If social media is to be believed, 2016 was the worst year in the history of the world, with several “shock” events like the EU referendum result and the election of Donald Trump dominating headlines. In the aviation enthusiast community, it has seemed somewhat quieter.
2016 saw additional retirements from the UK military – notably the venerable Sea King HC.4 Commandos (to be replaced by the Merlin HC.3i and HC.4 variants) and the withdrawal of the SEPECAT Jaguar from taxiing activities at RAF Cosford. However, 2016 also saw commitments for additional orders, including the long anticipated purchase of Boeing P-8A Poseidons to replace the retired Nimrod MR.2 and the scrapped Nimrod MRA.4.
In terms of new technology, 2016 will be remembered as the time when the UK first saw what we have invested in with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Although the European debut was trumped the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Leeuwarden in June (and arguably by the first Italian-produced F-35A at Cameri), the UK saw the F-35 at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July, with three F-35A and three F-35B aircraft arriving. Not content to only demonstrate this 5th generation fighter, RIAT also hosted the F-22A Raptor – which provided a great opportunity to contrast these designs.
2016 also saw a host of exercises and deployments in the UK – and as has been the norm in recent years with a perceived threat from a resurgent Russia, these were predominantly from the United States. The regular BALTOPS/Sabre Strike exercise again saw deployments of bombers from US Global Strike Command, with B-52 assets at RAF Fairford in June. Perhaps more surprising was the deployment of F-22A Raptors to RAF Lakenheath in April, which saw most of the UK enthusiast community camped outside Lakenheath at some time during the visit. Coincident with the Raptors visit was a visit from outgoing US President Barack Obama, which saw his US Marine Corps helicopter entourage operating from RAF Mildenhall.
For AeroResource, one of our overall highlights of 2016 was being the only UK media outlet to embark onboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower during its deployment with US Navy 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
We were also treated to a large number of nightshoot photography events – a style of event that is becoming increasingly prevalent (in some cases, unfortunately, because it’s seen as easy cash for a venue). Highlights as always were, of course, the latest iterations of the Northolt Nightshoots, with noteworthy mentions to Bourne Park, Royal Air Force Brize Norton, and Bruntingthorpe.
The big change for 2016 has been to airshows, in the wake of the Hawker Hunter crash at Shoreham in 2015. Duxford has seen the loss of the popular “tank bank”, whilst more worryingly some smaller shows have already curtailed or cancelled their planned activities as a result of increased fees and scrutiny from the Civil Aviation Authority. However, what shows we did have were generally of high quality – with the Royal International Air Tattoo providing a strong showing, another cracking display from the Senior Service at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day, a well executed ‘Fly Navy’ themed show at Shuttleworth stand out amongst those that we attended. Towards the latter stages of the season as the new regulations were better understood, a number of exemptions started to appear for some venues (notably Shuttleworth) and display teams which gives hope that the 2017 airshow season may continue to find ways to work with the new conditions that have been imposed.
It’s been difficult this year to produce three overall highlights from the AeroResource team – it seems better suited to give a nod to the many events that contributed to the year. Instead, we’ve left it to our team to provide their individual top threes.
Here’s to an enjoyable 2017 – we hope you all have a rewarding and exciting year.
On behalf of the AeroResource team
2016 has very much been a year of highs and lows and that extends to my aviation passion as well. Some plans fell through completely whilst some of my best moments came unexpectedly out of nowhere. My time is still very much taken up by other responsibilities which seriously cuts into my aviation and radio time and I often spend myself thinking back fondly of my years working for RadioUser Magazine when I was able to commit so much more time to one of my passions. That being said, although I’m nowhere as involved as I used to be, I am still fortunate to get out and enjoy some unique experiences from time to time while still keeping a distant hand in the radio hobby as well.
Here’s my top 3 aviation highlights of 2016 and here’s hoping for a great year ahead.
Royal Navy Sea King Retirement
The face of helicopter Search and Rescue completed its final transition in January as the Royal Navy passed the mantle of responsibility to the new UK Helicopter Search and Rescue Service operated by Bristow Helicopters on behalf of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. As a direct result, the venerable Westland Sea King Mk5 helicopter was retired from service.
On Thursday 14th January 2016, two Royal Navy SAR Sea King helicopters lifted from HMS Gannet in Prestwick accompanied by two Sea King Mk4 Junglies for a farewell tour around Scotland. That day, I was extremely fortunate and honoured to be one of only two photographers from the aviation scene to be granted full access on the base for this historic day – a day I will always remember.
Having always lived near to Prestwick Airport, the mighty Sea King Helicopter has been a constant part of my aviation heritage right through my childhood and was a daily feature around the skies of Ayrshire. In recent years, I’ve also been extremely fortunate to deploy with the duty SAR crew of Rescue 177 and also work closely beside them on countless occasions through my role with HM Coastguard Search & Rescue.
To be on the apron for the final farewell was without a highlight of not just this year, but of my entire aviation career.
E-6B Mercury at Prestwick
Everyone has that ‘one aircraft’ that has a unique place in their mind. The E-6B Mercury is my aircraft and when I woke up one morning in October to find out one was sitting on the apron, my plans for that day quickly changed.
Everything the aircraft represents and its operational capabilities including the command and control of fleet ballistic missile submarines, land based missile systems and nuclear armed strategic bombers conjures up all sorts of thoughts and feelings which I find hard to put into words. It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to photograph one of these somewhat sensitive aircraft at my local airfield.
Over recent years, I’ve also found I get a lot more enjoyment from seeing aircraft in the operational environment as opposed to the airshow setting.
UK Search and Rescue Helicopter Service
Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the new UK Helicopter Search and Rescue Service. This connection spans back to 2015 prior to the new facility becoming operational at Prestwick Airport which led to one of the highlights of 2015 – photographing the RN Sea King MK5 on the apron beside the new state-of-the-art Sikorsky S-92 SAR aircraft.
Throughout 2016, I have found myself in some unique and exciting places to photograph and document the ongoing operations of the aircraft and crew of rescue helicopter callsign RESCUE 999 based at Prestwick Airport. I’ve racked up quite a mileage, both in the air, on the land and at sea to accomplish this.
The life-saving work being done on a day-to-day basis by the crews of the UK SAR Helicopter Service is truly inspirational and I’m genuinely honoured to be able to play just a very small part in highlighting some of this work across social media.
In comparison with previous years, aviation highlights in 2016 were unfortunately of a lesser scale! My year has been dedicated to a change of role within my job (into the Flight Test community), as well as getting engaged and married in quick succession! This left me with little time for aviation, and I only attended two airshows in the UK – RIAT and Farnborough. My highlights therefore are centred on moments that I enjoyed, rather than events or particular dates.
Ride of the (Presidential) Valkyries
Back in April, there was the dual excitement of a visit to London by US President Barack Obama, coupled with a detachment of Tyndall F-22As at RAF Lakenheath. This was a rare chance for Duncan, Adam, Jamie and myself to all have a day available to go out photographing, and we alternated between Lakenheath and Mildenhall (as did so many others) to catch both the F-22As and the HMX-1 helicopter assets. The highlight for me was seeing the entire HMX-1 cadre lift from Mildenhall’s runway for a familiarisation flight around London prior to the main event – very “Apocalypse Now”.
European F-35 Airshow Debut
Prior to the “official” airshow debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July, Adam and I travel to the Netherlands to see the Royal Netherlands Air Force bring their first two F-35As to Leeuwarden for a series of trials. It was later revealed that they would also take part in the role demonstration, which is a centrepiece to the Luchtmachtdagen airshow. Not having great expectations for their role in the display, it was refreshing to find them giving a very vigorous demonstration – certainly far more so than the Lockheed Martin/Department of Defense approved versions seen at RIAT and Farnborough. The most memorable moment was a pair of fast passes with significant vapour cones forming around the aircraft – a solid performance from the Dutch!
RAF C-130J Special Paint Rollout
2016 marked another plethora of Royal Air Force Squadron centenaries, including that of 47 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, flying the C-130J Hercules. As the maintenance organisation for the Hercules – and with a paint shop on site – Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group coordinated the production of a commemorative paint scheme (designed by Flt Lt Andy Donovan) on C-130J ZH880. I was able to attend the rollout from the paint shop and, prior to the aircraft being moved to the hangars for some scheduled maintenance, had the aircraft positioned for some photography. Sadly the scheme is to be short lived, and will be removed prior to 2017.
2016 has been a frustrating year for myself with regards to aviation. Although I managed to get to a few airshows and other PR events, time out with the camera has been limited and frustrating. We were all unsure how this year would pan out post the Shoreham crash with the imposition of new stricter airshow regulations from the CAA. Despite losing a number of show dates through escalating costs and various other issues, I felt we still had a great line up of events around the country, and the quality of displays in the air and on the ground was top notch. I’m looking forward to getting out more in 2017 and perhaps exploring more aviation events abroad. Here’s hoping 2017 is an epic aviation year!
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II arrival in the UK
The arrival of the F-35B’s to the United Kingdom was hugely anticipated after it was announced they would participate in the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshow this year. Having finished work late PM I umm’ed and ahh’ed about whether to make the 1 hour journey down to RAF Fairford as the forecast was foul, but scheduled to clear around landing time. Deciding it was an opportunity too good to miss, I set off to Fairford and took my chance. The first three jets duly arrived just as the rain was stopping, and sat opposite Charlie North crash gate whilst being checked over which gave for some increased photographic time, and different angles. Typically, as the last jet taxied away the sun streamed through onto the taxiway. The dark sky gave a fantastic backdrop with an amazing double rainbow appearing South of the airfield. Literally 2 more minutes and the gathered photographers would have had perfect photographic conditions, but it was not too be. I’m glad to have made the dash to see the first F-35 landing in the UK, and to be able to say ‘I was there’. An epic bit of team editing and writing meant we got our arrival article online about two hours after their arrival. A fantastic team effort.
Westland Sea King HC4 Commando retirement RNAS Yeovilton
This year has seen the retirement of all the UK’s Westland Sea King aircraft bar the venerable Mk7’s belonging to the ‘Baggers’ of 849 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose. The Sea King HC4 Commando troop carrying and heavy lift helicopters were retired after nigh on 36 years service back in March. I was asked to cover the event for AeroResource, and the media attending were lucky enough to have the opportunity to undertake a short flight in an HC4 flown by the last operators of the type, 848 Naval Air Squadron. The media event was well put on with plenty of access to aircrew and engineers, other airframes on the ground and the freedom to photograph at will. It was a privilege to be there to say goodbye to yet another aircraft from the UK armed forces inventory. Having previously flown on the last Tristar operational flight at Brize Norton in 2014, I’ve had enough of saying goodbye to these legendary servants of our country.
Ostrava NATO Days, Czech Republic
This annual two day show continues to grow and grow since I have been attending this event for the last 4 years, and, prior to that, the Czech International Air Show at Brno since 2007. This years event had an incredible line up with flying starting prior to 0900 on both days. A first for any airshow was that they had all five European operators of the Eurofighter attend and display their aircraft in the air. The American contingent was excellent, with both a B-52H and B-1B present along with an Osprey and KC-135. The star of the show without a doubt was the Romanian Mig-21 LanceR. This rocket ship of an aircraft tore through the Moravian skies with its huge burner cone strung out behind it. The practice display on Friday was incredible, but although it was toned down for the show days, it was still an eye opening display. As free shows go, you couldn’t wish for a better line up or access to aircrews and aircraft, with minimal barriers around the aircraft. It’s a breath of fresh air and long may it continue.
Well that was 2016 and what a year it’s been. It’s been such a great variety for me, starting with a detachment from 27 Squadron Chinooks to my local base, RAF Lossiemouth at the beginning of the year and ending with a pair of Belgian Air force Alpha Jets. The year saw a number of highlights and choosing just three proved to be difficult especially with two Joint Warrior Exercises which saw some rare participants involved including Turkish and Portuguese Air Force F-16s as well as the usual Maritime aircraft. The Royal International Air Tattoo in July provided my (and probably for many) first glimpse of the future of the RAF and Royal Navy with three USMC F-35Bs in attendance, one being in RAF markings, as well as three F-35As from the USAF. But it wasn’t just the Lightning’s I enjoyed, the USAF F-22 Raptor display, Ramex delta with their Mirage 2000Ns, Poland with their F-16 demo and of course a pair of Hellenic Air Force F-4 Phantoms on static display all being my personal highlights from a fantastic week away.
At home it’s been a case of getting as many different Tornado images as possible, as in the Spring of next year, Lossie based XV(R) Squadron are to disband and will end Tornado Operations from Lossiemouth which will become a Typhoon only base until the arrival of the P-8 Poseidon towards the end of the decade all being well. Lossie has seen some interesting visitors this year outside of Exercises with a fuel stop from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight’s SAAB Draken and 105 being one of the more outstanding visitors. Anyway, I’ll leave you to enjoy my three highlights and I look forward to what 2017 has to offer – bring it on.
Op Granby Tornado GR4
In February of this year, images of a Lossie based Tornado in a 1991 Gulf War style paint scheme started appearing online and on February 28th I was lucky enough to catch ZG750 in her scheme departing and returning to RAF Lossiemouth after performing a flypast at the National Memorial Arboretum to mark the 25th anniversary of the ending of the first Gulf War. ZG750 was painted to celebrate 25 years of continuous Operations from the RAF Tornado GR fleet. Luckily for me it was in glorious Scottish sunshine as on March 30th, the aircraft departed from RAF Lossiemouth for RAF Marham after a major problem had been discovered with the airframe.
Turkish F-16s for Joint Warrior 16-1
As mentioned earlier, in April Exercise Joint Warrior 16-1 provided a rather nice attraction in the form of five Turkish Air Force Block 50 F-16C/Ds from 181 Filo. This was the first time any Turkish fast jets had visited Lossiemouth and on April 5th the first ever landing of a Turkish Air Force aircraft to Lossie occurred with the arrival of C-160D 69-021 to drop off the first support personnel and equipment for the Exercise. Flying a four ship twice a day each weekday, the Turkish aircrew gave plenty opportunities to capture their aircraft.
WTD-61 Tornado Visits Lossiemouth
August 2nd for my final highlight and it’s another Tornado but this time from the German Air Force. News had broken the night before of a visiting Tornado and, not knowing which forces or even an ETA, I wondered over after work hoping to catch it arriving. I must admit that I never in my wildest dreams expected it to be the German Test Squadron WTD-61. 98+77 arriving in glorious sunshine and still in the scheme applied in July 2014 to mark the first German IDS Tornado to be upgraded under the Avionics System Software Tornado Ada (ASSTA) 3.1 program. This program will bring the IDS variant of the Tornado to the same standard as the ECR variant to allow the IDS to fly air to ground sorties.
2016 was quite an active year but, on many occasions, the weather seemed to be pretty poor. I was also getting a little bored of visiting the same old bases and seeing the same aircraft so my planner the year was to look at venturing to new places and also to plan my days out in the UK around deployments in hope of catching something a little different.
As part of visiting new bases, I headed to Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden to see what it was all about. I really enjoyed the 3 days there which included 2 sorties a day consisting of around 40-50 aircraft per sortie. The wind direction did not help us though along with 2 out the 3 days being cloudy. The circuit patterns are also quite high so you really could only get side on landing shots but the variety of aircraft was brilliant and I will go again, but not for a few years.
This was my best UK day of the year in terms of visitors. F-22s at Lakenheath and Belguim F-16s ( Stingers) at Marham along with a real mix of weather, I went to Lakenheath in the morning, Marham for lunch and back to Lakenheath. At the end was a count of 10 F-22s, around 30 Eagles at Lakenheath then all five F-16s and a couple of Tornado’s at Marham in a mix of sun, rain and even hail – brilliant!
Only 1 trip to Coningsby during the year and they were night flying so had to wait a long time for any action but I fancied getting something other than F-15s in the late evening/night. Typhoons are pretty hard to get on long exposures as they tend to just line up and go so only had a few keepers from the trip but it was worth it.
Another quiet year for me as work keeps me busy. Perhaps most noticeably I didn’t get the chance to visit the UK low Flying Areas at all in 2016, breaking a run that goes back to 2008! However, highlights included a couple of trips abroad, a mad week volunteering at RIAT and Farnborough and, despite the CAA’s best efforts, another quality year of UK flying displays.
Once again, I must thank everyone who makes this hobby such a pleasure. There aren’t many pastimes where you can rock up to a crash gate in the middle of nowhere and have a couple of hours chatting to complete strangers! If we haven’t caught up this year, I look forward to seeing you in 2017. Have a great Christmas and enjoy the New Year!
F-35 UK Debut
I was fortunate to be living in Carterton when the first F-35s touched down on UK soil. As such, I made three consecutive after work trips to Fairford to see the initial “B” arrivals, followed by the USAF “A” variants, and finally the recoveries of the sortie that visited HMS Queen Elizabeth and RAF Marham. The hospitality provided by the USAF and RAF in allowing the public onto the base for the arrivals was fantastic, and was much appreciated by all present.
Bucharest International Airshow 2016
MiG-21s. Sunset. That is all. I made the trip to Romania unsure of what to expect. What met me was surprising: A well organised, varied airshow with a knowledgeable audience and some stunning aircraft. The concept of an identical sunset show on the same day is inspired, providing different photo opportunities and the most amazing colours in the sky. Even if the LanceRs are gone by next year, go anyway: You won’t regret it.
RAF C-130J Sortie
I was fortunate enough in September to join 47 Sqn to experience a typical C-130 training mission. Seeing the professionalism of the crew as we performed a low level lap of the south of England followed by a pallet drop on Salisbury Plain was incredible. Our aircraft for the flight was the specially marked ZH883 which rather stands out at low level. There was something quite surreal about people in fields waving at us as we passed by!
Well that was 2016 and what a year it was! Having been that bit quieter this year I have missed some of the UK’s highlight – that said you know it is a great year when you see two types for the very first time. It has been a great year in the UK for exercises and visiting airframes – the F-22 Raptors of the 95th Fighter Squadron at Lakenheath, the HMX-1 assets across the way at Mildenhall and the Turkish F-16s at Lossiemouth all spring to mind. With a decent year of movements up and down the country it’s been superb as always to see so many enthusiasts from all over allowing me to put many faces to names and spend a number of enjoyable evenings talking aviation over a pint.
With trips up and down the country to fencelines, shows, museums, fly-ins… well pretty much anything with a connection to aviation, it has again been a highlight to say hello to so many of you out and about. Let’s hope it continues and 2017 beats the rest – happy spotting one and all!
RAF Valley – April – Martin Baker Meteor
My ultimate highlight for 2016 takes me back to RAF Valley on the day that the now sadly defunct 208(R) Squadron celebrated its centenary. To set the scene, it was grey, wet and windy and visibility was limited to just a few hundred feet – a huge contrast to the blue skies and endless views the day before. With many wondering if the weather would end up cancelling the days planned flying before it had begun, fear that the planned arrivals that included two jets formerly flown by the unit – the Hawker Hunter and the Gloster Meteor – would make it set in. As well as that, the question of ‘which Meteor was it arriving?’ At this point, no one seemed to know! Would it be one of the two Coventry based examples or could it be one of the very seldom seen jets used by Martin Baker? With Mother Nature becoming pretty relentless, you can imagine the sheer delight on the faces of those gathered on base at ‘VAS’ when the unique shape of a Gloster Meteor appeared out of the gloom. Unbelievably as the jet flew downwind it became obvious it was missing its rear canopy – could it really be on of Martin Baker’s illusive T7 (MOD)s? It was indeed and the jet in question was T7 (MOD) G-JWMA/WA638 – one of two operated by the company out of their Chalgrove facility. A true piece of British Aviation heritage, this jet has been used in over 500 live ejections (both rocket and non-rocket assisted) and also had the distinction of once being the world’s oldest military registered jet still flying – not a bad way to start a wet day in Wales!
Sywell Aerodrome – October – Avro 504 (Replica)
With Sywell Aerodrome now being my ‘regular’, it has become a habit of mine to head up on the off chance of catching whatever is happening. Home to The Blades, the Grace set up (including that ludicrously beautiful Seafire III) and numerous General Aviation types, there is always a chance to catch something different. That said, when it was announced that a replica Avro 504 was to call the Northamptonshire airfield home my sights were soon set on catching it. As luck would have it, being in the right place at the right time saw me get a chance to head for the hangar it was kept in – alas luck soon rand out with the door being locked and no key in sight! That said, luck was finally on my side in October of this year during the fourth Radial and Trainer Fly-in to be held at Sywell took place. Sadly though, the weather (it’s always the weather!) beat the event with only a couple of machines managing to arrive before dashing back to their home base as it closed in. That said one very special machine made a brief appearance out on the grass. Owned by Eric Verdon-Roe, the grandson of A.V. Roe, the Avro 504K was wheeled out of its hangar, given a brief trundle around the airfield in the hands of Matt Boddington, and then parked out on the airfield. Job done – now to catch it in the air!
London Heathrow – December – Finnair A350
When it comes to airliners, Airbus have always managed to come up with a good looking jet – the ‘Baby Bus’, the elegant A330, the mighty A340 for example. However, it is their latest offering that takes the prize for the best yet – the stunning A350. Despite taking to the air for the first time in June 2013, it has taken me more than three years to set eyes on one – which finally happened on a wet, grey, windy day at Heathrow while sat in a third floor room of the Renaissance hotel overlooking the runway. With runway 27R being used for outbounds – and the runway closest to my room – and 27L being used for inbounds there was a good chance I would catch the new type. But yet again the UK weather (this seems familiar!) decided to play up and the arriving flight from Helsinki was late which in turn pushed back its departure slot. With a check out time of 1200, the race was on! As the clock ticked away and a new slot appeared on the boards, the jet – Finnair Airbus A350-941 OH-LWE – was nowhere to be seen – was my luck about to run out? Well luck was on my side as, with five minutes to spare, AY832, appeared from around the corner and joined the line-up of departing jets and well you can see from the shot – what a beauty. A new type in the bag!
Looking back at 2016, it seems to have been a more memorable year for me than when I originally first started thinking about it. Personal circumstances have made it difficult to get out to bases over the last 6 months but thankfully, with Mildenhall and Lakenheath still fairly close, i’ve managed to catch a number of interesting moves through each.
Trying to narrow down to a trio of highlights is certainly difficult – I caught the Raptors on their surprise visit to Lakenheath, HMX-1 at Mildenhall (following a failed hunt in 2012!), a number of CONUS F-15’s transiting through Lakenheath, a trip to Leeuwarden for the European F-35 debut, the annual trip to RIAT, an exceptional Fly Navy show at Shuttleworth – the list goes on! But, of all those events and days at the fence I attended, the following has to be my top three of the year.
Kuwait Air Force C-17
In March, a trip to visit family in France along with Duncan resulted in a day trip to the Musée de l’air et de l’espace at Le Bourget. The museum itself was exceptional but, oddly, wasn’t the real highlight of the trip. Having been there a number of hours, we hadn’t noticed a single arrival or departure from the airport but then, walking past a window between rooms, I spied something distinctive out on the runway – what appeared to be a white C-17.
After a brief pause to contemplate, it suddenly clicked exactly what the airframe was and, with a shout to Duncan across the museum (confusing a number of French visitors!) we sprinted out to the fence just in time for a Kuwait Air Force C-17 to taxi and park directly in front of us. The sheer luck of getting this rare airframe has to make it a highlight of the year, even if the majority of my images were ruined by shooting through a fence.
Marham Enthusiasts Event
Despite all the shows, events and days at the fence around the UK during 2016, I always seem to come back to one particular shot from the Marham Enthusiasts Event organised by 31 Sqn.
The Op Granby GR4 jet has to be one of the best RAF special schemes of 2016 and, alongside that accolade, one of the most difficult to catch! Having spent a period of time under repair at Marham, it was due to be one of the starts of the evening however initial hopes were dashed when it was announced prior to the event that it was still undergoing heavy maintenance. Thankfully, the 31 Sqn personnel must have realised how much people wished to catch it and arranged to ferry people in small batches to the hangar where the work was taking place. It may not be a flying shot, but for me this is one that I simply love and am glad to have got.
Blue Angels in the USA
Following the last minute cancellation of my USA trip in 2015, 2016 saw an opportunity to rebook for the exact same trip and try again. Thankfully this year we made it and managed to take in both the Miramar and San Francisco Fleet Week shows whilst spending two and a half weeks exploring the west coast.
Of all the displays that we were planned to see, it was quite possibly the Blue Angels that I had most looked forward to seeing and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Witnessing no less than 6 full displays a two week period, I think it’s safe to say I made the most of seeing them! The super tight formations and synchro pair really work well and some of the A-axis breaks are a welcome change from a number of the European display teams. Although 2016 was a tough year for the team following the loss of Capt. Jeff Kuss, Blue 6, the team put on a great show, even if it was missing their support act – the mighty Fat Albert – due to maintenance. I guess that means I’ll have to go back again to catch the full show!
For me 2016 was perhaps not as busy as in previous years on both the civil and military side of things. On the civil side I had countless visits to Heathrow with most people knowing I’m big fan of civil aviation as well as military and LHR is a second home for me (I work for FlightGlobal at the Heathrow Office). On the military side, the real highlight for all of us I think had to be the deployment to RAF Lakenheath and an amazing couple of weeks spent chasing F-22s. Chasing RC-135’s at RAF Mildenhall was also a highlight, albeit frustrating at times along with a trip to Turkey for the annual Anatolian Eagle exercise which has some gems in the shape of Pakistani F-16s and Saudi Tornados, oh and of course the Turkish F-4s. All in all 2016 wasn’t too bad but there were a few things that I didn’t get round to catching which I plan to try and address in 2017
F-22 Raptor Deployment to RAF Lakenheath
An amazing month long deployment of twelve F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron was without a doubt a highlight of my year. An amazing deployment which took everyone by surprise – the USAF was keen to demonstrate the ‘Rapid Raptor’ deployment and they really showed it can be done. Loads of flying from the F-22s whilst they were deployed so there were a good number of chances to catch them in action. Hopefully a return deployment in the not too distant future would be welcome.
First RAF F-35 to land on UK soil
It was a cold wet summers evening towards the end of June at RAF Fairford when a bit of history was made when the first Royal Air Force F-35 on UK soil, piloted by Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols, touched down. It may not be the most charismatic aircraft but an important one in the role it will serve for both the RAF and Royal Navy. Was great to be amongst the first to see it in the UK.
Tiger Meet 2016
A splash of colour on military aircraft is always welcome and the annual Tiger Meet in Zaragoza didn’t disappoint. Some great schemes in the Spanish sunshine, highlights included the Czech Mi-24 Hind in the ‘Alien’ Tiger scheme and the Belgian F-16 from 31 Sqn.