Alan Kenny has spent a fair bit of time at one of the best bases in the UK. All images are his copyright and from this website.
RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England is home to the 48th Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE). It has been in the United Kingdom since the 1960s and is the only Wing in the USAF with a numerical designation as well as a name, the Statue of Liberty Wing.
The Wing is made up of four flying squadrons, the 492nd (Madhatters/blue tail band), 493rd (Grim Reapers/yellow), 494th (Panthers/red) Fighter Squadrons (FS) and the 56th Rescue Squadron (RQS). The 492nd and 494th FS are equipped with the F-15E Strike Eagle, the 493rd FS are equipped with the F-15C/D Eagle and the 56th RQS with the HH-60G Pave Hawk. All squadrons have the tail code LN.
Prior to the Eagles at LN, the F-111F Aardvark was stationed there, along with the 20th Fighter Wing at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. The aircraft before that was the F-4D Phantom II and the F-100D Super Sabre was the first aircraft the Wing was equipped with when they moved to RAF Lakenheath from Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base, France, 10 June 1952.
RAF Lakenheath is located a few miles north east from RAF Mildenhall, which is handy for photographers. RAF Marham is north of Lakenheath by about 45 minutes (30 miles). East Anglia used to be the place to photograph USAF aircraft. RAF Woodbridge, RAF Bentwaters to the east, and RAF Alconbury to the west with their A-10s. RAF Alconbury previously had RF-4Cs, TR-1 and an F-5E Aggressor squadron. Although good for the world (sadly for the spotters) these bases closed in 1994 after the Cold War ended and Russia was no longer considered a threat. How times change.
The official RAF Lakenheath viewing area is situated just north of runway 24 and a special car park is placed just outside the perimeter fence. Until recently it wasn’t possible to get food there. However, a local businessman has set up a burger van in the car park. Handy and tasty. I rarely use this viewing area as you are south facing, so on sunny days you’re pointing in the direction of the sun. However, I do often use the lane heading south west from the viewing area. You can get very close to the waiting aircraft at the northern end of runway (EOR) point.
The area I use the most is the forest entrance. This name reminds me of Endor in Star Wars, although there’s no Ewoks or AT-STs. Thankfully. It’s located just off the A1065 and is well used. There’s not many occasions I’ve been the only person there. From here you are looking north, runway 24 is to your left and the approach lights are straight ahead. Most people park here and walk either across the road to the perimeter fence or north to the approach.
Aircraft spotting is actively encouraged by the base. ‘Spotters’ are second eyes and ears in addition to Security, and will report any suspicious activity. I’ve often waved at personnel inside as they do their patrols. Police are also happy for people to be there, as long as nobody trespasses on local farmers’ land.
When rare or visiting aircraft are at Lakenheath, they draw bigger numbers of photographers and spotters. Many of whom aren’t locals. Unfortunately this means some aren’t very respectful and large amounts of litter appear. The base is very accommodating, but they can very easily stop all access if people don’t look after the area. So to all of the visitors, please take your litter with you.
I’ve been to Lakenheath a few times when the wind has been blowing from the east, so Runway 06 is the active. There are guides online about where to park and stand for arrivals that end. However, there’s a bit of a hike to the best spots and parking is very limited. So I can’t advise anything for that end.
I usually stand in the forest entrance for 06 operations. Most of the aircraft the depart tend to dip their right wing slightly. Some are more flamboyant than others, giving the hallowed topside shot. Thankfully I saw the 325th Fighter Wing F-22 Raptors and the on-delivery F-15Ds for Israel show off rather nicely. If the based F-15Cs are doing local Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM), they usually have no tanks, so they’re lighter and bank to the right on take off.
RAF Lakenheath is 70 miles away from where I live, so unfortunately I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. I do over 1,200 miles commuting to work a month, so the extra 140 is too much sometimes. I’ve been visiting the base since 2004, and although the types haven’t changed, I always look forward to going. There are around 70 aircraft stationed there and it’s rare that nothing flies. Having said that, I’ve been a couple of times when nothing has flown. Once because it was foggy and the other time was snowing. I hoped for different images, but didn’t get them.
Here are some videos I’ve taken recently. It’s difficult to get smooth video as you’re always shooting through a fence, so if it’s windy or cold, shake is evident. But I hope you enjoy them. Charlies off to Fight. Strike Eagles in Autumn. Lakenheath EOR. F-15E departs.
Many thanks go to RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing for being excellent neighbours and their support.
Read more "Liberty in the UK"