The Tornado was entering service in big numbers with the RAF at the same time that I was getting seriously into aviation. I always felt it was the plane I knew the best. When I ended up working on them, it felt like a continuation of my youthful enthusiasm. The Tornado GR1 was my jet. After I moved on to other projects, MLU came along and that became the GR4. Somehow, the GR4 never felt like it was mine. I was a GR1 kid.
When I went to the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection at Old Sarum, there was a Tornado at one end of the hangar. It was a GR1 that had never been updated. Better than that, is was one of the earliest production jets that the RAF received. Some of the test jets at Warton were from this batch so this one really felt like one of the originals for me. The Tornado is long gone from RAF service but, for me, to see one of these earlier jets was really a treat. Camo with black radomes is how the Tornado should look!
During our day out in Portsmouth, we had lunch at a very nice pub by the harbor. We sat outside enjoying the various boats coming and going. I popped inside before leaving and, when I came back outside, Nancy had to inform me that, as soon as I went inside, three helicopters had flown by. There had been on Chinook with two smaller, unidentified, types flying formation with it. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed but such is life.
A while later, as we were walking along the sea wall at Southsea, the sound of rotors returned. The nice thing about Chinooks is that they don’t really sneak up on you. I had ample time to switch to a longer lens and set up the camera for something more appropriate for a helicopter (although the Chinook rotor rpm is so low, it still is not ideal). Sure enough, it came right towards us and flew through the harbor entrance and right by. A nice surprise. It then flew out to sea and I wondered whether it was going to return. Instead, it appeared to be hovering over one of the forts out in the Solent. That would have looked great from closer up.
I heard that a DC-3 had arrived at Arlington. It was a plane that had been with Air Atlantique in the UK for many years and was familiar to a friend of mine that had worked there a while back. I am not sure if I had seen it in the UK or not but had definitely seen shots of it. It came in during the week and was parked on the ramp at Arlington over the holiday weekend. Unfortunately, the weather was not great. However, with nothing much else to do, I figured I would head up and see it.
The rain was pouring down as I left home but it was actually drier and even with a hint of light up in Arlington when I arrived. Even so, the conditions were not great. However, the clouds, while plentiful, did seem to provide some interest to the sky. Consequently, I went with HDR to try and make the best of the conditions.
I am not sure what the plans are for the plane and whether it will remain in its old RAF colors as a Dakota rather than a DC-3 or C-47. We shall see. Hopefully it stays in the area and I’ll get to see it flying.
P-8 production is really moving along at the moment. Aside from the US Navy aircraft, there are planes destined for the Royal Air Force, the Indian Navy and the Royal Norwegian Air Force in production and on test. One afternoon I got both an Indian and an RAF jet arriving in close succession. The nice thing about arrivals from the south when they are military jets is that they then taxi back past you as they head to the military ramp.
On two previous occasions, the RAF’s Sentinel fleet has made an appearance on this blog. The most recent was for a damp example at RIAT that was in this post. The Sentinel fleet has spent a number of years under threat of retirement. It is a small fleet and it is custom made so it will have very high sustainment costs. Also, it provides a role principally in support of the Army so I imagine it isn’t the highest priority for some of the RAF upper echelons.
Previous reports of its retirement have been followed up with a reprieve. However, the MOD in the UK has just issued a request for proposals (RFP) for companies to come and dismantle the aircraft (along with a pair of E-3D Sentrys). This looks like it is really going to happen. The RFP states that the aircraft are not for reuse and that the selected contractor will disassemble them on site at RAF Waddington. Not only is the RAF not going to use them but they are making sure no one else does.
Various bits of information have flowed around about them. There is a suggestion that obsolescence issues mean a lot of equipment needs to be replaced. Since that will be a custom process, it will be an expensive thing to do and, with the axe having been hanging over them for a number of years, spending a lot of money on them if they might not be around for much longer just doesn’t seem likely. Maybe there are other issues too.
I’ve had a soft spot for V Sqn from the Lightning and Tornado F3 days. Seeing it move from a fast jet to a bizjet derivative was a bit odd but at least it survived while so many other squadrons disappeared. I wonder whether it will surface again. Maybe an F-35B unit at some point? We shall see. My best interaction with the Sentinels was on a Red Flag when I got to shoot them in some great light. Farewell you oddball.
In this recent post, I had an RAF Poseidon flying over the house. A little while later, I was at Boeing Field when the same jet came back from a test flight. Here are some shots of it as it rolled out after landing. It wasn’t long after this that the jet was delivered to the RAF and made the trip to its new home in Lossiemouth.
The RAF has been taking delivery of its new maritime patrol aircraft. The retirement of the Nimrods left the RAF without a maritime aircraft for about a decade which is a strange choice to make. Finally, the P-8 Poseidon was ordered to reinstate that capability. They started coming off the line here in Seattle a while back. The fourth aircraft has been undergoing testing ahead of its delivery. It was returning from a test flight and was coming straight for our house. It is not unusual for planes heading to Boeing Field to come our way so I grabbed the camera and got a couple of shots as it flew by. It even turned slightly giving a slightly wing down view in one shot.
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.
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.
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.