Karl blogs on a rather spontaneous late 2013 trip to RAF Mildenhall, after receiving a text suggesting a day out CV-22B Osprey hunting from Michael Hind.
I’d not been to RAF Mildenhall since January, and the landscape there had changed a lot in the meantime following the arrival of the CV-22B Osprey and the MC-130J Commando II, so when I was asked the evening before if I fancied it, I thought it seemed like a nice idea.
I’m not going to lie, the highlight of the day for me was breakfast! I’d heard a lot about Angels Cafe at Mildenhall, and I got to see what all the fuss was about! Firstly, I think it would be fair to say that we were both expecting, at best, a tiny little greasy spoon, or at worst, just a counter from which you would take your purchases away. Instead, it’s quite a spacious and pleasant place with plenty of seating! The menu – at least the part we concentrated on was all about burritos, and we each settled on the Breakfast Burrito, which boasted a combination of scrambled egg, cheese, bacon, sausage or chorizo, bell peppers, red onion, sauté potatoes and jalapenos. It was served with individual portions of guacamole, salsa and sour cream and was absolutely delicious! What a superb way to start the day!
On the aviation side, it was a funny day where I never quite felt on my game and almost always had the wrong lens on. We decided we’d spend the early part of it down Folly Road as, in the strong wind, it was absolutely freezing. Typically, as we got out of the car, the one and only aircraft to taxi out from that side in the whole time we were there did so… Okay, so it was only a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135R, but I’d have still have taken it!
The morning was very quiet. Aside from the 100th bird, we got an AL ANG KC-135R departing, one of the new MC-130Js returning, and then a brief bit of excitement when, after RAF Lakenheath’s runway had been closed due to an incident, we had the arrival of an F-15E Strike Eagle on a fuel critical diversion and then, shortly afterwards, two more. 300mm wasn’t long enough and fixed 400mm was too big…
Eagles on the deck, we noticed two of the three Ospreys on the line were strobing, so we headed up to John’s Field. Shortly after arriving, the far one’s rotors started to turn, followed by a slight tilt forward, then back, and a shut down… Expecting to see the ground crew make a mad dash to prep the spare, it was a bit disappointing when this failed to happen. The middle aircraft did eventually start and did depart, however, he did so from the taxiway rather than the piano keys. Had the wind have been a bit more southerly, I think we could have been in for some stunners, but it was not to be! He disappeared for two hours.
It briefly looked like it was going to get quite interesting when three French AF Mirage 2000Ds called up and requested a flyby at LN. They were declined and then requested a flyby at Marham, which was also declined. Having turned them towards Dover and climbed them to FL190, LN then decided they could fly through not below 1500′, but they were having none of it and claimed they were low on fuel after which they flew through the Mildenhall overhead at altitude heading north! I didn’t even see them. Hind managed some shots of dots in the distance!
It was very quiet then until just prior to the Osprey’s return, with just the first one of the Eagles departing in the interim (the single was parked northside while the pair were parked on the southside, surprisingly close to the 29 threshold – given the activity on the runway (lots of blue flashing lights) and the presence of fire trucks, I did think they might have looked to kill two birds with one stone and performed a barrier test, but it never happened).
Shortly before the Osprey came back, a 6th AMW KC-135R from MacDill AFB, FL, landed.
At this point, we were planning on heading to LN for sunset, but there were no Eagles out and we noted that the Osprey had not returned to its spot on the line, so we hung around for a bit. It then hot-pitted and got airborne again, flying a number of different flight profiles including fast roping, casualty extraction via a stretcher and on a hook. Light was lovely, but again I could really have done with a zoom between 300 and 400mm. It’s VERY rare for me to say that. Shame there was construction going on in the background, but nothing we could do about that.
I managed to get an MC-130H passing through the moon as it departed – again, a decent crop, and it shows – and the second Eagle departing (the third was still there when we left), and then just had to watch the Osprey bashing the circuit until the sun set, flying virtually the same profile each time (i.e. offering nothing different or dynamic, frustratingly!).
A pair of RAF Tornados performed a low approach together and then a RAF E-3D called up for some rollers but was initially told that he was only allowed to full stop and then that “Mildenhall had been advised by ‘your company’ that we cannot accept you due to the wet runway”. It’d been dry all day! Had the fire trucks been wetting the runway for some reason and we’d missed it? No idea, but he went to the hold to have a think about it and was planning on heading to Birmingham for some PDs when we left. It all seemed a bit strange…
I do like the variety that Mildenhall has to offer – you literally never know what you’re going to get – but this had felt like a pretty slow day and one that arguably hadn’t delivered quite what I’d hoped it would. That said, it was nice to see the Osprey out and about, an aircraft that is certainly fascinating to watch. Massive thanks go to “Hind” for driving! Oh, and for the record, neither of us felt the need to eat another thing until the evening!