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gary1701

RAF Mildenhall photo thread

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Love this thread!  Great selection of aircraft, beautiful photos.

 

David

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On 4/7/2018 at 6:12 AM, gary1701 said:

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"Maybe somebody had warned him that if you go into Mildenhall on runway 29 look to the South at the threshold and you might see some idiots standing on top of a earth mound pointing cameras at you!"

 

 


Great collection of photos as always! The EP-3E pics must be a bit older...no more "Porcupine antennas" all over the undersides.

Regarding the C-130 crewman "shooting back" at you, I transited through Mildenhall about 10 years ago now, with a "special" P-3 carrying something on the underside. At the time the program was still very hushed (it has since been deemed "sight unclass", meaning taking pics of it is ok). The folks "in the back" were shocked to see a hillside full of photographers as we approached and departed. I laughed and over the ICS told him "you're going to be more surprised when pictures of us show up in the Brit aeroplane magazines and web sites! What is this, you've never been through Mildenhall before? Everyone knows it's a spotters paradise."...and these guys were in the Intel business! In one of the departing shots, my ugly mug is seen staring out and down giving a wave!

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Hi Andrew,

 

That's a great story. I know we've mentioned it before on the forum and I have posted a pic or two but it's worth another telling, as the photobucket curse means all the old links will be dead. I've gone back and re-edited them from the original files, shot on a first generation 8 mega pixel DSLR on the 14th April, 2007, a Saturday. So these are freshly edited and hopefully a bit better than the old ones.

 

I remember that Saturday well. I didn't know your bird was coming, it was just a bright April Saturday morning so I wandered over (about a 45 minute drive) to Mildenhall to see if I could catch anything. So I got there, parked up and walked through the small piece of waste land on the South Eastern corner to the 'mound', which all the regulars know and has been there for as long as I can remember. A couple of the locals who I knew were also there and I asked about any 'gen' and they said a P-3 was due. Even back then P-3s were not that common, although not as rare as later years so I was quite chuffed, as I hadn't photographed one digitally yet. So I set up and waited and sure enough a P-3 appeared on the 29 approach. Now I follow naval affairs as much, if not more than aviation, so I definitely try and be clued up about naval aviation. I must admit my first thought when I saw that 'canoe' under the fuselage was that it was going to mess up a good shot of a nice, standard USN P-3C, which is what I wanted. The second, was what the hell is it? I know my US and UK ordnance, and am familiar with what should be hanging from under an Orion, and I hadn't got a clue what it was, neither did the others.

 

This is Andrews bird coming down the 29 approach into Mildenhall, 14th April 2007.

 

IMG_4754.jpg

 

So, the bird taxied in and we heard on the box a 'quick turn' being asked for. This was good as it meant a good chance of catching the aircraft coming off the departure end at the Western end of the field, and a P-3 would probably keep quite low. However, Mildenhall 'quick turns' are notorious for being anything but quick. It's for good reason that the place has a terrible reputation amongst transiting flight crews, and why they will try and go anywhere else but Mildenhall. Hell, Prestwick, a civilian airport on the Scottish coast has more transiting US military aircraft than Mildenhall because they're made welcome and not constantly messed about. Anyway, this one slipped through the net and got out within a couple of hours and myself, plus a few others were waiting down the other end as the bird came out nice and low.

 

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Andrew, on the full size I can just make out figures by both circular windows in the fuselage, is one of them you? I got the pics home quite chuffed to have a P-3 in the bag but still curious about that mysterious 'canoe'. As I normally do I posted a selection up that evening on one of the UK enthusiast forums and a short time later I got my first email, asking do I know what I had taken and it might be worth offering the pic around the aviation press. It was at that point that I went and did the research and found out about the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) pod and how hush hush it was. As you correctly speculated, it went around a fair bit, being sold for a few quid to Aircraft Illustrated (June 2007), Flight International (August 2007), C4ISR Journal (January 2009) and finally to the MITRE Corporation in January 2011, who said they were involved in the development of the LSRS system. I didn't make a lot on it, around £20 to £30 a sale, which is about the going rate for aviation media. It has also appeared on numerous websites, the one below is a good source of background on the history of the 'sneaky' P-3s;

 

http://www.p3orion.nl/sneaky.html

 

This one also used it (without permission...grrr);

 

https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/exclusive-p-8-poseidon-flies-with-shadowy-radar-system-1562912667

 

I now know that at the time no P-3 had been photographed publicly outside the US with the LSRS pod fitted. A second one came through a few days later and was also caught by the locals - weekday no good for me.

 

https://www.jetphotos.com/photo/5962445

 

I did photograph another one with the LSRS pod on the 29 approach a few years later but it was too early and the sun angle was bad, right up the 6 o'clock. I know that here in the UK we have a different culture about this sort of thing, but now looking back after, as you say 10 years, the secrecy seems ridiculous. Photographing the exterior of a pod without any insight as to what's inside to me is hardly a security issue. In these circumstances it was a little different, as it was flying in a foreign country and photographed from public land so to those who got a little upset (I remember you saying in a previous post that it caused a little fuss in the USN VP community) its...well...fair game. Don't fly into a easily accessible foreign airfield on a bright Saturday lunchtime! As you say the enthusiast community has Mildenhall under 24/7 observation all the time. Even if it had been photographed in the US (I now know a few photos from the US had appeared when I took these, but only a very few) I still don't see why even the exterior of the pod should be so sensitive.

 

There you go gents, that's the story of the LSRS P-3 photos from my point of view. Oh, nearly forgot, the EP-3 pics were taken 20th February 2010.

 

Gary 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by gary1701

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19 hours ago, gary1701 said:

 

 

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Andrew, on the full size I can just make out figures by both circular windows in the fuselage, is one of them you?

 

I now know that at the time no P-3 had been photographed publicly outside the US with the LSRS pod fitted. A second one came through a few days later and was also caught by the locals - weekday no good for me.

 

Gary, wow, you've got a fantastic memory! 2007, man time flies, that seems like it was not so long ago. Nice to see the pics "cleaned" up some. That is pretty wild all the stir those photos caused, and congratulations to you for getting your work out there. I do recall we've mentioned this before, feels good to be able to talk a bit more freely about it now.  It was indeed a Saturday, as I recall leaving NAS Brunswick late Friday afternoon/early evening for the transit across in 132 (BuNo 161132). A day later than scheduled as a freak snowstorm had rolled in to southern Maine...I had cleaned the snow off the wings and nacelles twice before they finally decided to slide us to the right. Our original flight plan would've had us arriving for fuel after dark (and thus avoiding the public eye) but Mother Nature favored "the mound gatherers" :rolleyes:. I think we had some sort of priority set up ahead of time that had the fuel waiting for us as we taxied to a stop, thus the "quick turn" around.

 

Our mission was to get to "a base in the CENTCOM Area of Operations" and swap out the aircraft with another LSRS platform, aircraft 126 (BuNo 161126), which was the one that came through on the 19th. I was doing the takeoff for that flight so no goofing off in the windows! Looking at my log book, we logged "combat flight time" on the 15th in 132 (transiting from NAS Sigonella down through Iraq so that the "canoe guys" could get the system set up) and again in 126 on the 18th transiting up and out of there for the trip home. So, we had a few days R&R in the desert...good times! LOL. On the second stop through I recall that I had noticed a prop leaking fluid while doing my walk around during fueling, so we looked as if we might be stuck there for a bit. Myself and the other flight engineer serviced the prop (added hydraulic fluid...) and cycled it through several times and found no leakage. Knowing you have a 12+ hour flight out ahead of you across open ocean, the thought of having a prop malfunction weighs heavily on your mind. Seeing the Newfoundland coast several hours later was a welcoming sight.

 

We were a VP-26 crew, but if you look at the tail of the aircraft, you can make out fresh FS 16440 paint over the former VP-10 "Lancer" markings. The "LD" is somewhat noticeable as well. I was a flight engineer, so I'm not in the bubble windows there in the pics, but just behind the pilot sitting on the "RADAR rack" (my buddy Brad was in the center seat for that takeoff), I'm just in the shadows looking down at you folks in the photo above.

Now that the "canoe" is not sight sensitive...I may try scratch building one in 1/72 scale to build one of the P-3s that I logged a whole lotta hours in.

 



 

 

 

 

Edited by 82Whitey51

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15 hours ago, gary1701 said:

I know that here in the UK we have a different culture about this sort of thing, but now looking back after, as you say 10 years, the secrecy seems ridiculous. Photographing the exterior of a pod without any insight as to what's inside to me is hardly a security issue. In these circumstances it was a little different, as it was flying in a foreign country and photographed from public land so to those who got a little upset (I remember you saying in a previous post that it caused a little fuss in the USN VP community) its...well...fair game. Don't fly into a easily accessible foreign airfield on a bright Saturday lunchtime! As you say the enthusiast community has Mildenhall under 24/7 observation all the time. Even if it had been photographed in the US (I now know a few photos from the US had appeared when I took these, but only a very few) I still don't see why even the exterior of the pod should be so sensitive.

 

Just to touch on this a bit further...I agree 100%! The secrecy is a bit ridiculous. The thing is quite noticeable and if you didn't want people to see it, flying in day light hours was not going to work. It's always been funny to me, that most people in the military have no idea the keen interest that regular civilians have in the equipment we operate, be it aircraft, tanks, trucks or otherwise. During the in-brief on LSRS, one of the intel folks mentioned that "there are P-3 aficionados" out there who are going to want to know what this thing is. To which  I elaborated further saying that not only are "spotters" going to be interested, and the locals hanging out at the burger joint at the end of the runway... but model builders too! I said, man, you have no idea the amount of airplane geek forums online. They seemed genuinely surprised. We might not be allowed to snap pics of the birds, but that doesn't stop folks outside the gates. They never really had an answer one way or the other on what to tell anyone who might ask what the pod was. "Just don't say what it does" seemed to suffice. Operating out of the "CENTCOM area" too, I can't even imagine the assets sitting on the road outside that base gathering intel of what comes and goes...because we do the same thing.  I once sat on the taxi way of Bahrain International Airport in an LSRS bird, right in front of the main terminal, broad daylight! Waiting in a line of international airliners for our takeoff...I'm sure lots of folks saw us and wondered...hmmmm?

 

So, sure enough, the first time I'm out pre-flighting the aircraft, the base fire department pulls up checking the servicing date of the fire bottle nearby as they do...and here they come asking what that thing is. I tell them I'm kind of busy and can't talk right now, "well, is it a fuel tank? We're gonna need to know". Nope. "Is it radioactive?" Jesus, dude, go away...I told him it was a ski rack, they we're going to Vermont for the weekend. LOL

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It's a shame you never shot Kodachromes Gary,  we could do some awesome trading.

 

Steve

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Andrew, You should have said it was a lobster tank, for transporting live lobsters back to base.  (Would keep the beer cold too, for that matter!)

Edited by Dutch

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Hi again Gents,

 

Andrew, thank you very much for that, I love reading stories like this and picking up background information. To me it's a hobby and nothing more, which is the same for all the guys I know who do this. Although I was quite pleased to make a little money on the pics I must add that they all came to me rather than me go to them, despite being encouraged to do so. Over the years I've helped a few media organizations and for a while was even a regular freelancer for a UK aviation magazine, only because I knew the then editor. If somebody approaches me I'll consider what they want to do, but will and have turned down offers that I don't agree with. I was once approached by one of the major UK daily newspapers for some Mildenhall pics when they wanted to do a article at the time of the CIA rendition stories. That surprised me as I had not photographed anything at Mildenhall that could be considered connected to that story. Granted, quite a few civil registered biz jets have gone through Mildenhall whose ownership can be traced to some of the supposedly CIA owned front companies, but I've never photographed them. When I told them I hadn't got anything they said, no problem, accuracy didn't matter and nobody would care. I told them where to go. The enthusiast community takes a very dim view of photographers who sell out to the media in questionable or unethical circumstances. If you become known for doing this you find yourself being shunned quite quickly. The guy who photographed the fatal Red Arrows crash here in the UK a few weeks ago at RAF Valley sold them to the tabloids and is, I believe known to the community in that part of the country. He's not very popular now. Some years ago when Prince Harry was a British Army Apache pilot at Wattisham (just a few miles away from me) I got asked if I could provide any images to the media of him in a Apache. Now I enjoyed a good relationship with the Army security at Wattisham, and unlike most visitors to the fence was left alone to do what I wanted, and the crews would sometimes pose for me. I wasn't going to ruin that relationship and cash in so again told them where to go, even though I did have several Apache shots with him in the cockpit - not that you'd know, and you would just have to take my word for it.

 

What I like to put over, is that when security really, and I mean really matters, the older, mature aviation enthusiast community over here tends to be very good at self policing. Most of the daily information on military aircraft movements in the UK, and indeed worldwide is posted on one particular forum, and is updated by members worldwide in real time. Which is easy nowadays given all the tools available. That forum, with it's various photography and general discussion sections is open to public viewing without membership. The section covering real time movements and discussions is hidden to non-members and even membership will not allow you access to it unless you have been with the forum for a while and regularly posted. That is to specifically stop media and reporters from getting access to information that we'd rather they didn't see given their likely agenda and lack of understanding of what they're looking at. Also, threads covering movements considered operationally sensitive will be deleted by the moderators and not discussed until the operation is completed. Classic case would be USAF Lakenheath 48th Fighter Wing and RAF Marham Tornado operations direct from the UK to Libya in 2011. Whilst both bases had aircraft deployed closer, a small number of operational missions were flown direct from the UK with tanker support. These were impossible to hide given the comms involved in tanker coordination, not to mention live loaded F-15s and Tornado's seen departing the bases from the fence line. The community knows what is going on even before the chocks are pulled, but certainly amongst the regulars, we try and keep it to ourselves whilst the information is operationally sensitive. The media don't seem to understand this.

 

Back to your visit, and I remember at the time seeing the remains of the squadron markings and did manage identify which VP squadron it was. I wasn't convinced by the serial at the time, as although I know the numbers usually represent the last three of the bureau number, I didn't know if the numbers had been played around with, as some P-3s supposedly have been over the years. The call sign on the 14th April was recorded as 'LK26', although that doesn't come from my records so I can't personally vouch for that. There hasn't been much USN traffic through in recent years. The USN/USMC C-130s now tend to go to Prestwick (don't blame them!) so that doesn't leave much. There was a EP-3 appear out of the blue one day in 2016 and I was actually on base at the time! I was on one of the public visits and we'd gone into the 100th Air Refuelling Wings briefing complex to have a brief about their role. When the group I was with (enthusiast group) came out and went to get back on the coach to be taken to the 100th ramp and a KC-135 I could suddenly see a EP-3 further down on one of the dispersals, which was a surprise.  I thought then, please, nobody else spot it and if they do, resist the temptation to get the cameras out, as photography during these visits is very controlled - you can photograph only 100th ARW tankers whilst on base, nothing else. If I'm a guest on a base I take the rules very seriously, regardless of how ridiculous they are, but somebody always tries it and I know a group had recently been thrown off Lakenheath for ignoring the rules.  If I'd have been outside or on the approach, that EP-3 was fair game, but not when inside and being escorted. Thankfully, we didn't get near enough and trouble was avoided! There's been a couple of week long deployments to Mildenhall of P-8s this year, a type I haven't photographed yet, or even seen. I don't know what they were doing but they pretty much flew everyday during their stay, and staying out for several hours too. USN P-8s (and Canadian CP-140s, German P-3s, French Atlantiques...etc) have usually deployed to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland when covering our MPA gap.

 

I thought I would add a couple more pics here, and to keep with the theme they're USN.

 

The first E-6 Mercury I saw, on a runway 11 approach in September 2010. He'd been deployed for several days and was flying daily missions from Mildenhall. When I took this I knew there was a cloud coming in and was seconds from losing the shot.

 

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The second one was in April 2011, connected to Libya ops or not, I don't know, but he again flew daily and this was a Saturday morning departure off runway 11. This flight was tracked around the country as he flew a wide orbit at height and was photographed several times trailing his aerials, call sign 'Iron 18'.

 

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Steve, sorry in my early and younger days I took print photo's, never really thought of slides, I even got rid of most of the negatives and I had loads of now rare shots of RAF F-4s from Wattisham. I really regret being so short sighted at the time.

 

Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by gary1701

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Good on you Gary, and the rest of the group out there! You all sound like a bunch of stand up guys who hold integrity to high regard. We thank you for sharing your photos with the rest of us...so keep following those rules so they don't decide to curtail photography out there on the mound!

 

"LK26" was indeed our call sign. "LK" being the tail letters of VP-26. The numbers typically reflect the pilot in command's standing within the squadron, i.e. "LK01" would be the CO, "LK02" the XO and so on down the line. Here we were "26" simply because we were a VP-26 crew operating out of the area.

 

Great photos of the "TACAMO" bird! "Take Charge And Move Out"!...or, as we used to say "Take A Chair, Another Movie's On". We'd spend endless hours sitting around the Alert Facility watching movies, playing cards, eating bad food...

That was my previous aircraft prior to going to P-3s. I spent 4 years ('94-'98) as a Reel System operator on those with VQ-3 "Ironmen" (so now, given the call sign, you know what squadron this is from...). Great aircraft, 4 engines putting out 24,000 LB thrust each...lots of power to spare. There are two squadrons based out of Tinker AFB Oklahoma, VQ-3 and VQ-4. Both squadron's aircraft look exactly the same these days, when I was out there, the VQ-4 guys had the Bureau Number painted on the tail but they have since removed them. The only identifying marks are the individual "Modex" numbers painted on the nose landing gear aft doors, this one appears to be "409" (BuNo 161409). I have zero hours on that one so it must have been assigned to VQ-4 back when I was out there. I built a 1/72 model of one several years ago using the Airfix E-3D as a basis and conversion set from "Flightpath".

 

You mentioned the P-8s and other MPA aircraft operating out of there for a couple of weeks...that would have been for a bi-annual NATO ex that the MPA community takes part in. We used to operate out of RAF Kinloss, but I guess that base is now closed after the Nimrods were retired? I took part in one of those exercises one year and it was a fantastic time, met crews from the French Atlantiques, New Zealand 5 Squadron P-3 guys, RAF Nimrod crews. The flying was fun too, except for the night I awoke from a nap back in the crew rest area, getting beat to heck. I stepped into the flight station to find we were at 200' over the waves in a storm! I said to the pilot and FE, "WHAT THE F@&* ARE WE DOING THIS LOW IN THIS SH*^ !! Get the hell up to altitude!" Oh man, I was pissed.

Thanks again for sharing your work with all of us here. Looking forward to more!

Edited by 82Whitey51

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P-3 w LSRS have been flying over my house for 10+ years. Smart enough to not ask questions. 

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Hi again gents,

 

Another batch to follow, but just going back over the E-8's and a few points first. Pure coincidence Andrew, as I didn't know that you'd spent some time on the Mercury force. We guessed that the second E-6 was from VQ-3 given the callsign and the sqn name, the first was calling 'Razz 26', don't know which squadron that would be associated with. It was bureau 162782. Those were the only two times I saw E-6's at Mildenhall, I think there has been a few others come through, but certainly not recently.

 

I thought this post would also concentrate on other 'E' birds.

 

E-8 arriving early evening on runway 11. This was a lucky catch as it wasn't a planned arrival, but the result of a Mildenhall tanker abort.

 

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Another E-8 at the same end in 2011.

 

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This was another lucky right time, right place catch. Yet another Friday afternoon on the 'mound' and heard something I didn't recognize on the box inbound. At first when I saw it I thought the then rumours of the RAF Sentinel force being axed early was a lot more advanced than publicly known, as I had no idea that any Global Express was flying on the civil register in that configuration. He also 'quick turned' and was caught departing. In a similar pattern to the P-3 LSRS catch I went a did the research and found about the BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) programme. The airframe had been used as the prototype for the RAF Sentinel programme and the fairings were empty, with this aircraft being the first Global Express converted as a BACN. At the time (December 2010), it was still on the civilian books, but was taken into the USAF later and the BACN Global Express airframes were re-designated as E-11's.

 

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E-3 turning on the 11 underrun. E-3's seem to have a habit of going u/s when transiting through so there stay often gets extended.

 

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RAF E-3 on the approach during some evening circuit work.

 

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Finally, found the other LSRS bird that I caught. No the best because the sun is still too far aft.

 

8987736944_ebbca95fc8_o.jpg

 

Gary

 

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Gents,

 

Another batch, this time a bit of a random selection from the past.

 

Old Little Rock C-130E coming off 11 one Saturday afternoon. I thought one set of main wheels was slow to retract but then heard on the box it wouldn't go up so they went over the coast and dumped the fuel before coming back in safely.

 

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Another C-130 with problems on a December Saturday morning, this one being a diversion due to a oil leak.

 

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Might as well stick to the C-130 theme now. Rather than being one of Mildenhall's own MC-130H's, this guy is a long way from Kadena - nice nose art.

 

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'Flying Tigers' HC-130 coming in on 11. This guy was actually one of a pair, but the other caught cloud.

 

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Another one from Spring 2011 during the Libyan campaign, which saw a lot of unusual visitors - Davis-Monthan EC-130H passing through.

 

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Probably one of the more colourful overseas visitors!

 

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Listening to this transiting stateside SOG MC-130P crew on the box, I really felt for them as they sat down at the 11 threshold for a hour on a hot day waiting for Mildenhall to sort out their flight plan and clearance (which would come as no surprise to any regular Mildenhall observer). When he finally got sorted, he then had a poorly engine (overheated..?) and had to taxi back in. Supposedly fixed a hour or so later he then had further problems when making the second attempt, finally getting away a few hours later - he was only going to Ramstein! Another crew who will avoid Mildenhall like the plague...

 

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Bit more modern, these two USMC KC-130J's were pretty much brand new when they rotated off runway 11 in September 2011.

 

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Danish long C-130J inbound in 2014. I believe this was to support the newly arrived CV-22s on one of their first overseas exercises, but it got cancelled before they deployed.

 

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And finally for this post (I'll do resident MC-130's on a later post), the two West Virginia ANG C-130H's on TDY in 2014 that were working with the SOG supporting a deployment that did actually happen, Norway I think from memory.  

 

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Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by gary1701

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More great photos! Awesome reference pics Gary. Those air inlets on the EC-130H are huge...lots of stuff needing cooling in that tube!

 

"...waiting for Mildenhall to sort out their flight plan and clearance (which would come as no surprise to any regular Mildenhall observer). "

 

^ Yes! This. When we left out of there on one occasion, they dropped our flight plan and we had to sit in a holding pattern over the Channel waiting for clearance to depart British airspace...burning up precious fuel, and me having to re-figure my numbers! And I hate Math! Failed Algebra twice yet probably ended up using it more in real life than any other guy I went to high school with.

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Hi again gents/Andrew,

 

Mildenhall does have a bit of a reputation. Sometimes it's entertaining as a observer but I can imagine for transiting crews it can be really frustrating. You can feel the crews trying to remain professional but getting so frustrated and trying to keep their cool. Ones I haven't heard myself but friends swear are true is the conversation between tower and transiting aircraft, with the tower telling the crew they can't be here because they're logged as leaving yesterday, or the E-3 crew who had to explain to the tower what a E-3 was and how they could be located on the airfield by that big Frisbee on the roof! At least one transiting civilian cargo 747 has pushed the throttles and departed without clearance after getting so annoyed with them. A good one I heard was when a resident 100th ARW KC-135 was on a 29 final the tower made a late call warning them that their boom was still down. That got me looking, this was the actual aircraft on finals;

 

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Different jet, but shows the drogue attachment closely that they actually saw. This is not a uncommon occurrence at Mildenhall!

 

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Bless 'em...it was during Libya in 2011 and the base was very busy, and Mildenhall struggles when it has to deal with more than one plane an hour!

 

Another one I found amusing was during one of those weekend tanker rotations further down in theatre which sees Mildenhall hosting lots of ANG tankers for a day or so, which tends to cause a few problems. One afternoon they had three stateside tankers inbound all within about 30 minutes of each other and they all had very similar Reach call signs just a few digitals apart. I knew this was gonna be good when I heard them, and sure enough Mildenhall ops got themselves in a hellva mess communicating the usual arrival info. At one point we had all three parking on the same stand! Although amusing it's frustrating because so little good stuff comes in anymore and I can't help wonder if that was a factor when the closure was announced, although that's now moved back - again - to 2024, if it ever happens. I also assume that the US DoD has to pay a fee when a US military aircraft stops over at Prestwick airport up on the West coast of Scotland. I'm told by those familiar with that airport that Prestwick is encouraging crews to make a stopover up there, so there must be a commercial reason for them to do so and it's certainly working, as the airport seems to resemble a US military base some days. Surely somebody in DoD will ask why are our crews stopping at a civilian airport, when a US operated military airfield is being underutilized nearby.

 

Few more pics for this post. Civil cargo 747's are another former regular visitor that rarely appear nowadays.

 

5152014803_f24422debe_o.jpg

 

Little surprised by the departure.

 

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Belgian display marked F-16s arriving one Friday afternoon. When booked for the nearby Duxford airshows, the Belgians would operate out of Mildenhall for the weekend.

 

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During the Libyan operation in 2011, Mildenhall tankers operated with the 'Exxon' call sign rather than the usual 'Quid'. Some of these tanking sorties were very heavy, and 'Exxon 21' here probably holds the record for the latest rotation off the runway that I have ever seen. I'm sure it was as planned, but from where I was it looked very low over the fence, and there's a main road just the other side. Put another way, the early C-5 climb out shot towards the start of this thread was shot from exactly the same spot!

 

5644504072_4fdd58b66b_o.jpg

 

March 2011 was the last time I got a decent C-5 arrival, an old C-5A. At the time there was the AC-130U det in for Libya, and the first deployment of USAF SOC CV-22s in for a exercise prior to the establishment of a permanent unit here. It was a busy place for a couple of months.

 

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That'll do for this one.

 

Gary

Edited by gary1701

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I am thinking that you should write a book Gary. Not only are your stories interesting, but they are well written.

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@gary1701

 

Here are those Polish Vipers, after we parked at the 'Hall. Feb 3 2007

wFlit7R.jpg

 

bgXSm0Z.jpg

 

SEOd5Qs.jpg

 

Cheers!

Jeff

 

P.S. Looks like I missed some dust spots. Oh well...

Edited by ST0RM

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Hi Jeff,

 

Nice to see them closer on the ground. You didn't get any grief for photographing them as they seemed very sensitive to being photographed and took a 11 departure when the field was working 29. There was a few guys down that end who shot them turning onto 11 from the Southern fence. Every pic - including yours - on that day shows these Vipers very light when compared to pics later on. I just wonder if it's because they've faded over the years or the light conditions that day just gave this one off appearance?

 

I always wanted to get more shots of the Polish F-16s but have struggled. The perfect opportunity, or so I thought, was May in 2012 when ten of these were transiting through Mildenhall either to or from a Red Flag, can't remember which. Knew they were coming several days in advance and the weather looked good so for the first, and only time I was 'sick' at work and went for it. Parking was a pain, as half the photographers in the country had the same idea and it was elbow to elbow standing on the mound. Clouds started to bubble up but I thought with ten we should get a few in the light. Three flights spaced over 30 minutes turned up on schedule and this one was the only bird that caught a little light! I was not a happy bunny...

 

7211382616_4bd4922142_o.jpg

 

I got a few at Leeuwarden the same year (no CFT's though) but still waiting for the ideal opportunity.

 

Going back to tanker incidents, this one was interesting. February 2014 and several nations were involved in a Icelandic Air Meet and Mildenhall was providing AAR. I spent a lot of time over there for a couple of months following redundancy and for winter there was some nice light about. Late one afternoon and a 'Quid' coming back from the Iceland meet declared a emergency. I could make out he had a jammed MPRS pod, so waited and he turned up like this, the left hand hose on the MPRS pod was jammed out and the basket was gone. Presumably somebodies fast jet had a extra attachment!

 

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I never did find out what jet had taken the basket, I think Swedish Gripens and Finnish F-18's were the only two drogue equipped types on the exercise. A little aside was I sent the pic to the local newspaper for their library files, as I let them have a few pics of local military aviation so they can print something decent when a story comes up. What I didn't expect them to do was print it as a news story and contact Mildenhall public affairs for comment. I had written a little background for them so they had some idea what they were looking at but Mildenhall PA told them it was a 'everyday occurrence' which I found laughable! Obviously air-to-air refuelling incidents are not uncommon given the nature of the operation, but something like that is rare - not only was that the only time I've ever seen that happen, I don't recall anybody else either seeing it during my time in the hobby.

 

Few more for this post.

 

USAF SOC Dornier passing through.

 

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The Ramstein Gulfstream used to be a common Friday lunchtime visitor.

 

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Another USAF Special op's type that used to come through quite often, the PC-12/U-28A.

 

9440965963_5db69d9e75_o.jpg

 

...and finally for this post one of the most rarest types, NASA 926, a WB-57. I've actually caught these three times here, but this was by far the best, on a cold but clear Sunday morning in December, 2012. What I noticed with these is how low and flat the approach is, they only just creep over the fence.

 

8237620261_d8b64a25be_o.jpg

 

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Going back to 2007 and what then was the only other WB-57 flying; NASA 928. Note the low approach again.

 

2149150248_249f5cf4a6_o.jpg

 

2169646221_9c99d638c2_o.jpg

 

'till next time.

 

Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by gary1701

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On 4/10/2018 at 7:03 AM, 82Whitey51 said:

 

Just to touch on this a bit further...I agree 100%! The secrecy is a bit ridiculous. The thing is quite noticeable and if you didn't want people to see it, flying in day light hours was not going to work. It's always been funny to me, that most people in the military have no idea the keen interest that regular civilians have in the equipment we operate, be it aircraft, tanks, trucks or otherwise. During the in-brief on LSRS, one of the intel folks mentioned that "there are P-3 aficionados" out there who are going to want to know what this thing is. To which  I elaborated further saying that not only are "spotters" going to be interested, and the locals hanging out at the burger joint at the end of the runway... but model builders too! I said, man, you have no idea the amount of airplane geek forums online. They seemed genuinely surprised. We might not be allowed to snap pics of the birds, but that doesn't stop folks outside the gates. They never really had an answer one way or the other on what to tell anyone who might ask what the pod was. "Just don't say what it does" seemed to suffice. Operating out of the "CENTCOM area" too, I can't even imagine the assets sitting on the road outside that base gathering intel of what comes and goes...because we do the same thing.  I once sat on the taxi way of Bahrain International Airport in an LSRS bird, right in front of the main terminal, broad daylight! Waiting in a line of international airliners for our takeoff...I'm sure lots of folks saw us and wondered...hmmmm?

 

So, sure enough, the first time I'm out pre-flighting the aircraft, the base fire department pulls up checking the servicing date of the fire bottle nearby as they do...and here they come asking what that thing is. I tell them I'm kind of busy and can't talk right now, "well, is it a fuel tank? We're gonna need to know". Nope. "Is it radioactive?" Jesus, dude, go away...I told him it was a ski rack, they we're going to Vermont for the weekend. LOL



It's funny how "secrecy" is handled. During the NAS Whidbey Island CONA event several years ago, I was going around taking shots of the EA-18G's and the BuNo's in order to provide reference for decals. A Shore Patrolman came up to me and told me I could not photograph the BuNo's of the aircraft, as they were "Classified". These were all on static display, and open to the public...People crawling all around them. I politely said okay, and waited a few for him to leave, before proceeding to start shooting my pics again. He looped back around, and yelled at me (with his hand on  the butt of his sidearm!) and told me I had to leave IMMEDIATELY. There was EP-3's and EA-18G's that we were specifically told not to photograph, and I didn't. 

 

A few years later, they had an open house, and there was an EP-3E sitting in the static display area....People crawling all over it, taking pics of every single square inch of the exterior of this "super secret" aircraft.  

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Gary,

 

No issues, as I was quickly shooting from under the nose of our jet. But yes, they were surprisingly light in color. 

Bummer your attempt for the RF transit was spoiled by weather. 

 

That shot of the WB-57 928 in 2007. I think I caught it that same year, but at a dustier location ;)  

Just a transit stop on it's way toward you. We were taxiing out for a mission and I was scrambling for my camera.

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Hi again all,

 

Jeff, interesting stuff that. A couple of times when the WB-57 has come in it's actually stayed for a short deployment, doing high altitude sampling, or at least that's what has been said publicly. The more recent times have just simply been transits en route to the  desert. I would guess this is due to the use of the aircraft in the BACN role, similar to the Global Express pics above, perhaps the new 'lump' on the upper fuselage as seen in the 2012 pics above is connected.

 

Hi again Aaron. Strange that a Bureau number on USN/USMC aircraft is considered sensitive. Joe Baugher's reference website lists all US military serials and types allocated going back to pre WWII! I would guess that's another example of security personnel being over zealous. I've come across that kind of thing many times and I can understand it, as I appreciate that personnel will not be fully aware of what is in the public domain and what isn't, as it's hardly their job to keep up. Nowadays the military, like so many other walks of life, tend to be very risk adverse in their careers, and some poor guy at the bottom of the chain of command is probably going to just play it safe. Combine that with the usual confusion and misunderstanding present in any large organization or bureaucracy  (I work for a large US corporation here in the UK which is a big player in the US aviation and defence sector, although the UK operation isn't connected with that, but to be blunt, they're a shambles!), military or otherwise and it's easy to see why such inconsistent rules come and go. 

 

It is quite amusing when the two cultures meet though. Last year when the first European deployment of USAF F-35s landed at Lakenheath over Easter, as we all stood in the field at the end of runway 24, one of the pilots queried over the comms who all those people down by the fence were! We thought get used to it, because it's not going to change over the next couple of weeks. I guess he probably doesn't get that at Hill AFB. I watched at Mildenhall bemused one Saturday morning as security kept moving a couple of vans between the fence at the end of the runway and a couple of guys up their ladders who were trying to shoot a pretty standard USAF C-130 cargo variant, either a E or H model, I couldn't be bothered to walk down there. I thought security must be bored as it seemed rather pointless given what they were trying to photograph. Funny though. For many years Mildenhall parked the TDY RC-135s on the South Western corner by the fence. Guys would occasionally walk around the edge of the field to the fence to get a pic, nothing unusual about that and it was like that for years. Then shortly after a change of command they moved them away and to stands in the middle of the field Southside where it was difficult to even see them. Fine, but a bit pointless with them taxiing between the stands and runway, right beside the fence. They always take the underrun, and if they're on a 11 departure they taxi back and do a 180 at point blank range on a SLR lens, I'm usually struggling to get them all in, even with the wide angle.

 

The UK can be quite good at it as well. The army up the road at Wattisham don't get a lot of visitors to the fence to shoot the Apaches. To say Wattisham is 'out in the sticks' is a bit of a understatement and with it being so quiet and the USAF bases less than a hour away, it gets mostly ignored. That suits me as I can pop up their in the summer evenings after work, and spend a hour or so without fuss. They tend to be a little bit more sensitive about people on the fence than the major RAF bases, but as they know my car and regularly see me I usually get left alone. I did once have some fun with what I thought was a new security guy one dark and overcast Friday afternoon. It wasn't photography weather (especially for dark Apaches!) but I thought I might as well sit up their and read a book watching.  I parked on the little track into the field beside the approach lights for runway 23 and a few Apaches were about, but I didn't even use the camera. Along came a security van inside the fence and the guy got out looking at my car so I got out, and wandered up to the fence to say hello. He didn't fancy a chat, and I got the don't photograph, what are you doing routine. I explained that I'm often up here and am seen by the security all the time, but as I thought, it didn't make any difference to a newbie. As I wasn't photographing, and to be honest was about to leave anyway, I thought I'd have some fun with him. I wasn't too photograph the installations apparently, which considering I've lived a few miles from the base for 40 plus years, and have been on it and photographed countless times I thought that a bit odd. I also pointed out that the base is on a damn hill, and from my current position all I can see on this side is the RAF Sea King search & rescue hangar, a hangar I have visited many times on base and photographed inside and out, not to mention that SAR hardly seems a sensitive and secretive operation. He then said that the Apaches flying were preparing for ops in Afghanistan, why that made them more sensitive than if they weren't I wasn't sure. So I told him which sqn was due to rotate into Operation Herrick and which was due out, although I knew being a smart arse probably wasn't going to go down well. This went backwards and forwards for a few minutes and I must admit I was having fun, and we finally ended up agreeing that I wouldn't photograph any base installations that day! I daren't tell him I was about to leave anyway. Afterwards, I wasn't particularly pleased with myself, as I thought the poor guy was a newbie who didn't really know what he was doing - never saw him again...

 

The only other time something odd happened at Wattisham was when I was parked in the same spot, which is right in the open in between two fields and was watching a Apache shooting approaches when they came up on the tower frequency warning ATC that there was a red car parked on the approach. My first reaction was, this must be the only Apache crew at Wattisham who have never seen my car on the fence, and I thought that they're probably duty bound to send security out to have a word and I'll probably get asked to leave even though being here is normally not a problem. I knew one of the guys on ATC and hoped he'd realise who it was and call them off. Then I thought why don't I be proactive and call them on the security number, sounds a good idea...yeah. I rang the security office on the mobile and explained I was the guy who had just been reported on the approach and who I was and what I was doing. I should have guessed the first response; 'if you're on that track you're blocking access to a crash gate'. No I explained, I'm pulled off on the grass verge and I don't block crash gates. They called off the vehicle responding and everything was fine. Afterwards I realised that calling them wasn't such a good idea after all as they might have wondered how I knew I'd been reported. Although I don't hide the fact that I'm monitoring their ATC on a radio scanner, I usually don't advertise it and tend to keep the radio in the car when the security patrols come around to reduce the chance of any misunderstanding. Some of their security guys are ex-Gurkhas who don't really understand what they are and are legal, and I don't want to upset one of them!

 

It's all good fun and most of the guys around here doing this have similar stories. I'll do some more pics. I think we'll do RC-135s this time as we've mentioned them above, and a couple more E-3s.

 

NATO E-3 on the overshoot. Shot from the 11 end as he pulls away from a 29 approach. This was shot in some nice pre-dusk light in February 2017.

 

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November 2016 approach by a RC-135V, he'd been down to watch Ukraine.

 

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'Goose 51' with a emergency approach due to smoke in the cockpit. This was when the first of the RAF RC-135V's (I'm not calling them AirSeeker) was operating from Mildenhall due to runway resurfacing work at it's future base of RAF Waddington. ZZ664 was the first of the three (all now delivered) converted from USAF KC-135Rs. Obviously the 'Goose' callsign comes from 51 Squadron's emblem, as seen on the anniversary markings on the tail. Strangely for a secretive unit (guys visiting RAF Waddington when they used to operate Elint configured Nimrod R1's were frequently told NOT to photograph the units aircraft), 51 Sqn have had a long history of distinctive unit markings. They may have something of a poor reputation, but this day somebody on ATC at Mildenhall had a quick sense of humour and couldn't resist calling 'talk to me Goose', after the emergency had been cancelled and the aircraft was safe on the ground. I gather now we've realised that RAF Waddington's runway is still too short to operate these at a full fuel load after a two year resurfacing and extension! If Mildenhall does close I think the USAF plan is to move the RC-135 det to RAF Fairford and the RAF is thinking of doing the same.

 

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RAF E-3, also from Waddington, in for some circuit work, see the two 493rd FS F-15C's on base for Lakenheath's runway 06 behind.

 

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'Audit 49' rolling out from a 29 arrival on a Saturday. This was immediately after the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 and the detachment had been reinforced and was flying virtually every day. Sometimes, as here they would do a 180 after roll out on the runway and taxi back to the mid point intersection before going to their stand.  I can only guess this was for security as he would otherwise have to turn Southside directly in front of the gate. Seems a bit pointless though...

 

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Around the same time, and 'Elemi 25' overshoots 29 and diverts to Ramstein due to high crosswinds. Strangely, the KC-135 ahead of him got in okay but maybe the RC has different limits.

 

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'Daffy 79' turning for departure on the 11 underrun. The RC-135's seem to change their call sign without any obvious pattern each sortie. This aircraft had been involved with a particularly news worthy close encounter with Russian interceptors only a few days before whilst working near Ukraine. As said previously, bit pointless trying to hide them!

 

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Getting one of the rare U-Boats can be difficult, but one was in for a while in 2014 for Ukraine. I knew that he'd also gained some rare mission markings on the left side of the nose so I tried to set up a shot one day. I got over, knew he'd gone off early before dawn. I expected him back during the afternoon, but the base was working 11 which would put the markings on the wrong side during the approach. As it turned out it clouded over mid afternoon so guessed there wasn't any point trying a landing shot. I went down to the South Eastern corner by the taxiway, planning - and hoping - he wouldn't do a 180 on the runway and taxi back but instead come back up the normal South side taxiway right in front of me. It was a gamble as if he didn't I wouldn't get anything. Luckily, it went to plan. Not sure what each symbol specifically meant though. He gained a few more before going home.

 

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That'll do for this marathon session.

 

Gary 

 

 

 

 

Edited by gary1701

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Always get excited when I see a new post here.   Really like those "special" aircraft, they certainly don't get photographed very often.

 

One would think that if the US didn't want certain aircraft being photographed, they'd simply fly them in/out after dark.   Gary, you seem to have a good handle on aircraft movements at this base, how active is it at night?  Think some of the more interesting aircraft are coming and going in the dark?

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Hi Bee,

 

I wouldn't want to give the impression that Mildenhall is a particularly busy and active airfield, because nowadays it's not. The pics from above are a selection that I've taken from 2006 to date, so I can't say that anybody turning up is going to see all that on a daily basis, as they're not. The level of activity has dropped dramatically even in that time, and unusual visitors are very rare nowadays. Part of that may be because the place is unpopular with transiting crews as already mentioned when there's other alternatives. It may also be that now they are finally starting to make preparations to transfer the 100th ARW to Ramstein and the 352nd SOW to Spangdahlem in Germany and close the base as announced. I, and many others including contractors working on the base have doubts it will actually happen, and the constant putting back of the date is becoming farcical. Certainly the 352nd Special Operations Wing doesn't want to move to Germany, as their ability to train for night and low level work will be massively constrained by the restrictive operating rules over there. At Mildenhall they have low level clearance day and night in the area, a dedicated military air/land training facility just a few minutes flying time away, and a live firing range just a little further on the coast. That won't happen in Germany, where there's already opposition to MC-130's and CV-22s moving in.

 

As for movements, yes we keep track of what's going on a hourly basis, day and night from all the usual sources. Aircraft in tend to be updated via various internet feeds pretty much hourly. For example, below is the situation for visitors about a hour ago, Sunday 29th, 14:00 local. Credit; Touchdown News feed.

 

Noted so far

 
CE01         ERJ-135LR         Belgian Air Component 21 Sq  arr BAF 614
62-3507     KC-135R             no marks   arr Cafe 21
63-8013     KC-135R             121 ARW OH ANG  arr Cafe 31
57-1427     KC-135R             190 ARW KS ANG  arr Reach 894
58-0015     KC-135R             no marks AFRC arr Reach 663
58-0058     KC-135R             507 ARW AFRC arr Reach 170
 
still present
 
83-0080            KC-10A              60 AMW
62-3537            KC-135R            916 ARW AFRC parked northside
61-2666            NC-135W           AFMC
64-14844 OF r  RC-135V            55 Wing TDY
 
Must add that much is very unusual for a weekend, in fact even for a weekday. If the weather was decent (grey and overcast today, Spring in the UK!), I might well have jumped in the car for the 45 minute drive over. I'm guessing we may have a tanker rotation down in the desert on at the moment as I have sat over at Mildenhall on a Saturday morning for about four hours and seen nothing move at all.
 
Activity at night? Not so much, as most aircraft transiting will come in early morning after flying overnight. We usually have a log of 'Reach' flights outbound from the US and when they left and destination (from ATC comms), so when sitting there early on, say a Saturday morning I can see from the phone what is heading this way, call sign and approx arrival time. The resident 352nd SOW does most of it's training at night and several evenings a week, the CV-22 and MC-130 lines will be active with aircraft preparing to depart for the evening. If you're lucky you can catch them departing in some nice dusk sunlight. A lot of it depends what you would call interesting or sensitive, to me a RC-135, E-3, CV-22, MC-130 is pretty routine, yet I remember Aaron once saying on here how much he wants to photograph KC-10s, as he's rarely seen them. At McChord they must be rare, at Mildenhall I get bored of the things, think there was five at once in earlier this week. Yet, I'd pay good money for some opportunities with C-17s, as they're rare as gold dust here. I wouldn't say that Mildenhall has many sensitive visitors, or what I would call sensitive. To me, photographing the exterior of, say a RC-135 or even a F-22 close up (don't photograph down the intakes!) isn't compromising anything sensitive, but I would suspect that probably wouldn't be acceptable on the fence at Offutt, or even Langley. In most cases, like Andrews experience with the LSRS P-3, the F-35s at Lakenheath and the rather entertaining visit by HMX-1's helos for the US Presidents visit in May 2011, it's a clash of cultures and units and crews coming over not familiar with what to expect, and suddenly being surprised by what we consider normal. In some cases, I do think that when you've got a unit or crew on extended TDY then they really should be briefed by experienced locals on what to expect, the same for newly transferred in personnel. That may well have prevented the rather silly scenes with HMX-1 in 2011.  The usual residents, the 100th ARW and 352nd SOW are fine, know the score, and have a good relationship locally. The F-35 det last year at Lakenheath soon figured it out though. About a week into the deployment they turned up outside the fence at the viewing car park, got a table set up and pulled the patches and souvenirs out! Anybody wise enough to do that will make a fortune over here, and do their PR a lot of good. I just wish I was there that day! 
 
One time it did get a bit interesting. Outside of official US Presidential visits, a VC-25 with the President on board and calling AF1 has landed at Mildenhall during the night for a quick fuel turn and departure under dark a couple of times - I doubt they got messed about by Mildenhall! I This was during George H W Bush's presidency, and was I think on the return from visits to the Middle East. As they weren't official visits, and carried out under darkness, there was no publicity and the media never knew they had occurred. We did, it's a bit hard to hide a VC-25 on the ramp at Mildenhall, even in the dark, and they still spoke to ATC under 'AF1'. On one of the visits, a few brave souls (me not included), wandered over for a look and photographed the aircraft sitting there in the early hours. Thankfully, nobody sold them to the press, but one did put them on the web the following morning. I knew the guy so this was first hand info, but he got a visit from the UK police very soon afterwards. They wanted to know how he knew it was there - obviously, not really briefed before they paid him a visit. He was 'requested', but could not be ordered to, take the pictures down, and he did as requested, which I think was the right thing under the circumstances to do.
 
A friend swears that something 'exotic' came into Lakenheath one night, ATC quiet without lights on, and coincidentally at the same time as the main road under the approach was closed for road works. However, he's a bit of a fantasist  so I have my doubts as to the accuracy. Hope that helps a bit and anything else by all means fire away. Still got a few more posts in me but will space it out a bit. Maybe do Lakenheath afterwards.
 
Gary
Edited by gary1701

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On 4/26/2018 at 7:43 PM, strikeeagle801 said:



It's funny how "secrecy" is handled. During the NAS Whidbey Island CONA event several years ago, I was going around taking shots of the EA-18G's and the BuNo's in order to provide reference for decals. A Shore Patrolman came up to me and told me I could not photograph the BuNo's of the aircraft, as they were "Classified". These were all on static display, and open to the public...People crawling all around them. I politely said okay, and waited a few for him to leave, before proceeding to start shooting my pics again. He looped back around, and yelled at me (with his hand on  the butt of his sidearm!) and told me I had to leave IMMEDIATELY. There was EP-3's and EA-18G's that we were specifically told not to photograph, and I didn't. 

 

A few years later, they had an open house, and there was an EP-3E sitting in the static display area....People crawling all over it, taking pics of every single square inch of the exterior of this "super secret" aircraft.  


That's a pure example of a Low ASVAB score in uniform.  Nothing "classified" about Buno's as I'm sure you know...if they were, they wouldn't be out in the open! The SP should have reported the CO for a classification breach!

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