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Belgian F16's low level?...Surely not! When I heard that three Belgian F16's were flying into RAF Valley to stay for a few days, I would of put money on it that they would not fly low level, not to mention through the loop. They were due in on the Tuesday (2nd of August) and fly out on the 4th. I decided to have both the Wednesday and Thursday up the hills just in case we would get lucky. On the Thursday morning I set up camp on Cad East. The weather was pretty poor, low cloud with the possibility of rain but we decided to hang around. We'd heard that they were due to fly out at 11am and at 10.30 we picked them up on the scanner. We thought we heard them say that they were flying in formation to RAF Marham so it looked as though there was no chance of us getting them low level. A phone call a few minutes later seemed to confirm this so we decided to head down and call it a day. After we packed our gear in the car we headed down the road for a few miles when I noticed a missed call off a friend that was up on the Bwlch. We pulled over and gave them a ring, what we were told was that the one F16 had departed but the other two were taking off at 12pm and hoping to fly through the loop before heading home.The time was now 11.50am, we had ten minutes to drive nearly 5 miles to where we just came from, get our gear and climb back up the hill. We managed it in record time, luckily there's very little hiking to do on Cad East. We unpacked our gear, caught our breath and not three minutes later caught sight of two F16's fly in towards us from Dolgellau. They looked to be high but both dropped in making for some land locked shots. A few minutes later they appeared again this time much lower and in a tight formation. Although the light wasn't brilliant I really can't complain, the first time I've ever shot F16's low level :-)
Royal International Air Tattoo 2011 My first and probably last airshow of the 2011, where does the time go? I headed down to Fairford on the 15th of July to  photograph some of the arrivals that would be taking part in this years show. I met up with a few friends at Rhymes farm which is located at the opposite side to the main viewing area. The one thing I wanted to see was the USAF A10 Warthog display and it didn't disappoint. The day was filled with F16's, Tornado's, Rafales plus many more movements. I was hoping to be at RIAT for the Saturday show but the weather forecast looked a little unsettled so I decided to head home and return on the Monday (18th) for the departures. I spent Monday inside the main Park and View enclosure on the East side. Although we got there for 6am there were many already queuing at the gate. At 7.30am the gates were opened and we set up camp ready for the first aircraft to taxi down. Things started to move at around 8.30am and it was non stop until gone 2.30pm. We packed up not long after as most of the tasty stuff had left so it was back to the car for the 180 mile journey home.
Latest trips to the Mach Loop Although things have seemed pretty quiet lately around the Mach Loop I've been extremely fortunate to photograph some great flying from the likes of USAF F-15E's, RAF Typhoons plus the Warton camo RSAF Tornado IDS. The 19th of May was spent on the top ledge of the Bwlch, its a location I'm not that keen on but it has a great height advantage to some of the other locations so anything that comes through high can usually be land locked. Our day started very early with a nice pass from a 17sqn Eurofighter Typhoon, my first for 2011. It wasn't long before a pair of USAF F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath came screaming around the corner only to turn the wrong way and miss our location.....bummer! An MC-130 appeared not long after and gave two lovely passes in superb light, they're becoming a regular visitor lately. Things slowed up during the afternoon and just as we thought our day was over we were blessed by the appearance of another two F15E's, this time both were spot on with their flying and came around twice.
On the 9th and 14th of June I perched myself up on Cad West., a location I dearly love. I'd heard that the camo Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Tornado IDS from Warton was going to be through mid afternoon on a test flight. Fingers were crossed that we'd get another chance photographing her as I'd not seen it since January 2011. At 14:45 we caught sight of a swept wing Tornado coming  straight in from Bala, was this the Saudi camo? As it got closer it was plain to see that it was what we'd been waiting for. A fantastic fully swept wing run through Cad was an awesome sight and sound. Three minutes later out they popped from the Bwlch Exit, still in the swept wing position. Just as they got to us the pilot did a superb 'pull out' manoeuvre and rocketed skywards before heading back towards Bala.
On the 14th of June I arrived back up Cad West. I didn't arrive until 3pm but it wasn't long before the Boscombe Alpha Jet appeared, the first time I'd seen it for some time. The next hour or so saw a couple of Hawk passes one being the new T2. At 17:15 we caught sight of a Typhoon heading our way from Bala. It turned out to be a Warton aircraft and flown by the same pilot as the Saudi Tornado we'd had the week before. He came past in the usual 'Warton' style, one normal run then a fantastic 'pull up' manoeuvre on his second pass....brilliant!
F15E's from Lakenheath - May 2011 On the 6th of May 2011 I made my way over to RAF Lakenheath where the F-15E Strike Eagles are based. I'd been kindly invited a while ago by Guy Leach who works on the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron  maintaining the E-models and keeps them flying. I'd photographed him going through the Mach Loop in the back of an F-15E back in 2009. It was my first time at Lakenheath and I was surprised in just how big the base was' although according to Guy it was relatively small compared to others. It holds over 50 F15's, they have the C, D and E model but it was the E's I'd gone to see. I've photographed many of these aircraft low level in the past but was amazed in just how big they are close up. We were shown around the whole aircraft, underneath, on top, you name it we looked at it. It was a Friday so there was very little flying in the afternoon, this worked out a treat for us as all the aircraft were on base, many of them on the pan but a few still sitting in their hangars. I must admit I was like a kid in a sweet shop, I just wanted to photograph everything. We were very lucky with the weather too, the morning started a little dull but the afternoon was glorious with unbroken sunshine.

RAF Lakenheath is a Royal Air Force Military Airbase near Lakenheath in Suffolk. Although its an RAF station it hosts the United States Air Force units and personnel. The host wing is the 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW), also known as the Liberty Wing. The 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath is the Statue of Liberty Wing, the only USAF wing with both a number and a name. Tactical squadrons of the 48th operations group are the 492d Fighter Squadron (F15E), 493d Fighter Squadron (F15C/D) and 494th Fighter Squadron (F15E).

RAF Mildenhall May 6th 2011 After we'd left Lakenheath we decided to head over to RAF Mildenhall for an hour which was only a stones throw away. We got there to find a KC-135 performing touch and goes and a MC-130 Hercules taxiing out before he took off only to come around a couple of times before landing. The highlight and catch of the day at Mildenhall was a C5 Galaxy which was preparing itself for take-off. This is one big aircraft and the first time I'd seen one on the ground. He spooled up the four engines and headed down the runway before taking off.

Mach Loop 25/28th March 2011 Its been a couple of months since I was last out in the hills so thought it was about time I paid a visit. On the 25th I decided to head to the Snakepit which is located a little further down from Cad East. With the recent events in Libya I didn't know whether we would get to see much activity but things kicked off early when a 19Sqn Hawk from RAF Valley turned up at 8.30am. Things looked promising when a few Hawks from 208Sqn started to come through in pairs. The weather was fantastic, it felt more like June than March. Throughout the morning we had many more Hawks from 208Sqn, it was turning into a Hawk fest and certainly one of the busiest mornings I've ever had in the loop. At 11am we were almost caught out by a Hercules C-130 as it headed in from Dolgellau, luckily these don't fly that fast. The rest of the day was made up by a few more Hawks, unfortunately we didn't get to see any frontliner aircraft but we couldn't really complain, we still had a great day.

The 28th saw me back at the Snakepit. The sun was out yet again and our fingers were crossed that we'd have another good day. A pair of 19Sqn Hawks came through at around 8.30am, was this going to be another Hawk fest? A couple more Hawks made an appearance, one being a T2 but things still seemed very slow. Just before 1pm a Hercules C-130 came in from Dolgellau and f headed down over Tal-Y-Llun lake and out to see. We had nothing else through for a while so it was time to sit back,  relax and enjoy the sun. At 2pm something was seen coming out of the Bwlch which was heading our way. Once they got closer it became clear that a pair of Extra 300L aerobatic prop planes were flying in a nice tight formation. As they came past us the second aircraft decided to put on the smoke which looked superb as they headed down the Cad pass, turning at Corris Corner. Around 10 minutes later they appeared again from the Bwlch and headed in towards us. Although these were not military aircraft they were still great fun to photograph. We ended up with a couple more Hawks before we all decided to pack up and call it a day. Another enjoyable day but the lack of frontliners was certainly felt.

RNAS Culdrose - March 11, 2011 Another aircraft to be retired from service are the 750 Sqn Jetstreams. These are based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and have been in service for over 40 years. 750 Squadron conducts flying training in the Jetstream T Mk2, a radar equipped version of the civilian Series 200 Jetstream. The aircraft is powered by two Turbomeca Astazou 16D turbo-prop engines, giving a maximum speed of 214 knots at sea level and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. The minimum crew is one pilot and an observer, but there is a third crew seat in the cockpit and two radar/navigation consoles on the right hand side of the cabin from where the students conduct most of their training. Three additional seats are also available, giving the aircraft a normal passenger capacity of six. Combined with the aircraft's four hour endurance and 1000 mile range, this makes it a useful personnel carrier. My day started at 2.30am, another early start as its a 350 mile trip to Culdrose from home. We were fortunate to be able to photograph from the main tower, a little extra height always helps. The Jetstreams took off in a 6 ship formation at 10am where they would disappear for a couple of hours whilst they performed a few fly-by's for some local venues. This gave us a chance to meet some of the crew and to have a closer look in the hangars. Once the Jetstreams arrived back we took some final shots of them taxiing in and ended our day photographing some of the Merlin and Sea King helicopters.
Cottesmore Harriers - March 1st 2011 Just as I thought I'd never get to photograph a Harrier again I was surprised to find that an ex Harrier pilot was organising a photo shoot for a limited number of photographers at RAF Cottesmore. I couldn't resist another chance to photograph these aircraft so I had my name down straight away. The weather didn't look as if it was going to be wall to wall sunshine (anything but) but it didn't stop me from setting out at 3.30am for the 215 mile trip. After picking up a couple of friends on the way we arrived at around 8am and met up with a few other mates. The photo shoot wasn't until 12pm so we had plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and take in some of the sights around the area. It wasn't the same being at Cottesmore and not hearing the sound of Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofans both in the air and on the runway. After having our morning breakfast in what can only be described as an oversized portaloo we grabbed our gear and headed off to the main gates. Once all cars had formed a queue we were allowed in, driving past the static GR3 that now looks a little worse for wear. Once we parked up we were met by  Flt lt Jim Calvert  who had organised the event. After a quick chat we headed over to where they had parked up a few Harriers. They had parked the four special tail Harriers on the pan, one being the newly painted camo scheme. Another Harrier had been set up which gave us the opportunity to sit in the cockpit and take some photographs. The organisers had placed some raised platforms so that we get some different angles on the aircraft, this was a huge bonus. As the weather was a little gloomy I decided to use my flash. It would be a gamble as I've not used much flash in the past but I was pleased with the results. I took two shots of everything, one using flash and one without, I could then blend these two shots together in PS to get the desired result. I tried to get as many different angles as possible, I had an idea what sort of thing I was looking for but when it came down to it I think the excitement took over. Once we'd finished it was time to head over to one of the hangars for a cup of tea and a chat with many of the Air crew. Everybody was extremely friendly and were more than happy to answer any questions that were thrown at them. We packed up at around 3pm and headed off back home knowing that we'd probably never photograph a Harrier again. The Harrier had been in service for over 40 years.
20th January 2011 - Bwlch Exit (Mach Loop) Well I wasn't going to come out again so soon after having such a great day on the 19th but with the weather forecasting sunshine all day I just couldn't resist. Decided to head back to the Bwlch Exit as the light is the best all day this time of the year. With the news that the previous day had been so good I expected a lot of togs to be out. I set off at 6am and arrived at the Bwlch car park at around 7am. It wasn't long before a few other cars turned up so we got kitted up and took the trek up the hill. I came out again with my D3 and 600mm, I'm using this setup more and more lately, its simply fantastic. The weather was glorious, there was some low mist hanging around Bala but everything else was crystal clear with hardly a cloud in the sky. It was another slow start to the day with the first movement being a very high Hawk T1 climbing out from the Bwlch at 11.20am. He came around again and although a little lower this time he was still too high to get any good photos. It wasn't long after that we heard a Chinook in the distance. We had heard that there was going to be one going to the old Power Station at Trawsfynydd to do a quick touch and go, and as they normally use the Bwlch route when heading out that way we knew we'd get lucky. After the Chinook we had quite a few Hawk movements between 11.50 and 14.20, one being the 2010 display Hawk. At 14.29 we had a great pass by a Tornado GR4 that came out from the Bwlch and headed south towards Cad, this really lifted our spirits. Not long after that we had another Tornado GR4 at 14.34, this time the crew pulled the wings back to their 67 degree angle (swept wing) and made a beautiful pass heading around towards Cad. We heard the Tornado F3's on the scanner stating they were heading to Wales, could we be lucky again? We didn't have long to wait before our next visitor, this time being an Alpha Jet from Boscombe at 15.01. The Alpha Jet hasn't been around the loop for a while so it was a welcomed sight. We were still waiting to see if the F3's would make an appearance but it wasn't looking good. Not long after the Alpha Jet had gone through we had a Hawk T1 at 15.03 which turned right and headed for Bala. It looked like it was going to be another Tornado day when another Tornado GR4 appeared from the Bwlch at 15.32 and headed around to Cad. Things went quiet after that, the light started to go and we knew there was no chance of the F3's paying us a visit. we all RTB'd at 16.25, ah well :-)

19th January 2011 - Bwlch Exit My first outing in 2011. Although the weather forecast looked as if the whole of Wales would be covered in fog I still decided to head out to the Bwlch Exit in the Mach Loop. I set off off at 6.30am, although still dark the stars were out and there didn't seem to be any sign of mist never mind fog. I arrived up the Bwlch at around 7.30am and was greeted by some fellow photographers who had also taken the gamble and ignored the forecast. We climbed to the top of the Bwlch Exit and were greeted by crystal clear skies and a fantastic sunrise, things looked promising. I pitched my beloved pop-up tent and got the D3 and 600mm out ready for the days offering. The day started pretty slow, the weather and light were perfect and for once there wasn't even a breeze and it felt more like June than January. Things got really exciting when the first shout of "INCOMING!!" was heard at 11.24am and out pooped two 2sqn Tornado GR4's which flew straight past the Bwlch Exit and headed around to Cad. We didn't have to wait long before our next aircraft came through. At 11.40am a BAe Hawk T1 from RAF Valley came in from the Bwlch, flew past us and banked right towards Bala. At 12.15pm we caught sight of a 31sqn Tornado GR4 head in from Dinas only to pull out before it reached us at the Bwlch Exit,  luckily he came around again and gave us a lovely pass before heading left towards Cad. Between 12.55 and 13.30 we had another four Hawk T1's from both 19sqn and 208sqn. At 13.37 a Hercules C-130 from RAF Lynham flew past the Bwlch Exit and headed south through Cad, things were getting better and better :-) Just before 14.00 we could hear the distinct sound of a Chinook helicopter in the distance. These can be heard when they're miles away but we knew we had a chance of them coming through. As helicopters usually go through the loop very low (around 100ft) I decided to dash down the hill before they appeared. As I was heading down the hill I could hear them getting closer and closer so it was time to catch my breath and prepare for them to show. No sooner had I got myself sorted when two Chinooks appeared really low as if they were hugging the main road below. They flew straight on and headed out towards Dolgellau and Barmouth. A few more Hawks filled the gap between 14.30 and 15.30 but at 15.39 we were all shocked when a 111sqn Tornado F3 from RAF Leuchars hurtled in from the Bwlch being chased by a Hawk T1. The F3 is a very rare aircraft to be seen around the loop as they are based in Scotland but it was a welcomed sight as these will no longer be a part of our RAF fleet of frontliner aircraft after March 2011. Just as we thought our day couldn't get any better what should come through at 15.49 but the RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) Tornado IDS in its fantastic Camo paint scheme. She came around again at 15.53 before heading up towards Bala and back to Warton where she's based. I've wanted to photograph that aircraft for a very long time and it couldn't of come at a better time as the light was golden. This was probably the best day I've spent up the loop in over three years.

10th November 2010 - RAF Cottesmore With the sad news that our fleet of Harrier aircraft were going to be retired from our fleet of frontliner aircraft I just had to make a trip to RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. I tried to go a month or so before but the weather had taken a turn for the worse so things were put on hold. Luckily the weather had improved a great deal by November so I packed all my camera gear and headed off for the 220 mile journey. I started out at 3.30am and arrived at 7.30am after having a hassle free drive (well I say hassle free, I ended up with a huge crack along my windscreen due to a stone on the M54). Anyway, I parked up and had a bite to eat and a nice cup of coffee whilst waiting for a few close friends to arrive. As Cottesmore is only good for photography at the '22' end of the runway you really need the wind to come from the West. Unfortunately according to the wind sock the wind was coming from an Easterly direction (oh, crap). The forecast had said that the wind direction should change during the morning so my fingers were firmly crossed. Everybody had arrived by 8.30am so we took a walk along the fence line down towards the '22' end of the runway. The weather was superb with hardly any cloud in the sky and just a gentle breeze (still coming from the East). By 9.30am we heard the sound of jets spooling up their engines. We could see a few Harriers sitting on the pan and the chap in his 4x4 was checking the runway to see if everything was clear. Unfortunately their was no caravan down at the '22' end which meant they were going to come in from the opposite end (d'oh). It wasn't long before we saw the first jet lift off going right above our heads, no chance for any good photograph At this point my heart started to sink, was a round trip of nearly 450 miles a complete waste of time? Anyway, we decided to stick it out even though a few people decided to pack up and go home. We spent most of the morning watching Harriers fly around at around 1000ft when all of a sudden the Caravan drove down and parked at our end of the runway. It wasn't long before we had our first Harrier GR9 taxi down towards us, the pilot giving us a nice wave as she went past.

As the day went on we had many movements from both the Harrier GR9's and T12's. The sun was shining and we couldn't of asked for a better day. All the pilots put on a great show, we had them hovering right above our heads at around 100ft which although deafening was a great experience and showed just what these fantastic aircraft are capable of. With the late afternoon sun starting to set it made for some great light and photographs. Many of the late Harriers were making touch and goes and hovering in the one spot for some time which allowed us to get the shots we were after. At around 5.00pm the light was starting to disappear and the final Harriers were coming in to land. It was at this point I realised that these were probably the last Harriers I'll ever see fly again, a very sad thought which stuck with me for the rest of the day. We packed up at around 5.30pm after the last aircraft had landed. You could hear a pin drop, nobody was talking, the aircraft had shut their engines down and it was the end of an era for me. It was a long drive home, especially since I took a wrong turn thanks to my Sat Nav which added a good hour onto my journey but it was well worth it. We had a fantastic day which will never be forgotten. I've lived in Wales all of my life and have seen and heard the Harriers fly low level on a daily basis, they will be surely missed by many. A big thanks to all the crew that gave us plenty of waves and thumbs up on the day.
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