RAF Marham – 11/02/2016

RAF Marham – 11/02/2016

My first UK aviation outing (aside from the start of the DHL Twister Team journey to Bahrain) of 2016 took me to RAF Marham on 11 February, and it turned out to be a busy day with plenty of Tornado GR4 action.

Before we get going, let me apologise for the lack of posts of late.  As many of you are aware, I was in Bahrain for two weeks from the middle of January working for the DHL Twister Team at Sakhir Air Base for the Bahrain International Airshow.  There will be some content from there to follow, but, as yet, what appears where is still a little up in the air.

So, back to RAF Marham.  I did well there in 2015, catching no less than three of the special-tailed examples of a type that sadly will not be around for too many more years.  One particular Tornado GR4 was still evading me, however – the 31 Squadron centenary jet:  Goldstars.  Consequently, that was the primary quarry for the day.  Anything else (such as a few more shots of the 12(B) Squadron special or some nice sunset shots) would be a bonus.

The journey took rather longer than anticipated, thanks to extremely heavy traffic on the approach to Wisbech.  As a result, engines were already running by the time we finally arrived, just before 1000.  There simply wasn’t time to get into position by the fence near the Runway 24 threshold, so we just watched.

In total, three aircraft departed in this period, with one of those being the aforementioned Goldstars jet!  One of the three performed a single-engine heavyweight approach straight after departure, and this would become a fairly regular occurrence throughout the day.

A further three examples got airborne during the morning with almost all of them performing a series of approaches (a mix of overshoots and touch-and-goes) before landing.  Despite the decent activity levels and the largely blue skies, the sun was being somewhat diffused by medium-level cloud, however, and it became clear quite early that Goldstars is crying out for ‘pinging’ light – something which we just didn’t have.

For the afternoon wave of departures we headed out to the hill on the A1122 overlooking the airfield.  Departing aircraft have to bank left to avoid the village of Fincham, on the extended centreline, so the hope was that some topside shots would be there for the taking.

Some pilots flew profiles with steeper climbs, while others turned early.  In reality, I could have done with greater reach than that provided by the 400mm f5.6 on the 5D Mark III.  The sun was now free of its cloudy shackles, but it was in such a position that it was all a little bit awkward.

Seven GR4s flew during the afternoon wave, but all of those were back on the deck before sunset.

A further singleton (Goldstars, again – for the third time during the day!) did get airborne just prior to sunset, while a pair took off just after it.  The singleton provided a couple of nice opportunities before we left, passing directly in front of the partial moon and then flying an approach against the piece of sky where the sun had sunk some 30 minutes earlier.  The 5D3 continues to impress greatly in such circumstances!

We stood and watched the ISS (International Space Station) pass overhead from West to East before setting off for home.  It had been a very enjoyable day, even if the pictures – in the main – hadn’t quite lived up to the billing.

Later that evening I read a rumour that the 12(B) Squadron special had been seen at RAF Leeming the day before.  For those that don’t know, that’s where Tornados typically go when they leave the fleet – to a facility known as RTP (Reduce To Produce).  In essence, they are stripped of non-life-expired parts, which in turn are fed back into the system to keep the remainder of the fleet alive.  It is therefore highly likely that the chance to shoot that jet has sadly been and gone.

There is some good news, however, following last week’s roll-out of a Tornado GR4 painted in desert pink camouflage to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the RAF’s participation in Gulf War – Op GRANBY.  It’s up at RAF Lossiemouth for now, but I dare say that once that appears at RAF Marham, I’ll be back to try again!

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