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After a much warmer and comfier nights sleep we set off nice and early to the gates of RAF Lossiemouth to be shown around the different sites from the based aircraft to those at Lossiemouth on exercise. We were transported around the different areas by two coaches, so there weren't too many photographers in one spot at any given time. First stop of the day was a visit to the hard standing hangars where the Typhoons were being based for the fortnight. We were allowed to get up close to this 29 Squadron jet from RAF Coningsby in the great morning light with the hangar providing a unique backdrop. Unfortunately the light was smack-bang down the intakes resulting in both sides of the aircraft appearing in the shade!



Next up was the short ride over to the bigger, heavier aircraft. The E-3 Sentry (AWACs), Hercules C-130K and the Sentinel. The E-3 was just about to depart so we couldn't get too close but a quick lens swap to the Nikon 70-300mm meant it wasn't an issue. I also managed to photograph a new aircraft to me, a Sentinel. The aircraft is a modified version of the Global Express business jet which is made by Bombardier and post-modification these Sentinels are normally based at RAF Waddington. Their role can vary from tracking armoured vehicle formations advancing on the ground to strategic reconnaissance tasks. Currently, it is at the forefront of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) within the RAF but after Op Herrick ceases (the war in Afghanistan) and a suitable replacement is found, funded or created, the Sentinel will cease to exist.



After seeing the bigger, heavier and intelligence aircraft it was back to photographing jets. A few Hawks from RAF Valley and the rare visitors...Swedish Air Force Gripens. The Gripens were one of the reasons for us coming to Scotland. They rarely visit the UK for airshows or on exercise detachment's so the chance to get right up to them wasn't to be missed. They'ed even brought over a "twin stick" variant of the Gripen known as the JAS 39D Gripen. The single seat model is known as the JAS 39C. The Gripen is a multi-role aircraft capable of performing the role of fighter, attack and reconnaissance and can reach a speed of over 1,300mph (Mach 2) and can be configured with Paveway II bombs, Meteor missiles and unguided, freefall Mark 82 bombs which are more commonly seen in B-2 Stealth Bombers.



The next thing on the itinerary was a visit to the middle of the runway to watch the mass launch of jets. Waves of Tornado's, typhoons, Falcons and Gripens went out in a specific order. The E-3 Sentry was already up and had been for 30 minutes. Next up were the Shadow and Sentinel. Then a wave of Cobham Falcons departed to simulate various threats which were mission specific. The slower aircraft depart first so they be in the mission zone first and have a longer endurance than the fighter jets which turn and burn. Next up it's the turn of the Tornado which were launching in twos, threes and even fours. It was just continuous for almost 30 minutes with the odd Hawk and the Hercules C-130K departing in-between too. Then came a mass launch of a mix of Typhoons and Gripens that played catch-up with everything that had launched in the previous twenty minutes! Unfortunately the only cloud that rolled over all day, rolled over us after the first ten minutes but here is a couple of departures in the sun.




After a short lunch break we came back outside to find the sun had reappeared and our next stop was a visit to the Tornados that belong to 41 Squadron at RAF Coningsby. With them, they had brought one of their jets with a specially painted commemorative tail to celebrate the life of a former squadron commander who was also an Olympian. Don Finlay flew a Spitfire with the same code, EB-Z, during his time with the squadron many decades ago. His Olympic medal achievements were both in the 110 meter hurdles, winning a bronze in the 1932 Los Angeles games and a silver in the 1936 Berlin games. The tail incorporates the colours of 41 Squadrons motif, the squadron symbol, the Cross of Lorraine and an image of a hurdler. 




With time left to spare we were given the choice of going to see the Gripens and Hawks again or visiting the Cobham Falcons. The majority vote went in favour of seeing the Gripens again, this time we could go further down the flight line which enabled me to get some slightly different, abstract shots. By keeping the Nikon 70-300mm on it gives you a great depth of field by pulling the background closer to the subject but throwing the background out of focus slightly which allows for some great to stand out more predominately in an image.





A huge thanks must go to RAF Lossiemouth Station Commander Ian "Windy" Gale and his media ops team for their hospitality and organising such a well thought out day which will hopefully be repeated next year.


03/10/12 CQWI and Joint Warrior

The previous day me and three very good friends drove the long distance to the Scottish Highlands. The initial plan was to do a day photographing low level aircraft somewhere in the mountains, then a day at RAF Lossiemouth and then another day doing low level in the Scottish Borders whilst on the way back home. After sleeping in pop-up a tents in the rain at the edge of a forest, nobody really felt like climbing a hill so a decision was made to take in some scenery and head to RAF Lossiemouth a day earlier and get the late afternoon sorties.



RAF Lossiemouth is usually home to Tornados from 12, 15 and 617 Squadron and part of the RAF Search and Rescue Squadron, however during this busy period of exercises there were Typhoons from 3, 11 and 29 Squadron at RAF Coningsby and Tornados belonging to 41 Squadron also from RAF Coningsby. The Swedish Air Force were also in attendance with Gripens which are rarely seen in the UK with the exception of RIAT airshow. Other UK based assets included a special forces Hercules C130K, Shadow R1, E-3 Sentry (AWACs), Sentinel, Hawks from 100 Squadron and 208 Squadron, Tornados from RAF Marham and Falcons from Cobham Aviation.




The light was constantly in and out of the cloud as it set behind the horizon of one of the best airfields to photograph from in the UK. When it was out it was great, the light would bounce a warm, orange glow off the grey aircraft.



As a person who isn't keen on photographing aircraft at bases, it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours and when the light, the aircraft and the company all comes together, it's a great place to be. On the way back to our accommodation for that night we heard there was an enthusiasts day the following day. A chance to get on base, meet some aircrew, learn about the purpose of the exercises and get a lot closer to the action!


27/09/12 If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

...You're in for a big surprise! The temptation of getting up, close and personal with the UK's helicopters proved to much to resist again and so Salisbury Plain it was. Before breakfast we decided to nip across to the supermarket to get some food for the day and on the thirty second drive round to the cafe for breakfast I decided to put the scanner on. A thirty second window for something to call up for entering the SPTA, there was virtually no chance, the odds were against us. The instantly recognisable sound of a Chinook cockpit could be heard on the scanner and he was heading for a confined area known as the Pennings which was less than a mile away! So my first Chinook in a confined area and it was a new one too. All this before breakfast!



After a well earnt breakfast a Lynx teased us on Everleigh before a Squirrel dropped in the Lindens. Then the famous high pitched background noise broke out on the scanner with a Chinook heading back to the Pennings. So after a mad dash back to the Pennings we saw the same Chinook drop back in, this time in great light and a chance of a head-on.




So after two years of waiting to see the new Chinook and any Chinook in the confines I'd had a new one in the confines, twice in one day! Back to Everleigh and we had a very playful Apache which gave some great fast passes, head-ons and sunlit topsides.



Unbelievably another Chinook called up for the Pennings again. This time the light was poor and it was the same aircraft so we headed back to Everleigh where a Lynx was heading for and in great light. It landed on one of the mounds which offered a great photo opportunity with some interesting light.




It was great to finally see a Chinook landing in the trees, the down wash from the rotor blades is unbelievable as it beats the trees all over the place, the noise is deafening but the pilots do it with such professionalism and skill they make it look easy.


19/09/12 A Squirrel In A Different Habitat

The end of the exercise had finished on the Salisbury Plain Training Area therefore normal operations had resumed with all three forces using the Plain and pilots from MOD Boscombe Down's Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS). First up on this sunny, crisp morning was an Army Air Corps Gazelle from the nearby base of Middle Wallop. These have always eluded me in my time in coming to the Plain but on this visit I saw the same one 3 times.



The Autumnal light at this time of year provides great lighting for anything landing the Lindens. It provides an image with great contrast between the helicopter and dark woods in the background and helps to bring out the detail in the aircraft as can be seen below with this Army Air Corps Bell 212 from Middle Wallop. The Bell 212 is the modern day equivalent of the famous Huey that saw action in Vietnam and is popular in many films. Landing in this confined environment and as they approach they provide a heavy noise that can be felt and heard from miles away!




the end of the bought up something new for me. Something I'd never seen photos of before, a Squirrel in the Dustbowl. Often used by Chinooks to simulate "brownouts" that are often a result of landing in dusty areas in places like Afghanistan I was surprised to see the Squirrel carrying out multiple landings but a welcome sight nonetheless.





It's always nice to get something in the dustbowl, whatever it is and to get something you've never seen in there before made the trip for me. Here's hoping it happens more often!


06/09/12 A Special Day In The Hills

A better forecast than the previous trip and more friends out than before? Well I had to go! Wall to wall sunshine mean a trip to the Bwlch Exit, a location situated at the end of the valley of the location below. This location offers the best backdrop in my view and can give shots that "air to air" look about them with the distant background of Dolgellau in the shots if they turn left at the end of the valley. With 180 degree views of Snowdonia where you can see, the Mawddach Estuary, Dolgellau, Trawsfynydd Power Station and Cader Idris even Snowdon itself. First up was an early Hawk doing two passes and pulling out of low level in style!



Then an hour later it was almost a case of "whatever the trainees can do, we can do better". A 31 Squadron Tornado from RAF Marham came through with it's wing swept in the 67° position and then came back 4 minutes later with a truly spectacular pull out of low level before diving back in over Bala!



The next movement was a 100 Squadron Hawk from RAF Leeming which pulled up a bit too early and then two F-15 Strike Eagles of the US Air Force using the callsigns Casino21 and 22 called up for some low flying and after watching them come down from Bala some 3 miles away they went into the valley behind us hoping they'd reappear a few mminutes later... They did!



Next up was the boss of 31 Squadron from Marham using his callsign Marham31 who gave a nice side-on pass before pulling out of low level.



Towards the end of the day, when the light was perfect, an 11 Squadron Typhoon popped up in the valley but it was nothing compared to what was coming at the end of the day. Nightmare31 and 32 called up for 20 minutes of low fly before heading back to base. You could see the contrails as they dropped in over Welshpool some 30 miles away. After much anticipated they hurtled low around the spurs of the hills before 3 Squadrons anniversary Typhoon came into view followed by another Typhoon.



They didn't even bother doing the next valley, they just pulled up and out before dropping back in a few miles away for another run, both jets turning early making for a great shot!




It's moments and passes like that above which is what this hobby is all about, watching the best pilots, fly the best jets in stunning scenery.

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