2016 Event Review

Spotting at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall July, 2016
Location: RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, UK
Admission: N/A
Parking: Spotting -- park wherever one can find a spot
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: Not an air show
 

Location of RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall

During the Second World War, the RAF and USAAF constructed several air bases in East Anglia for their heavy bomber fleets which were to conduct the Combined Bomber Offensive against Nazi-occupied Europe. On average it is estimated that during the height of the war there was an air base for every eight miles and an extensive civil engineering project was undertaken that inevitably changed the otherwise unspoilt environment. The region's proximity to mainland Europe and its open flat terrain made East Anglia the ideal location for heavy bombing, shortening flights and allowing for greater bomber loads to be carried.
Not far from the adjoining border between Suffolk and Norfolk, lies the small rural town of Brandon. A secondary 'A' road winds through the town, joining with its High Street and crossing over a narrow river. The A1065 is also the primary route to two air bases, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. Both are used predominantly by the USAFE, and home to the famous Liberty Wing (48th FW) and the 100th Air Refuelling Wing respectively. RAF Mildenhall was established as an RAF station in 1930 and opened in 1934.

RAF Lakenheath pre-dates Mildenhall and was originally used by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. With the end of hostilities in 1918 it was abandoned. During the Second World War it was set up with runway strips, aircraft and lights to serve as a decoy for RAF Mildenhall.

In 1948 overall command of RAF Lakenheath was passed onto the USAFE with RAF Mildenhall following two years later. The runways were refurbished for SAC aircraft based there during the Cold War. It is estimated that the Cold War increased the population of the region by over 5,000 RAF and USAFE personnel and their families.
The famous Statue of Liberty Wing, 48th Fighter Wing, is presently equipped with the 3 variants of the F-15 Eagle. The complement is comprised of three fighter squadrons (FS), 493rd FS, issued with F-15C/D Eagles and two squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagles, the 492nd FS and 494th FS. All aircraft of the 48th FW carry the tail code 'LN'. Apart from being single seaters, F-15Cs and Ds carry a blue and grey camouflage pattern as opposed to the dark grey livery of the two Strike Eagle squadrons. The USAF has just a handful of F-15C squadrons left in its inventory, one of which is based at RAF Lakenheath. These are now considered to be older generation aircraft, having been built in the early eighties and are used solely as Air Defence Fighters (ADF).

The Strike Eagles, on the other hand, are newer generation version of Eagles, having been built in the nineties and are all twin-seaters. Although their main role is ground attack, they have a very strong ADF capability and some sport kill markings on their fuselages. The three squadrons can be easily distinguished by a different coloured stripe on the tops of their tail fins. The Wing Commander's mount has a stripe containing all three colours.

The Eagles are due to be replaced by the F-35A, although some sources are saying that there might be F-22 Raptor squadron/s too since the main role of the F-35 is not as an ADF. This is in fact why the RAF will have a mixed fleet of F-35B and Typhoon types, with the F-35B replacing both the Tornado and the previously withdrawn Harrier. The Liberty Wing also houses the 56th Rescue Squadron which is equipped with HH-60G Pave Hawk, Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter.

RAF Mildenhall is home to a number of aircraft types formed under Wings with varying duties and tasks. The main aircraft types operating from Mildenhall are KC-135R/T Stratotanker, RC-135 Joint Rivet reconnaissance platforms, MC-130J Commando II and C-130 Hercules, C17- Globemaster III and CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor.

The host unit at RAF Mildenhall is the 100th Air Refuelling Wing (ARW) which deploys aircraft and manages the European Tanker Task Force comprising of a rotational air refuelling service for US and NATO aircraft flying in the European Theatre. Operating their Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker fleet the squadron has adopted the historic 'Square D' badge as used previously by the unit during the Second World War.
From an aircraft spotter's perspective the activity around RAF Lakenheath is much busier than that found at RAF Mildenhall. While we were watching the movements at RAF Lakenheath we estimated that we must have seen around thirty different aircraft on what was considered to be a very busy day of flying even by resident LN Spotters' standards. Meanwhile at Mildenhall the pace was somewhat calmer a day later, the airbase itself is extensive but the viewing places are relatively fewer.
Author's acknowledgements: Laszlo Nyary and Kevin Galea Souchet
Aircraft spotted:

RAF Lakenheath:

Boeing F-15E 492d Tactical Fighter Squadron (LR, blue colours)

McDonnell Douglas F-15C/D 493d Tactical Fighter Squadron (LS, yellow colours)

Boeing F-15E 494th Tactical Fighter Squadron (LT, red colours)

RAF Mildenhall:
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, 100th Air Refuelling Wing 'Square D'
Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey, 7th Special Operations Squadron
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, from 305 AMW Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, Air Refuelling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana
Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, 459th AFRC Air Refuelling Wing, JB Andrews, Maryland
Eurofighter Typhoon T3, (touch-n-go) No. 6 Squadron RAF Lossiemouth

 

Report and photography by Christopher Mifsud for The Aviation Magazine

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