Home to the UK’s Tornado Force, RAF Marham once again opened its doors and welcomed a group of aviation enthusiasts on to the base for an evenings photography of based aircraft. Adam Duffield joined them on May 11 to photograph some of the based jets in their natural surroundings, with additional images from Mark Ranger.
Held for the first time around the same time 12 months ago, the event for enthusiasts featured as one of my personal highlights of the year for 2016. After that event, the organisers stated that they hoped to be able to run similar gatherings in the future and it’s no shock that, once announced, there was alot of interest generated. Whilst around 80 enthusiasts were able to attend, there was still a considerable waiting list for those wanting to join but unable to.
RAF Marham is still undergoing considerable work – in terms of both construction and maintenance – as part of the project to introduce and handle the F-35 Lightning II in a few years time. Compared with one year earlier, the evidence of this ongoing work is even more visible both on and around the base with new hangars being built along with operations buildings and supporting infrastructure demonstrating the scale of the work required to support the new type.
Despite the frontline Tornado force of IX(B), 12(B) and 31 Squadrons being consolidated at the base, the drawdown of airframes as the GR4 enters its twilight years combined with the continuing support of Op SHADER means that Marham can be quiet in terms of flying activity. During the time of the event, this was particularly evident as one of the two remaining squadrons prepared to deploy to the Nordic area in support of Exercise Arctic Challenge 2017 the following week.
This years event took a very similar format to the previous edition with the lucky group of eager photographers gathering at an off base car park prior to being bussed on to base. With the organising team keenly aware of transportation delays last year causing around half the visitors to watch the visiting Typhoon display from the car park whilst waiting for the bus to return, it was great to see that one of the evenings planned events had been coordinated to ensure that everyone was on base before starting.
Once on base, the group were dropped on the edge of the Northern taxiway to be met by a single GR4 waiting in the sun – that jet being the incredibly smart 31 Sqn ‘Goldstars’ Centenary jet, ZA548. As the crowd waited patiently, the first special event of the night arrived overhead with ZA447 performing a swept wing fly through before breaking in to the circuit and landing on runway 06. With a parking spot being prepared next to the ‘Goldstars’ jet it gave a great opportunity to watch the returning aircraft taxi to parking and shutdown.
As the flight crew completed their days work, the ground crew swung in to action whilst the visitors were allowed free rein to wander around the area to get shots of both aeroplanes. An unused set of aircraft steps were soon put to good use as a raised platform to look over the parked aircraft giving a different angle to proceedings, which many took advantage of. After around 30 minutes of shooting the two static airframes, and many having exhausted the photographic angles they wanted, RAF Marham’s Fire Service arrived to provide the second planned surprise of the night.
Focusing on the ‘Goldstars’ aircraft, the fire crews proceeded to douse the ground underneath with a considerable amount of water from 3 or 4 different angles. A great opportunity to try and capture something different, it saw a number of people frantically running around seeking out that perfect puddle for a reflection shot before the volume of water found its way (rapidly – as per design!) to the inbuilt drainage areas.
Throughout this time, the Weapons Load Training Cell was once again open as per the previous year. Whilst the rare F2 airframe – ZA267 – was still present, ZD715 has been replaced in this hangar with GR4 ZA469. This particular airframe once wore the 25 Years of Tornado GR operations special marks whilst on strength with 9 Sqn, however the jet has since been returned to the standard ‘operational grey’ scheme. In amongst these airframes and the wide variety of dummy weapons used in the training another learning from the previous event was evident with 31 Squadron setting up ‘shop’ with various items of memorabilia being made available.
Unlike the previous year, the event was designed to be split in to two halves and, as the darkness drew in, it was time to re-board the bus and head round to the Eastern HAS site and the airframe with by far the most interest to many of those attending. Keeping the group together not only meant that no group missed any of the action but also made the task of security somewhat easier for the volunteering personnel.
Arriving at HAS 45, everyone was greeted with the sight of ‘Pinky’ – the Op GRANBY schemed jet ZG750. An elusive airframe for many with it spending much of its early time at the base in maintenance therefore missing the 2016 airshow season and planned appearances, it was surely high on the agenda for many to capture. If rumours are to be believed, there is not much time left to capture this particular aircraft with it apparently due for RTP (Reduced To Produce) before the year is out.
Thanks to some quick organisation by the personnel running the event, additional access to HAS 46 was also arranged giving a change to shoot ZA447 as it was put away for the evening having been towed from its previously photographed position on the other side of the airfield.
As the final rays of natural light faded away, and towards the end of the evening as many had already left to take the first bus back to the car park, some additional ground lights were placed around Pinky. A huge thanks must go to the Centre of Aviation Photography (COAP) for providing these and allowing those still in attendance the chance to capture this stunning jet under the cover of darkness. After just over an hour (and already well past the advertised end time!) the event ended as the final stragglers were ferried back to their waiting cars.
Getting a chance to spend time on any operational RAF base is a rare occurrence these days, especially when it involves close proximity to frontline jets. Much has been said around the cost of the attendance fee, which was £50 for the evening. But it is always difficult to comment on this subject when it comes to pricing as it inevitably comes down to two points – can an individual afford to attend and do they believe that the end results justify the outlay? To a certain degree, the latter can only be commented on after attending but from my personal experience, I have to say that it was once again worth it. There may not have been the operational movements of the previous years event but the organisers worked hard to try to accommodate every request possible on the evening and provide something different to before. Once more, the event was over subscribed with a waiting list for those hoping to gain a last minute space, which shows that there is still plenty of interest out there in attending. Unfortunately, issues with the email address when details were initially released meant that many early submissions were not received – an issue that also occurred the year before and hopefully can be prevented from happening in the future. With reference made to a potential daytime event later during the year, there may still be a few further chances for enthusiasts to get up close and personal with the Tornado Force during its final years and this certainly has to represent one of the most accessible ways of doing so.
AeroResource would like to thanks all personnel who assisted with the running of the evening, in particular Ben McCall and the crews of 31 Squadron, for making us welcome and volunteering their time.