Waiting for Eagles....

23rd September 2012
but not the feathered kind.. :-) In fact the Eagles that I've been waiting for are from RAF Lakenheath and belong to the USAF, they are the mighty F15e Stike Eagle and the deadly F15c Eagle. The F15e Strike Eagle is a two seat ground attack aircraft whilst the F15c Eagle is a single seat fighter, both are impressive machines and seeing and hearing them at low level is an awesome sight and sound.

RAF Lakenheath is home to the USAF 48th Fighter wing which has 3 squadrons of F15 Eagles. Two of the squadrons fly the F15e Strike Eagle, 492nd (Madhatters) and the 494th (Panthers) and one squadron of F15c Eagles flown by the 493rd (Grim Reapers)

Unit Badges..

Low level aircraft photography is a lot like wildlife photography, nothing is guaranteed and it's very weather dependant with the latter being the main reason for failure. The problem lies with the low level training area being situated in North Wales and right next to the coast, the area has it's own weather system with clouds,rain and wind common place.
It can change in an instant too, one minute it's warm and sunny the next it's pouring down and the sea mist and cloud have reduced visibility to a few feet.

On my first visit I started off on Cad West which has good views over the surrounding mountains which in turn gives you plenty of time to pick up the camera when a plane comes into view. The weather wasn't great but at least there was a few breaks in the clouds meaning if an F15 turned up it would be able to drop in. It wasn't long before the scanner crackled into life with an F15 (callsign Tricky11) calling up for 20 minutes of low flying, even though I heard this it still isn't guaranteed you'll see it. The lowfly area is huge and any number of things can result in the aircraft pulling out of low level,so with fingers crossed I prayed it would get in and come through.

I soon heard the sound of a distant jet which grew louder and louder before appearing and dropping down through a break in the clouds, I grabbed the camera and took a few shots as it dropped in.

The next thing I prayed for was for it to drop in low enough to be landlocked, the Americans blow hot and cold when it comes to low level flying. I'm not sure why this happens, they can turn up one day and all the passes are high but the next day they are all down in the weeds??? Thankfully this F15e was coming in nice and low... :-)

On the second pass we got a wave by the backseater...

Several more visits didn't produce the image I was looking for so I decided to try another location, Corris. This is a morning only location due to the sun being in the wrong direction come lunchtime but with the weather being so bad I was hoping to last the whole day there. Corris is one of the best locations to capture the fluff and ribbons that form over the aircraft when the air is damp and today the air was extremely damp, all I needed was the sun to stay away and for some aircraft to turn up..

I meet up with Chappers and we made our way up to the top of the Corris, once at the top we quickly put up the shelters having already climbed up in driving rain showers. Hours passed, in fact 5, before we got our first aircraft through, a Hawk T1 from RAF Valley.
Not long after the Hawk had been through we heard Harley81 flight on the scanner calling up for low fly,two F15s coming and the conditions were spot on for fluff and ribbons.

Cameras at the ready and we could hear them in the distance, come on, please get this corner right. All of of sudden they popped into view and flew straight on out to sea.. Nooooooooooooooooo!

I couldn't believe it,all that time waiting and they have flown straight past. I took a quick look at the images,zoomed in and could see the pilot had seen us, the 7 foot US flag we had put up might have helped us so we still had a chance.
The next few minutes dragged by and just when we didn't need it a huge cloud drifted in and started to cover the tops of the hills. This was starting to look bad and I was thinking how close had we been to getting them when all of a sudden one came steaming around the corner..

Yeeeeesssss..... Even though the light was very poor due to the huge cloud bank that had moved in, I think the extra damp air it had brought helped to produce the huge amounts of fluff and ribbons on the aircraft. Happy with what I had captured I was just having a quick look through the images on the back of the camera when we heard them coming in again.

Both pilots produced the goods on this pass, going out wide and then pulling hard towards us which left Chappers and I like two little kids at Christmas... :-)

This is one of my favourites from the passes we had, hopefully soon to be signed by the crew and hanging on my wall...

Finally I had captured the images I was after but as ever I'm never completely happy and I'm looking forward to another Corris visit..

My next trip to Wales was on September 11th and I decided on Cad West again. I met up with Chappers,Pete and Andy before making the long climb to the top, weather again was changeable with sunny spells and showers. We wasn't too sure if we would see the Americans due to it being 9/11 but not long after getting set up we had them on the scanner calling up for low fly. Chappers put the flag up and we sat and waited eyes firmly fixed on the entry points to the pass..

Taken with the Iphone... :-)

The first pair of Eagles were high on their passes which seems to happen from time to time, like I said, hot and cold. An hour or so later we had another pair but again the first pass was high, thankfully on the second pass one of the crews put in a nice low pass...

A few hours passed which saw a few passes by the local Hawks breaking up the boredom before we heard two F15Cs calling up for low fly. F15Cs are very rare at low level,they spend most of their time at 20,000 feet but saying that when they do drop in for some low level flying they certainly know how to do it. Another thing we noticed with the Cs is they tend to talk to each other a lot over the coms, much more so than any of the two seat E models but it makes for interesting listening and on their way out of low level one of the F15C pilots thanked us for the American flag, which I thought was a nice touch...

Cameras at the ready they came into view coming out of Bwlch..

Unfortunately there wasn't enough moisture in the air to produce much fluff but I was very pleased to capture the F15Cs low level..

Final image, a nice close up of the F15C office..

Thanks for looking...