For many members of the GAR team, June proved to be a particularly busy month, and only now are we all starting to catch up with our processing from the recent Northrop B-2A Spirit and Boeing B-52H Stratofortress deployments to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. These are a few of our personal stories of bomber success or otherwise.
Karl Drage made it down to RAF Fairford twice during the bomber deployment, striking slightly unlucky on each occasion, as he explains:
“My first visit came on 8 June, the day the two B-2s arrived. Despite the lead aircraft, 82-1069, named ‘Spirit of Indiana‘, callsign ‘DEATH11’ overshooting on two occasions with gear indication warnings, I was positioned by the crash gate situated close to Rhymes Farm, having been assured that the aircraft would vacate the runway at the Charlie North intersection and use the Northern taxiway. Instead, both aircraft rolled long, used the loop at the Western end of the airfield and then back-tracked the whole length of the runway. That was a bit of a kicker, and it took me a few weeks to even contemplate looking at the images!
“The second trip was better, but not by much! Word got out from the press event associated with the deployment that the B-52s would have a non-flying day on the Thursday of the second week of their stay – a day that I had initially intended to visit. So, with that in mind, plans were rehashed and a Friday trip scheduled instead. The date? Friday 13th! The clues were there! Somewhat frustratingly, the B-52s did fly on the Thursday, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when they did not the following day – the day of my return!
“Up to that point, all of the first movements of the day had taken place around 1000 local time, so it seemed reasonable to not plan to arrive before 0900. En route, texts were received from my GAR colleagues Geoff Hibbert and Gordon Jones, each independently pointing out that ‘Spirit of Indiana‘ was already taxying, and then airborne…. Not the best start, however, it did at least mean that one aircraft had to come back!
“My main priority, as it had been at the start of the deployment, was for some imposing taxying shots of a type I’ve seen very little of since getting back into aviation in 2004. The B-2 is such an unusual looking beast that it’s quite difficult to photograph, but that tight-cropped head-on view, efflux billowing behind, was something I was keen to get into my picture collection, so we headed straight to the Marston Meysey end to await its return.
“A brief moment of excitement before that happened was provided by the arrival of a C-17A on an embassy flight, with the pilot unfamiliar with the layout of the airfield and Chinese whispers at the fenceline reporting that he would go long and use the loop. Needless to say he pretty much stopped on the spot and vacated at Charlie North. We would at least get to see him depart again later.
“It was lunchtime before ‘Spirit 01’ returned, but it did at least make use of the loop, providing me with the images I’d been after, and it brought a couple of friends along to visit, too. The two 100th ARW KC-135Rs that entered the circuit had tanked the B-2 on its morning mission and would do the same again in the afternoon. One of the pair even landed briefly while they waited for ‘Spirit of Indiana‘ to quick turn and reappear as ‘Spirit 02’.
“That second mission lasted around four hours, and the light wasn’t the best for the return. There were, however, some quite nice skyscapes out on the approach, so rather than going for what I would have considered to be a wasted side-on landing shot in dubious light, I opted to go long and then wide. I know ‘sparrow shots’ aren’t for everybody, but I’m a big fan, and the B-2 is such a bizarre shape in the sky – particularly so when seen in the turn or from below – that I’m glad I played it the way I did.”
John Higgins was only able to get to RAF Fairford for one day, on Tuesday 10 June. Having seen the images of the B-52s bashing the circuit in spectacular style the previous evening, he had high hopes of a good day.
“Travelling down from Manchester with my old mate Barry Swann, we arrived around 0700 to stunning light and the sight of one B-2A Spirit sat outside with the other in the purpose-built, multi-million dollar hangar. It wasn’t long before the second aircraft also emerged. Things were certainly looking promising.
“It was just before 1000 by the time the first aircraft moved – the Minot-based 5th BW’s B-52H 60-0017, using the callsign DOOM20. By then the glorious early-morning conditions had given way to an almost solid deck of cloud….
“No sooner had the Buff departed, a few holes started to appear, just in time for the departure of ‘Spirit of Indiana’ as ‘Spirit 01’. We’d relocated to the Marston Meysey end after it was made clear that we were not welcome at Kempsford, and the B-2 was slightly higher than ideal by the time it reached us there.
“It was a three-hour wait before the B-52 returned, and, disappointingly, requests for circuits were declined, resulting in a straight in approach to Runway 27. We did get quite lucky with the light, however, and the big yellow brake-chute billowed spectacularly as the aircraft slowed down on the runway and then taxied around the loop.
“A little over an hour later still and ‘Spirit 01’ also returned, again making a full-stop landing.
“Around 90 minutes after that it taxied out once more as ‘Spirit 02’ before recovering some three hours later in beautiful, soft evening light, even passing in front of the moon as it did so.”
For Tom Gibbons, who works at RAF Fairford, it was a tough time, as he explains:
“A frustrating week for me, plugging away in the office and hearing the B-2s and B-52s less than a mile away and not being able to get out at the optimum times!
“First I made it down for the arrival on the Sunday and met up with Gordon Jones; the road at the 27 end was like a country fair with plod moving lots of folk on who decided to either park on the double yellows or simply stop in the middle of the road either in cars or on foot!! Madness.
“I then met up with John Higgins and Barry Swann on the 11th; good to catch up and first off shot ‘Spirit of Indiana‘ departing around 1600 local time, and then caught the late return at around 2000 in some nice evening light:
“I eventually got myself down to the 09 end in the early evening of Friday 13th for the return of ‘Indiana‘ fortuitously in some nice light:
“Conditions for the B-2s’ departures for home were not the best, with high cloud hiding the sun nicely until they had left! Both aircraft backtracked to use 09 and left with about a three-minute interval between them. The result? Record shots more than anything!”: