RAF Lakenheath & RAF Marham – 19/10/2015

RAF Lakenheath & RAF Marham – 19/10/2015

Following the arrival of six VMFA-232 “Red Devils” F/A-18C Hornets of the US Marine Corps at RAF Lakenheath on Saturday, 17th October 2015, I had quite liked the idea of trying to catch their departure.  However, I was unable to make the day they were initially planned to go.  That changed due to weather in the refuelling tracks, so the Monday was the next time they would try, and I could get there then. 

Arriving about an hour before the scheduled departure time, there was a C-5M Super Galaxy from the 436th AW, based at Dover AFB, Delaware, flying the downwind leg to Runway 06, which at the time we thought would provide a welcome bonus.

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What we didn’t realise then was that the Hornets’ departure had already been cancelled once again.

We could see sun in the distance in the direction of RAF Marham, so it really was a no-brainer to head there instead, particularly since I was still to catch up with the stunning 12(B) Squadron centenary jet.

A Cranwell-based King Air was in the circuit as we approached, and soon after G-LBSB, the King Air 350 used as a Shadow crew trainer followed.

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A quick drive by showed an alarming lack of open hangars, and a chat with a guy sat at the end of the runway suggested very little, if anything, was airborne.

One XV(R) Squadron marked Tornado GR4 did land and taxied straight to the Hot Pit, which meant the intention was for it to fly again.

Not long after it got airborne once more, another aircraft called up for clearance.  It was on a Rafair callsign, so we knew it would not be back.  Thankfully, it was ZA405, the 12(B) Squadron special.  And what’s more, the light and sky were absolutely perfect.

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Aside from a pair of Typhoons playing in the overhead, that was it until the XV(R) jet returned once more, performing some energetic manoeuvres at altitude before landing.  Again, it went to the Hot Pit, and we took that as our cue to more to the Runway 06 end.  While we did so, another jet departed.  Maybe things were finally starting to liven up?

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Sadly not, though the XV(R) machine did taxi out in stunning light and take-off once again for an incredible third time on the day.

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Conditions were perfect, but that aircraft returning, just as the sun was about to slip behind the horizon, was the only other action we witnessed.

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It was only that evening that I discovered that 31 Squadron had taken six jets to Albacete AB in Spain for Exercise Trident Juncture the Friday before, which may have gone some way towards explaining why things were so quiet.

Of course, tragic news was received just two days later when it became apparent that one of the VMFA-232 Hornets had crashed on departure from RAF Lakenheath, with the loss of the pilot.  After successfully surviving a seven-month combat tour to the Middle East, Major Taj Sareen had cruelly lost his life as he made his way back to his family.

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