Phew - what a week! As I think I mentioned (once or twice!) I had a couple of days away up in Lincolnshire booked at the suggestion of a very lovely and talented photographer friend, photographing RAF Fast Jets at RAF Coningsby. My original plan had been to visit RAF Scampton also, to see the Red Arrows practising, but they ended up with a "no-fly" week thanks to having the jets grounded to have the rather stunning new tailfin design applied. (Google it if you've not seen it - it looks brilliant!)
Anyway, I left home on Tuesday morning, car well loaded with camera gear, stepladder (for seeing over fences), flask, and overnight bag, and headed north - M11, A1, A15, A17 and then onto the little lanes. I was armed with a print of the unofficial "viewing guide" from the internet which I'd been frantically studying in conjunction with Viv's directions as to where was best to head for , but I was getting progressively more alarmed at the complete absence of ANYTHING vaguely jet-like as I got closer and closer.....then suddenly, just as I was approaching Coningsby village itself.....ROOOOOOAAAARRRRR......a Typhoon passed straight overhead. Oddly enough it made me jump - even though I'd been looking out for them! I decided to drive right round the perimeter of the base first off so I could familiarise myself with the layout - the viewing here is pretty good, but for the best of it you do need to know what you're looking for.
I arrived just as the lunchtime lull set in, there were quite a few people about at the area where I'd arranged to meet Viv - a mix of photographers, those who were definitely "spotters" armed with notebooks and radios, and others who were just there to watch what was going in and out. The first thing that struck me was how friendly people were - within minutes I'd struck up conversation with a couple of chaps including one dedicated regular who lives within spitting distance of the base and clearly knows precisely what's going on at any given time! Viv turned up a while later and I was introduced to the rest of the gang and not long after that the distinctive sound of jets firing up was heard. We were standing right next to the main taxiway for that side of the station, and I can confirm that jets taxiing straight past you is pretty damned noisy! The pilots are clearly well used to seeing the crowd of people there as nearly all of them and their backseaters gave enthusiastic waves which were cheerfully returned!
The afternoon passed in much the same vein - planes taking off, others landing. Great excitement when four came in together as a "4-Ship" formation too - very impressive they looked as they came straight towards us before peeling off one at a time to break into the circuit prior to landing. Lots of "touch & go's" - just touching down on the runway then applying power and lifting off again which made for good photo ops and by the end of the day my new memory card had a couple of hundred shots on it.
The following day dawned bright and dearly - in fact I was already on the road heading back to Coningsby from my overnight stop by the time it DID dawn! We'd agreed to meet back at the base in time to see the Typhoon Display pilot to do a practise display at 8am - and I have to say it was WELL worth the early start. It was the first time either Viv or I had seen the new display and we were both immediately impressed - it's going to be amazing to see it when he gets it down to display height. (He's currently at 1500ft - it will be down to 500ft by the time the display season starts) Once he'd done I headed to the other side of the base to an area popular with photographers for it's elevated view over the runway. So popular is it in fact that I immediately met a chap I "know" from Twitter! Always nice to put a face to a name!
After lunch - another change of location, and just in time for Typhoon Display to do a second practise display - taking us by surprise rather as he'd previously said he was definitely just doing the one. By this time the sky had cleared a lot and the sun was beaming down, making for some decent shots in spite of how high he was...
A short walk around to the side of the fence once he'd finished gave us incredible views across the end of the runway. Viv had kindly loaned me her spare camera - as it's the model I'm hoping to upgrade to, and combined with my new lens - well WOW is all I can say - I now have a new savings target! *grin* I didn't want to give it back, that's for sure!
All in all, just an incredible couple of days - I'm still grinning now when I think of it. At one stage we were stood almost directly under the approach line as a Typhoon approached, and standing just a few 100 metres from the end of the runway as a pair of Typhoons took off together, away from me is an experience I'll not forget in a hurry. For a few seconds there was just noise, the strong smell of aviation fuel, and a faint vibration through the ground...then as the jets lifted off ahead of us and it went quiet, the unmistakable sound of a Skylark resolutely singing it's heart out, determined not to allow the small matter of RAF jets to affect it's little corner of Lincolnshire!