Tag Archives: RAF

Rather Disappointing F-35B Appearance

The F-35 has been around for quite a while by now so I have shot them on plenty of occasions (although an F-35C is still on the wish list).  My UK trip was one where I was hoping to get an RAF F-35B.  It was scheduled to make an appearance at RIAT but the information did not make it sound like a display.  On the first day of the show, the weather was shocking.  Low cloud and rain got in the way of a lot of things displaying.  Late in the day the F-35B was due in.  Our initial forecast for arrival was extended as the cloud base meant an instrument approach was needed.  It finally appeared and flew through the display line once.  Then it powered away and a while later we were informed it had gone home.I was shooting video of that which is at the bottom of this page.

The next day had better weather so I was hoping for a little more.  It did show up and we did get more than one pass.  However, even then, it was a rather lackluster performance.  I guess they have not worked up any form of display – not even a hovering portion – so we got some passes and a couple of configurations and that was it.  I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little underwhelmed by what they put on.  I guess in coming years, a more worked up display will be seen but I will have to wait a while for that.

Farewell RAF Tornado

There will be much online about the retirement of the Tornado from RAF service.  Global Aviation Resource has been putting together some great information on the history of the jet in service and I would recommend you take a look there if you are interested.  I am not going to repeat the information about the history of its service.  However, I do have a history with the jet.  It was entering service just as I was getting very in to aviation.  Then I ended up working on the program undertaking handling clearances for different configurations and clearing urgent changes that were implemented for the first Gulf War.

I figured I would share a few pictures of Tornados.  These are all the IDS version of the jet be they GR1 or GR4.  I haven’t included the ADV jets since they went away a while back.  Some of these shots are scans of old negatives and aren’t the greatest quality but they are part of the early life of the jet.  Some others are more recent.

I will always have a soft spot for the Tornado.  It remains in service in Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia but for the RAF, the service that drove the aircraft to be a more complex jet than the other partners initially wanted, it is now history.

At Last a Voyager – But…

The Royal Air Force has replaced its tanker force since I left the UK.  The VC-10s and TriStars have been retired and there is a public private partnership in place to deliver tanking support.  This uses converted Airbus A330s.  They are able to provide tanking and transport services (with some of the aircraft configured only for transport).  In RAF service, these jets are named Voyager.  Red Flag 17-1 was my first real opportunity to photograph a Voyager in action.  (Annoyingly my sister has shot them before me and has been on a refueling mission with them!)  While an A330 might not be the most exciting jet to see, I was really looking forward to photographing it.

As the mission was recovering, the light was great.  Low sun providing a warm and soft illumination on the returning jets.  Then, the Voyager called up.  Just as it did so, the sun went in.  The Voyager came down the approach, its gray fuselage in the shade of some clouds.  It landed, taxied in and then the sun came right back out again.  Arghh!  Sure, I can bump up the white balance a bit to warm things up but the jet was in shade and there is not much I can do about that.  I had to leave before it recovered on the following day so no luck then.  They will be around for a while so I guess I will get any crack at this at some point.

Typhoons are Back in Town

The Royal Air Force was back at Red Flag and the Typhoons were a big part of what they brought.  It’s always nice to see Typhoons up and about but, sadly, the RAF has adopted an approach of combining the squadron jets into a maintenance pool.  This means that they don’t carry individual squadron colors.  A couple off the jets still had markings – one from 6 Squadron and one from 41 Squadron – but, sadly, the rest of the jets were all plain gray.  Nothing colorful about them at all.  We did get some nice winter light to photograph them in but even that is not going to make them look that great.

Have You Been Playing in the Sand?

A Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules, covered in desert dust from rough field operations climbs away from Nellis AFB Las Vegas Nevada on a Red Flag Mission.Red Flag may be well known for the fast jet activity but the jets aren’t the only ones that get to play.  The transports also get to have a role.  One of the exercises earlier this year included the U.K. RAF.  They brought along a C-130 Hercules.  I got to shoot it a couple of times.  One thing that was clear as the aircraft took off was that the bottom of the fuselage was very dirty.  I think it was safe to say that it had been landing on some rough strips somewhere out on the range.

Back to My Roots with the Typhoons

C59F3875.jpgThe Brits were at Red Flag in numbers too for 16-1. An E-3D Sentry was part of the AWACS fleet while a C-130J Hercules launched each day I was there. Judging by the dust and dirt on the underside, they were landing on rough strips out on the ranges during their missions. However, the thing I was most looking forward to seeing was the Typhoon. The RAF brought eight jets from 3 and 11 Squadrons. Most days six of them launched.

C59F4789.jpgIn my youth, I worked on what was to become the Typhoon in my BAE days. I was an aerodynamicist looking at airframe loading and the possible flight envelope for the first flight. I was not looking forward to the job when I was given it but working on loads turned out to be a great task and taught me a lot about structural limits, flight controls and the process for expanding the flight envelope. A mentor of mine had told me it sounded dull but was very valuable and he was spot on. I guess he is a smart guy because he has gone on to be rather successful in the company!

AU0E8613.jpgBack on topic, the Typhoon is something I am very pleased to have worked on. Getting to see them in action is great. The launches when we were out by the runways were great. When we were by the EOR, we were directly across from the ramp that the Typhoons were using so I managed to see them crewing up for the launch. Then, of course, they had to come right by us as they taxied out. I know it was a long time ago but I can’t help but still have a soft spot for them when I see them in use.

Tucanos Low Level (But I’m Not Prepared)

C59F2209.jpgThe Lake District is an area that is known to be popular for low flying military aircraft. In all of the years I have been going there, I have hardly seen any jets coming through. Mainly that was because I was there at the weekend and the military don’t tend to fly much at the weekend. I was hopeful that we might see some traffic on this trip since we would be there midweek. We did get some traffic but it didn’t go quite as planned.

C59F2214.jpgA few times we saw Hawks zipping over the town while we were outside. We were generally getting ready to go somewhere else and they caught me out as they came through. On one hike I took a long lens with me. Of course, this didn’t go to plan. Most of the time I was looking at some lovely scenery so I had a wide lens on the camera. This was the time the RAF chose to show up. No jets this time but a selection of Tucano turboprop trainers. I wasn’t expecting them when they came through so grabbed the camera with the lens I had on at the time and got a few shots. These won’t be of much use to me but they do remind me of the excitement of being caught out be a low flying plane of any type.

Castle Air Museum

AU0E4021-HDR.jpgIt’s quite strange to think that I live about 90 minutes from a major air museum but have not been to it since moving here. Such is the case with the Castle Air Museum in Atwater CA. Located on the edge of what used to be Castle AFB, the museum has an extensive collection of Cold War and Second World War types, predominantly from the US but also with a variety of types from other countries. The majority of the collection is located outside which, given this is the central valley, should mean it is pretty sunny. How I managed to get there on a cloudy day I do not know. However, it was indeed overcast when we started walking around. Things did clear up a bit later on, though, so I actually went back to get a few extra shots of things I had seen early on.

AU0E4048.jpgAs a one-time SAC bomber base, there are quite a few large bombers on display. From the B-29 and B-50 through the enormous B-36 Peacemaker (got to love irony) up to the B-47 and B-52 strategic jets, there are all sorts. Some rarer bomber types are also on show. Not necessarily successful ones but they add to the collection. The Brits are also represented with a Vulcan on display.

AU0E3943.jpgIt isn’t just bombers though. Plenty of fighters and trainers are included in the collection and a good number come from the US Navy so, despite the base having a USAF history, they have covered both services well. There is enough space to have all of the aircraft well spread out so you can appreciate them from many angles. You also get quite a walk in if you take a look at everything.

AU0E4062-Pano.jpgOne of the nice additions is an SR-71 Blackbird. There are a few SR-71s on display but not a huge number and seeing another one is always cool. However, they are quite tricky to photograph, particularly outdoors when the black paint scheme really makes for a strong contrast with the daylight. Still worth a go though.

AU0E3874.jpgThere are a few types on display that are worthy of a little extra time so I may post about them separately. If you have even a vague interest in planes, though, make a trip to this museum. Nancy came along and, while she is not a big fan of planes, she found the variety of types quite interesting. High praise indeed!

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RAF Sentinel

AU0E4737.jpgI really do appreciate an aircraft that looks elegant. One such type is the Bombardier Global Express. Built to take on the Gulfstream family, it is a great looking plane with a graceful front fuselage, cracking looking wing and even the empennage is stylishly done. Therefore, you might be forgiven for thinking that I was not impressed when Raytheon took a great looking plane and grafted on some enormous lumps and bumps to create the Sentinel.

Built for Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Sentinel is a battlefield surveillance aircraft in the mold of the USAF JSTARS program but a generation on a bit more compact. It also makes use of a more modern airframe as its starting point. While the changes have not done anything to make the plane look pretty, I do have a soft spot for unusual aircraft configurations and large radomes and sitcom covers fit with this idea. Consequently, I rather like the Sentinel. Seeing them in action at Red Flag was a nice opportunity.

AU0E3119.jpgHaving spent a lot of money on the Sentinel, the UK government announced that, with the reduction in involvement in Afghanistan, the Sentinels would be retired. Retirement sounds inappropriate for something so new but that was the story. Fortunately, it appears that the plan has been adjusted and they have been reprieved for now. We shall see how that develops.

The aircraft are operated by 5 (AC) Squadron of the RAF. 5 Sqn was one of the early Tornado ADV squadrons when it converted to Lightnings. I liked their colors with the maple leaf on a red background. When I worked at Warton, one side project I got involved with was the repainting of a restored Lightning in 5 Sqn colors before it was put on display. Having the Sentinels showing up from 5 Sqn was nice, not least because one of the two jets had the squadron colors displayed over the usual dull grey finish. Both aircraft flew while I was there both day and night. They are an unusual sight to see so it was good to catch them at work.

Special Weapons at Cosford

wpid13693-22.jpgI have twice been able to visit the museum at RAF Cosford outside Telford in the UK. On my second visit, I had a very surprising experience. I was looking at a Buccaneer that was on display in one of the hangars. As I walked around it, I saw something that I had not expected to see. They were some bombs but not normal bombs. When I worked on Tornado many years ago, some of the handling clearances we wrote were for what were euphemistically called special weapons. Even the outline of these stores was highly classified and anything we did that included clearances for them had a higher security rating than normal weapons. I never saw one for real. Only the drawings showing the shapes were available. Once I finished working on them, I figured I wouldn’t see them again.

wpid13691-21.jpgTurns out I was wrong. The RAF retired their weapons as part of an overall strategic weapons reform and, once they were withdrawn from service, the classification was downgraded. This included allowing the weapon shapes to be declassified so they could be put on display in a museum. When I first saw them, I thought that someone must have made a big mistake but it turns out that everything was above board. I doubt many people walking past them were even aware of what they were and they certainly won’t have been as surprised as I was.