Where Eagles Dare - Steve Moore-Vale Photography

Where Eagles Dare

6th February 2016

In the previous episode of Seals & Sandpipers, fotobuzzer Gareth and I spent a fantastic day at Lowestoft and Horsey to photograph the wildlife.

A week and a bit later we were dealing with an entirely different type of animal! Eagles to be precise! Except these Eagles were no ordinary Eagles. These ones can fly at 1,875 mph and up to 70,000ft whilst very heavily armed.

I am very lucky to live just half an hour or so from the Eagles Nest, RAF Lakenheath. The amount of F15s they have their is insane and must run into the billions of dollars as each is worth around $30million.

The RAF/USAF operate a winter closure of their bases around the christmas period to alleviate the disruption caused by their many exercises. But RAF Lakenheath actually opened their base for two days only, on the 29th & 30th of December before closing down again until January 4th. For the same reasons stated above, they do not fly at weekends either.

Being in full time work means i cannot get there to see the jets coming and going during the day. So when i found out that the base would be open on these two days, i decided that it was an opportunity not to miss and Gareth was keen to join me.

So a plan was hatched and on the morning of the 29th we made our way to the base to find a suitable spot.

Now i must make a few quick but necessary points before continuing. RAF Lakenheath is a fully operational and very busy air force base. There is no problem with photographing their aircraft and sharing them online. In fact they like you to. But you must always be sensible about where you stand.

Normally, if you are spotted poking a big lens through the perimeter fence, or are stood on a massive step ladder right next to the fence you will be approached by base security and/or the police and questioned.

Usually the most they will do is ask you to move on. You are totally allowed to be there and take photographs! There is a dedicated viewing area but it is not ideal for photography. But on this particular day they must have known how busy it was going to be as many people were lining the fence so we did too and we positioned ourselves right near the end of the runway!

The police were parked up in the official viewing area just keeping an eye on things and base security drove by (base side) every 10 minutes or so but everyone was sensible and caused no concerns all day. Also, having been closed for a while, their was far more activity than on a normal day (39 launches throughout the day to be exact).

Right, lets continue. At just after first light we heard the first F15s start their engines. What a sound! About 25 minutes later they started to appear on the prep pads before take off. Then one by one they headed to the runway to take off. When they accelerated to full speed for take off the thunderous sound of the 29,000 lbs of thrust coming from their two engines shuddered through our bodies, and their afterburners glowed in the low light of the early morning. Our insides were being shaken like never before. What a feeling!

McDonnell Douglas F-15C Grim Reaper LN AF 85 172

the two orange balls are actually lights behind the heat haze from the afterburner

McDonnell Douglas F-15E LN AF 97 221

After over 20 jets took to the air we began contemplating where they had gone and when they would be back. We got talking to some great, knowledgable guys who told us about a great spot about a miles walk away which is the turning point for the jets coming in to land.

He told us about how they fly low over this particular field whilst showing their topside beautifully before levelling out when inline with the runway. By now the sun was out and the skies were great.

McDonnell Douglas F-15E AF 00 3002
McDonnell Douglas F-15

We spent many hours there and saw loads of the F15s coming over. But there was one shot in particular that myself and Gareth were keen to get. F-15s at sunset. And boy was the sunset gonna be a goodun!

So we headed back to our original spot by the end of the runway and waited for the sun to drop. Some Eagles were still out at this point and we were crossing our fingers that they would return bang on sunset time.

Unfortunately they didn't play ball but they were back during the golden hour, with some coming down only to go up again.

McDonnell Douglas  F-15

But the show was stolen from the F-15s by an unlikely comrade, the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing. Just as the sun was heading towards the horizon, the Stratotanker started to carry out several practice touch & go landings. It did this many times and just as the sun kissed the horizon, we got our shots.

Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker at sunset
Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker at sunset

A truly superb end to a fantastic day. We returned the next day and were able to stand in a public area behind the landing lights and got some interesting closeup shots of the jets overhead. But there was only six launches so not very busy at all.

I hear the F-15s over work every single day during the week and often see them up high too. Now when i hear them at work i am transported back to this day instantly. Lasting memories!

Gareth had a great time too and came away with a set of superb pictures. If they do similar again next christmas i will definitely be heading back there.

Thank you for reading.

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