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All the latest news and trip reports from my photography adventures around the U.K and abroad.
In July I had my third military low flying trip of the year with a three‑day visit to the Mach Loop, LFA7, followed by
Saturday at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire.
Wednesday 12th - I arrived at Dolgellau (Gwynedd, north‑west Wales) at 06:30 after an eight‐hour drive. After a much‑appreciated sausage butty and mug of coffee at the Costa Coffee (premises of the former Little Chef) I was prepared for the day ahead. I was undecided as to which photography location to try in the Mach Loop, but the weather conditions made me decide on The Spur, a location I have not visited since May 2018. The weather was more favourable than forecast, but it was quite windy and the location which is east facing would provide some shelter from the south‑westerly wind. Access to The Spur is via a sheep track traversing the hillside which is nicknamed the ‘Ankle Break’. Ferns which had grown to over 6ft high and were wet from the previous rainfall would have made navigating to the vantage point difficult, but I was pointed in the right direction at the start of the trek by a fellow photographer who departed to the location ahead of me. At 09:20 I had reached the vantage point and was prepared for any aircraft that might appear.
At some locations you have little time to react if an aircraft's approach is hidden from your view, so you must be constantly on high alert which can be tiring. At The Spur you can be more relaxed, as you have ample time to react to approaching aircraft as they appear around a bend in the valley routing towards you from the village of Dinas Mawddwy and past Bluebell (another photography location).
The first aircraft to appear was USAF F‑15E Strike Eagle at 13:57, BuNo. 87‑0207 (in the markings of the 389th
Fighter Squadron ‘Thunderbolts’, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, USA) from Lakenheath, which was quickly followed at
13:59 by a Texan T.1, ZM340 from RAF Valley. The F‑15E Strike Eagle, BuNo. 87‑0207 returned at 14:31 with a
companion, BuNo. 87‑0209 in the same squadron markings. At 16:10, Texan T.1, ZM340 returned with a companion, ZM327.
At 16:23 two F‑15E Strike Eagles, BuNo. 91‑0604 and BuNo. 01‑2003 of the USAF 494th Fighter Squadron
‘Panthers’ routed past, followed at 16:51 by a single Hawk T.2, Zk038 from RAF Valley.
During the late afternoon more photographers had started arriving, which signalled that something unusual was possibly going to appear. The rumour circulating was that the Spanish Navy Harriers which were visiting RAF Fairford for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) were departing on a 1.5‑hour sortie at 17:00. Their intentions for the sortie were unknown, but there was a hint that they could possibly be visiting the Mach Loop. Everyone stayed on the hill till 18:45 but the Harriers did not show.
Thursday 13th - The Spur. I had planned to visit The Spur again today and I'm glad I did, because when travelling from my
accommodation at the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel located near the Tal‑y‑llyn Lake, I noticed the car parking for CAD West/East
and Bwlch Oerddrws to be full, with many photographers already lining the hills. Today was RIAT arrivals day and there was always
the possibility of an attending aircraft routing through the Mach Loop while travelling to RAF Fairford, hence the number of people
on the hills.
I managed to find a parking space and was on the hill for 09:00. The first aircraft to appear at 12:11 was a Bell Boeing CV‑22B Osprey, BuNo. 11‑0061 from the USAF 7th Special Operations Squadron, Mildenhall. At 13:36 two F‑15E Strike Eagles, BuNo. 91‑0321 and BuNo. 92‑0605 of the ‘Madhatters’ 492nd Fighter Squadron routed past and appeared again at 13:39 after doing a circuit of the Mach Loop. The Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) in the second jet must have spotted the American flag erected on the hill by some of the photographers, as he gave a wave on both passes. Texan T.1, ZM324 leading ZM330 routed past at 14:10. The last aircraft of the day, a single F‑15E Strike Eagle, BuNo. 01‑2003 of the ‘Panthers’ 494th Fighter Squadron appeared at 16:06 and again at 16:09 after flying a circuit of the Mach Loop. I left the hill at 17:50.
Friday 14th - heavy rain and strong winds prevailed all day, so I did not venture up the hills. I had an evening meal at the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel before departing at 22:00 to drive to RAF Fairford for RIAT the following day.
Photographs from the Mach Loop can soon be viewed at: 2023 ‑ UK Military Low Flying.
Saturday 15th - Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford. I first visited RIAT last year and I had no intention of going again this year, but that all changed when I heard the announcement that a Spanish Navy EAV‑8B+ Matador II (or Harrier), German Air Force Panavia Tornado ECR, Panavia Tornado IDS and a civilian replica Messerschmitt Me 262 would be attending.
RIAT which is regarded as the World's largest military airshow was staged from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th July. The theme was Skytankers23, focusing on aircraft capable of performing air‑to‑air refuelling, as 2023 is the centenary of the first air‑to‑air refuelling.
This year I booked into the Flight Deck hospitality enclosure, which provided a crowd line location near to where the aircraft
take‑off and land. The enclosure fee included a complimentary drink, lunch and the additional benefits of private toilets and
unreserved informal seating.
The weather was better than forecast with only two heavy rain showers in the afternoon. Throughout the day high winds not only hindered panning for photography, but saw the cancellation of some planned flying displays as the wind speeds were above their safety limits, most notably the Me 262, which made its only flying appearance on Sunday.
It was disappointing not to see the Me 262
display, but the Spanish Navy Harrier and German Tornado's more than compensated for its cancellation. I was going to watch
the RAF Typhoon FGR.4 display, but it was delayed due to a VIP aircraft routing into Brize Norton, so I exited early to avoid the
traffic congestion. I travelled the short distance to Tewkesbury where I stayed the evening before making the long journey home the
Photographs from RIAT will be uploaded soon.