An early start today for a visit to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk with my good friend David Newby. I left home at 05:20, picking David up at 05:30 to make the three hour plus journey to Lakenheath in Suffolk. We wanted to be there by 09:00 as the information we had via the internet said flying began most days at 09:00. This would give us time for a half hour stop off for breakfast on the way down. The weather was fine with plenty of blue sky and the promise of it stopping this way for most of the day
We made decent time despite the heavy and slow moving traffic around the Kings Lynn area. Oh for an east coast motorway. The roads in this area are certainly not the best for making decent progress. Finding somewhere to buy breakfast was our first obstacle to overcome and we had to make an approximate fifteen mile detour to find anywhere that was serving a decent breakfast. However, a Morrison's store was eventually located and a full English breakfast and a mug of tea was greatly enjoyed by both of us. Hunger satisfied we were soon back on the road, if a little later than expected.
The sat nav did us proud and we arrived at Lakenheath around 10:00. It's always difficult when visiting a new site to know where the best vantage points for the light and the action are going to be. Anyway we pulled into one of the designated viewing areas to get our bearings and try and decide from the information we had as to where the best spots were to be found. We spoke to a regular visitor to Lakenheath and he soon put us on the right track as to the best vantage points to be had. I must say although we were strangers to this area the other aircraft enthusiasts were a great friendly bunch and were very helpful with regard to what was going on and the best vantage points to be had around the airfield. As it happened our slightly later than anticipated arrival was of no consequence as nothing had moved in terms of taking off before we arrived.
One thing we noticed about Lakenheath was that the perimeter fence was very high, there was no way our step ladders were going to give us the height to shoot over the fence. It was a chain link fence and we were assured by other enthusiasts that putting the lens tight up to the fence would make it possible for the lens to focus on the aircraft without getting the fence in the photograph.
With the information given to us by the other enthusiast when we arrived we moved on a bit further down the road and found a decent parking spot with good views of the runway that was in use for the day. It was slightly disappointing to find that there wasn't going to be any action until around 12:00. However this gave us a chance to talk to other enthusiasts that were more familiar with the area than we were. More or less bang up midday the first wave of F15 Strike Eagles began to taxi out onto the runway in readiness for taking off, eight in all.
We took up position by the perimeter fence and duly took our photographs as the F15's screamed down the runway one after another taking off. On reviewing my photographs on the camera LCD screen I was most annoyed to find they were all pretty much on the soft side. No sign of the fence wire in them but most certainly soft focus. I can only assume that the fence, although not visible in the photographs caused this.
I was going to have to find some other way of getting take off photographs without focussing through the fence. As it happened the 400mm F5.6L lens I was using was actually a little too long and I was struggling to get all the aircraft in the frame at times so I could afford to back off a bit. Fortunately by moving back across the road and up the slight incline near to where my car was parked I was able to stand on the top of my steps and get shots of the aircraft over the top of the fence. These turned out much sharper than the ones through the fence, proving my theory that it was the fence interfering with the focus on the lens rather than my poor technique.
F15 E Strike Eagle
Throughout the rest of the afternoon there was plenty of action with many opportunities for take off and incoming photographs. A large transport plane a McGuire AMC - 44130 C-17 taxied down the runway for take off but unfortunately there was no way I could fit it all in the frame. Mental note to take my Sigma 50-500mm lens with me another time. A Royal Danish Air Force, Canadair Challenger C168 also took off and I was able to get this one in the frame
Royal Danish Air Force Canadair Challenger C168
With a lull in the action late in the afternoon we decided to move to another view point. The sun had moved round and we were not in the best spot light wise now so it made sense to move. The only problem being that it would mean shooting through the wire fence again. We couldn't see any alternative to this so we were going to have to give it a go. Shortly after moving to this new viewing area the rain started so it was a case of sitting in the car and hoping it was only a passing shower.
The rain only lasted about half an hour before the skies started to clear and it was looking good for some late evening shots against a setting sun. We took up position and waited, and waited. The ground crews that do the final checks on the aircraft were in position so we thought it would only be a short time before the next F15's took to the air. After about an hour the ground crews got in their vehicles and left the scene. Obviously a delay of some sort. We waited for another half hour with no sign of any activity. It was now just turned 19:00 hours so we reluctantly decided to call it a day and head for home.
It was a little disappointing to have travelled as far as we did and not get any late evening shots especially when checking on the internet the next day and seeing shots that others had posted, as they did eventually fly again that evening just before dark.
F15 E Strike Eagle
No complaints though, I had a great day in great company and I got some shots that I was happy with, we also made good enough time on the way home to catch the fish and chip shop at Horncastle before they shut.