RAF Lakenheath 19-20/04/2016 – F-22A Raptor Town

RAF Lakenheath 19-20/04/2016 – F-22A Raptor Town

No visit to Suffolk last week would have been complete without spending some time at RAF Lakenheath, where the resident 48th Fighter Wing continues to play host to a dozen F-22A Raptors from the 325th Fighter Wing based at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

As I outlined last time, the two days spent in the area were divided between RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, where preparations were in full swing for President Barack Obama’s arrival in the UK.

The time at Lakenheath on the Tuesday was restricted to just the late afternoon and early evening.  By the time we got there the first four Raptors from the afternoon wave were already airborne, and we didn’t have to wait too long for them to return.

With the sun having passed through the runway centreline, we headed to the lane over by the official viewing area.  We’d heard it had been insanely busy with people eager to catch a glimpse of the special visitors, but things had quietened down a lot by when we arrived.

There were plenty of Strike Eagle departures (it later transpired that the F-15Cs of the 493rd FS had been away in Turkey) and a further four Raptors.

One of the first Strike Eagles to recover took the unusual step of banking left after going around, doing so slap bang in front of our position.  It looked rather lovely!  It’s not unheard of for them to do it, but the visual circuit for Runway 06 is right-hand, so it is quite unusual.

The Raptors took some gas from an airborne KC-135 before heading up near Newcastle.  Indeed, we were starting to wonder if they were ever going to return!

The general consensus seemed to be that they were about 15 minutes later than ideal when they finally did land, but I thought they looked lovely.

And so ended our first day.

We were back around 10 hours later, this time positioned in the Forest Entry, where we hoped we’d get treated to some cracking Raptor departures shots.

Word had come through that unlike previous days the first four Raptors would be getting airborne at 0830 so that they could get to France to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lafayette Escadrille.

Unusually, and perhaps as a result of an air traffic control-enforced delay, they were given “Fly runway heading” departure clearances, whereas Runway 06 operations usually call for a right-hand turn to avoid the town of Brandon.  Sadly, climbing, side-on F-22s do not make for particularly great looking subjects, so it was back to waiting for the final four of the morning wave to depart.

Again, there were plenty of Strike Eagle departures to fill in some of the gap, but most put in an early climb and were pretty ugly by the time they reached us.

One exception was Colonel Rob Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing Commander, who kept jet 91-0326 impressively low before cranking his steed right and presenting the top surfaces to us perfectly.  He was off to Wales with some junior pilots to show them the famous Mach Loop in LFA7.

Then it was the turn of the Raptors, and two of the four flew slightly different, but equally impressive, departure profiles, while one of the other two cycled his missile bay doors on climb-out, causing the AIM-9X Sidewinders to emerge briefly from their internal housing.

Quite content with what we’d got, we headed back to Mildenhall for the afternoon, but that was not our last visit of the trip to the ‘Heath.

I was a bit dubious about the shots that would be on offer at the 06 end for the recoveries from the pm wave, but my concerns proved to be unfounded.

There were reports that the farmer had been threatening to call the police, but it seems that was in relation to people actually going into the sheep field, rather than staying along the public right of way.  Regardless, no such issues were encountered by us, and we shot a number of recovering F-15Es and the final four Raptors, some with the full moon in the shot too.  They might not be the most dynamic shots ever, but they were pleasant enough and it was a nice finale to the trip.

I’m hoping to get back before they return Stateside, ideally for some late in the day recoveries to Runway 24.


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