skies were still present, but the sun had been obscured by some meddlesome clouds. I don’t care what anybody says, there is NOTHING worse from an aviation-photographic standpoint than blue skied backdrops with no illumination on the subjects. It just looks rubbish!
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the already-airborne F-15Cs started to recover, and it soon became clear that they would all undergo their post-flight checks on the ramp on the northside of the runway, just up from the official viewing enclosure. This opened up the possibility of some rather nice taxi shots, albeit taken through the fence.
The weather continued to deteriorate and a quite heavy shower, consisting of a mix of water and ice, was experienced. Given where the sun would have been had the skies been clear, it almost didn’t matter.
A 100 Sqn Hawk, somewhat curiously, was operating from the airfield and provided the only activity during the last couple of hours of daylight – typically, as there was something of a sunset on offer. I presume it was working on STANTA?
RAF Lakenheath – 12/12/2012
The second visit came just two days later and was an altogether different affair. Runway 24 was in use on this occasion and the day had started with what I think I would have to describe as the heaviest hoarfrost I’d ever seen – proper Christmas card stuff!
Visibility initially was quite poor, and a Dutch Air Force Gulfstream IV had to make a second approach before it landed successfully.
When the based flying commenced, it was the 493rd FS that led the way. This time, with the regular ‘Last Chance’ spot for Runway 24 still closed, everything pre-flight checked on the northern. Conditions would not have been favourable for that location, however, so departures were photographed from a set of steps positioned on the bank in the Forest Entry. By now, the light was lovely and helped produce some of what I consider to be my nicest LN Eagle shots to date.
With a few aircraft starting to recover – including a surprise F-16BM from the Belgian Air Component – it was out into the field next door to catch some different angles. It was particularly nice to get a pair of Cs flying a few circuits together.
Activity soon dried up, though, and, with timings so far having matched those of two days earlier, the decision was taken to head home before sunset.
RAF Lakenheath – 24/01/2013
The final trip to Suffolk was crafted around a MALAS base visit that I’d been invited to attend in the afternoon.
In the run up, yet another heap of snow had been dumped on the UK, and Lakenheath certainly had got its fair share! The early part of the day was spent at RAF Mildenhall where two KC-10s had been due to support a 48th FW deployment, initially to Florida and ultimately to Nellis AFB, NV, for Red Flag. One of the KC-10s became unserviceable and so only six of the intended dozen F-15Es managed to get away.
With a couple of hours spare, a quick visit outside the wire at Lakenheath was called for. With half of the 493rd FS now in Spain on Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) duties, the 494th FS supporting operations in the Middle East, and the 492nd FS trying to deploy Stateside, it was always going to be quiet, but it wasn’t quite dead. A pair of F-15Cs and a 492nd FS F-15E passed by the lens as they returned from morning missions. The snow piled up on the edges of the taxiways made for some different pictures, even if the skies were completely overcast.
The visit itself was very interesting and took in the Memorial Park, Air Traffic Control, Security and Maintenance sections.
Sincere thanks are extended to Doug MacDonald for allowing me to be a part of it.
While I hope the 48th FW will be able to return to full strength at the start of the new fiscal year, what recent events have once again shown us is that we can take nothing for granted. When opportunities present themselves, if you can, you really should grab them with both hands because you never know when they’ll be taken away.