2016 – Reviewed

2016 was a good year for me. I saw many types in quite a few different locations around the world. Join me as I guide you through my year of military aviation. All images are copyright to Alan Kenny.

January

First stop of the year was at a chilly RAF Lakenheath. The F-15E Strike Eagles were very busy, flying up until dusk. But didn’t fly during sunset. Shame. A trip to Washington DC gave me the opportunity to visit the Maryland Air National Guard, a short drive away. I didn’t know if I was going to see any action, but the A-10s came good. Cold, but productive day.

February

Month two took me to the land of the rising sun, Japan. I’ve been to Hyakuri Air Base twice before, but this third time was the best by far. Lots of action and lots of different angles. Love it there! I visited RAF Marham for the second time, this one being better than the first due to more Tornados being home from operations. Plus I had a better camera and lens combo this time. Nice to see the Goldstars special scheme do quite a number of circuits.

March

A standby trip took me to Israel. I hired a bike and rode down the coast. I was pleased to find Dov Hoz Airport was busy with IDF assets. Love the sand colours Blackhawk. I decided to take a day out to RAF Lakenheath. I just went for a day out. To my surprise, three Polish F-16s visited and one of them was a specially marked Tiger tail. Shame it was gloomy for their arrival, but had the sun been out, they’d have been backlit. As usual the F-15Cs put on a great show.

April

I knew the F-22 Raptors were in town. They were on an exercise from Tyndall AFB, Florida. RAF Lakenheath was heaving with spotters everywhere. I timed my visit to coincide with 06 operations and some sun. Loved the results. I went over to neighbouring RAF Mildenhall in the afternoon and was fortunate with seeing my first C-5M, along with based MC-130Js and RC-135. The POTUS visit later in the month took me back and it was really good to see the Presidential Ospreys for the first time. Very smart.

May

I visited Fort Worth, Texas for the first time. It was grey and overcast, but thankfully not raining. VMFA-112 Cowboys F/A-18 Hornets flew as a pair and a few T-38 fly throughs from Sheppard AFB and Randolph AFB. A stop at Alliance Airport gave me the chance to see a couple of T-6 Texan His taxiing. Next was up to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington on the Pacific Northwest. Also my first visit. I’d heard it was a quiet base, but didn’t find that. It was very busy with most squadrons flying, including the EP-3E.

June

Oddly June was my quietest month. Not sure why that was, but I only got to RAF Fairford, Gloscestershire the once to see the B-52s which were there for work in the Czech Republic. I had hoped to get there to see the B-1s, but they’d left before I got chance to see them. Big shame as I’ve only seen them at airshows before.

July

Hog time! Whiteman AFB A-10s were over at RAF Leeming for a while in July and I made the drive up to see them. The sun was shining and the pilots were very friendly. Love those jets. I fly to Atlanta from standby and visited Dobbins ARB in Marietta. Great to see the C-130Hs still in action.

August

I went back to Dobbins to do an interview for Combat Aircraft Magazine. That article is still in progress, so I’ve only included images not accosted with it. Nice to see my first Wright-Patterson C-17 visit whilst I was there. Next I went to Philadelphia, and drove over the border to Delaware. I visited the Air Mobility Command museum and took photos of the visitors from there. Sadly the runways were being repaired, so the C-5s were at McGuire, NJ. A stop in at RAF Mildenhall on the way home resulted in a long CV-22B Osprey conducting fast rope practice. The month ended with a visit to RAF Cosford for the final running of RAF Jaguars. Amazing day with superb access. Just a shame about the end result.

September

My only visit to RAF Coningsby came in September. Although I do love the Typhoon, I seem to be more in love with Eagles, as I visited RAF Lakenheath again for four F-15Ds on delivery to the Israeli Air Force. I also went to RAF Mildenhall twice. On the first visit I saw my first RAF RC-135 and on the second, my first Turkish Air Force A400M. To finish of the month I returned to NAF Whidbey Island again and neighbouring NOLF Coupeville. The SAR MH-60R was great to see there and again, NASWI was busy!

October

Back to RAF Lakenheath. This time to see the autumn colours on the trees. Nine times out of ten, Lakenheath delivers. I went back to Dobbins in Georgia and saw a C-130J & C-5M on test flights. Love those FREDs! My only airshow of 2016 was in Forth Worth. It was held at Alliance Airport and was fantastic! I photographed a number of aircraft at sunset/sunrise, plus I met the US Navy Tac Demo team. I also travelled to Fort Worth again after the airshow. Whilst there I’d heard an Israeli F-35 would be doing a test flight. Sadly this didn’t happen. Luckily a VMFA-121 F-35B did a few fly bys.

November

My fourth visit of the year to Dobbins was in November. To get more material for the article, I was allowed back on base to shoot the wing at work. A nice visit from a Pittsburg C-130H made for some good images. My final overseas aviation visit was to NAS Lemoore. This was to do an article on the US Navy Tac Demo team for my website. This is still in progress, but will hopefully complete soon.

December

The year ended where it began, RAF Lakenheath. The light was excellent and the base was very busy. The visit was topped off by a C-17 from McChord AFB, Washington performing an almost fighter style approach. All in all, a superb year!

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Liberty in the UK

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.

The base is active on social media and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.

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This article is dedicated to the memory of Simon Farrow. Simon was a regular at Lakenheath, a keen photographer and helpful. I had a few conversations with him online. Sadly he lost his life recently.

Many thanks go to RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing for being excellent neighbours and their support.

 

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Eastern delights

Turn ‘n’ Burn‘s Alan Kenny has visited Hyakuri Air Base in Japan three times in 2012, 2015 and 2016. All image are copyright of the author.

Plenty of fight left in the JASDF Phantoms
Despite dwindling numbers of Phantoms in active service with air forces around the world, the Japan Air Self Defence Force still has 91 F-4EJs and 26 RF-4EJs in its inventory. Impressive numbers considering this aircraft type first entered service with 44 years ago, back in 1968. Both types of the Phantom are based here. The F-4EJs are painted in air superiority grey with the squadron red, white and blue blocky stylised eagle painted on the tail. The RF-4EJs are painted in two different schemes. Either the South East Asia camouflage or the lizard green scheme and have a cartoon bird’s head similar to the famous Woody Woodpecker on the tail.

Keeping the claws sharp on Japanese Eagles
There is a strong force of F-15J Eagles at Hyakuri Air base, along with a few F-15DJ twin seater trainer aircraft. The aircraft are painted in a light grey camouflage scheme reminiscent of early USAF F-15A Eagles. Along with the T-4 trainer, the F-15J & F-15DJ make up the 305th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

Might of the Rising Sun
Japan Air Self-Defence Force Hyakuri Air Base is home to the 302nd and 305th Tactical Fighter Squadrons, 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and the Hyakuri Rescue Wing. The 302nd TFS comprises of F-4EJ Kai Phantom IIs and the T-4 trainer. The 501st TRS operates the RF-4EJ and T-4 and the Hyakuri Rescue Wing has UH-60Js and the U-125A. The T-4 trainers are quite similar to the Alpha Jet, but have a more bulbous nose. Duck egg blue C-130s from 401 Squadron at Nagoya occasionally call in for a brief stop overs. The U-125A, which is a Japanese version of the BAe-125, and is utilised in the search and rescue jet role.

The base is 53 miles north of central Tokyo and easily accessible by car and public transport. Hyakuri Air Base was the main name for the site since 1956, but in 2010 the Japanese government opened a passenger terminal and runway on the west side of the airfield and named it Ibaraki Airport. Only two low-cost airlines use the airport, Spring Airlines of China and Japan’s Skymark Airlines.

The runways are designated 03R/21L and 03L/21R. The civilian flights don’t disrupt military operations as runway 03L/21R was built for civil use. When there aren’t any passenger flights due, the JASDF also use 03L/21R. To the south of the passenger terminal are F-4 two gate guards. They are well displayed and are an F-4EJ from the 302nd TFS and an RF-4EJ from the 501st TRW. The latter painted with wonderful a shark mouth.

Hiring a car is very expensive in Japan, as are the numerous toll roads. The easiest, and cheapest way to get to the Hyakuri/Ibaraki is by public transport. There is a dedicated bus service which runs 6 services a day from Tokyo station to Ibaraki Airport and vice versa. The journey to the airport takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, while the return journey takes 2 hours 30 minutes as Tokyo is extremely busy and heavy traffic is frequent.

There are many locations to spot activities at the base and I managed to find most of them. The first two times I visited via public transport, only using a car on my third visit. On the east side of the base, there was a very famous elevated viewing platform. Many people had told me of this location and I was determined to go as I had a car. Unfortunately the phone number listed on the locked gate was out of service, so I was out of luck. Reports were that it had closed, but locals have said it’s since reopened.

It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your passport on your person. Unfortunately I did not on my first visit and spent fifteen minutes with the military police trying to work out my reason for being there. In the end the guard realised I wasn’t causing any harm, took my photo and left me to it. The Japanese photographer next to me explained they’d never seen a Westerner there, so wanted a photograph. Quite amusing.

The base and airport are very accessible and fantastic for viewing. As long as you respect local laws and general aviation laws, you will have a great day. I would advise going to the west side of the airport in the afternoon for photos as the sun is directly overhead and sets behind you. In the summertime at least. There aren’t many places left to see Phantoms in the wild and Japan, and Hyakuri, have excellent viewing locations to see these wonderful jets in the twilight of their career. A must visit for any fan.

Video here.

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Hosting the Testers

Naval Base Ventura County had the sound of afterburners again when they played host to two squadrons from NAWS China Lake in February 2014. All images copyright of Alan Kenny. NAS Point Mugu used to be home to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) and VX-5 until the Tomcat was retired in 1994. Since then, the […]

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The Last Growl

On Wednesday 31st August 2016, the final RAF Jaguars made their last movements under power. Turn ‘n’ Burn‘s Alan Kenny was there to witness history. The RAF and 54(F) Squadron first received the SEPECAT Jaguar back in 1974. The cat was initially going to be an advanced jet trainer, but lack of strike aircraft meant that it was […]

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