RAF Marham 27/04/2016 – Belgian AF F-16s

RAF Marham 27/04/2016 – Belgian AF F-16s

With only one day clear in this week’s diary, my plans were restricted to a day out on Wednesday, come what may.  The plan was to spend a morning at RAF Marham, hopefully catching the Belgian Air Force F-16s that are present for the week, before moving on for an afternoon of Runway 24 Raptor action at RAF Lakenheath.

Monday morning saw RAF Marham witness the arrival of five F-16s, which, since then, have been mixing taking part in a Close Air Support (CAS) exercise and going – or at least trying to – low-level in Wales and the Lake District.

I arrived at about 0930, having driven through lovely blue skies almost the whole way to Norfolk.  It was clear, however, that cloud was already starting to blow in from the north.  To be fair, it had been forecast to do precisely that.

When ATIS finally started broadcasting at 1000, it became apparent that Runway 24 would be in use, despite the wind seemingly favouring 06 at various stages of the morning.

Knowing there was not much to be had from the 24 end for departing aircraft, I took a chance and decided I would try to get the Belgians going from the 06 end.  The first pair went way too high, too soon, but the ensuing three singleton Tornados were rather more like it.  The only issue was that the sun had by now been obscured on an almost-permanent basis.

After a heavy hail shower had pushed through, it started to look as if the blue sky that was behind it might reach the sun in time for the final three F-16 departures, but it was not to be.  It was disappointing as the final two flew much nicer lines than their earlier compatriots.

Back to the 24 end for the recoveries, the light was rather unpleasant in the main, but somehow it wasn’t too bad by the time the F-16s came back.  One, the pilot of FA-130, flew a number of very tight circuits and seemingly loved having his picture taken!

No sooner were they all on the deck than the heavens opened.  Hail.  Lots of it.  With a GR4 in the circuit, however, sitting in the car was not an option, and “Marham 70” flew four or five approaches in some pretty ugly weather.

I got a message from a friend advising me that Lakenheath had switched to Runway 06, which was the end they were on when I had such a good couple of days last week, and I couldn’t see how I could better those pictures given the forecast.  It therefore didn’t require too much thought to stay at Marham and have a second bash at the Belgians.

Another pair of GR4s had launched in between the recoveries, and they themselves came back about 1530, flying a paired approach to begin with before breaking into the visual circuit.  The light was pretty horrible and I decided there was little to lose in taking a drive to see what I could get of the Belgian F-16s on the ground.

To be honest, I had misjudged precisely where they were and probably ended up walking a mile each way to get the shots which followed.

Four of the five were parked on the 01 threshold of the cross-runway.  I knew there was a taxiway further to my right that would afford a head-on view down said taxiway, but from where I was it was not obvious if they would take that or if they would taxi straight ahead and then turn right and use the disused cross-runway (as the GR4s generally do when returning to the eastern HAS site) to get to the Runway 24 end.  Fortunately, I would not have to wait too long to find out, and use the taxiway, they did.

So, as with the earlier wave, they departed as a pair and a three-ship, approximately 30 minutes apart.  That gave me the time I needed to relocate to my right to get the head-on shots you see here.

The sun, which had been out for a little while, gave way just before they started to taxi, but in some ways I think it possibly helped these pictures.

After the long trudge back to the car, it was back to the 24 end for the remainder of the day, though prospects looked pretty grim.  A text from a friend in Kings Lynn gave some hope that it might break, and it did, briefly, but sadly that was before the three GR4s and five F-16s that were airborne had arrived back.

The Goldstars special and another jet had launched, but my feet were soaking and frozen to the bone.  I could take it no more and bailed out early.  The journey home was through some of the most intense weather I’ve ever seen in the UK – certainly at the end of April – with everything from rain through to heavy snow and ridiculous amounts of standing water.

It had been one of those days that had offered just enough reward to make you feel as if it had all been worth it. 

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