Brize Norton & Exercise PASHTUN DAWN

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It may be freezing outside at the moment but the last two weeks has provided two very good days out – a visit to RAF Brize Norton to see the Tornados depart for Red Flag and a day spent up on the SPTA for Exercise PASHTUN DAWN.

On February 12th, I took a trip to RAF Brize Norton with a few friends – we’d heard the night before that the Tornados heading to Red Flag from RAF Marham had to night stop as a tanker was not ready to leave with them – this meant that they’d be leaving the following day. With my camera bag packed, I headed off to Oxfordshire and managed to make it to the airfield for around 9am. It was absolutely freezing, I’m not sure I’ve ever been that cold but it was well worth it just to see the locals, let alone the Tornados.

The day started off pretty slow with only a few locals getting airbourne; a C-17, Tristar and visiting Monarch airliner (presumably a charted flight for the RAF but that’s just a guess).

This was my first visit to Brize so I wasn’t too sure what to expect but seeing both a C-17 and Tristar in the first hour couldn’t be bad! A couple of very quiet hours passed where most of the time was spent pacing up and down the path just trying to keep warm. While trying to get the circulation back in my feet, I decided to try and get some close ups of the Tornados – this proved almost impossible due to the height of the fence and my ladder not being tall enough but even so the results were better than nothing.

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By midday the engineers were on the pan and the pilots began to get themselves ready for take off. It always amazes me just how long the pre-flight checks take – the engines were idling for a good hour before anything started moving.

As the cockpit lids went down and the engines fired up, the first tanker appeared and it was another Tristar. This time I was in a position to get a much nicer shot, I went for both close-up and full body compositions. I didn’t realise quite how much I’d missed the smell of aviation fuel before this beast taxied past.

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The Tristar was told to hold at the end of 08 while the first four Tornados taxied up to join it. Within ten minutes the Oxfordshire countryside was filled with the noise of Panavia machinary taking to the air one after the other.

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As soon as the first batch had departed, a VC-10 taxied up the main runway ready to depart with the next four Tornados. In no time at all the old girl was in the air and howling, leaving a trail of dark smoke in her wake – believe it or not this was the first time I’d seen a VC-10 take off and my god it was an impressive sight. Sadly it was a little too far for my lens to reach, nevertheless it was incredible.

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Another hour or so went by and all of a sudden we were greeted by an unexpected whistle as something very large came up the main runway – an Antonov An-124. I’d seen my first one last year at Yeovilton Air Day so was more than happy to see this preparing for take off. I’m not entirely sure where it was going but the size of the 124 is just unbelievable. Shortly after the 124 had departed, three of the locals decided it was time to go out and play and one by one three C-13o Hercules rolled out and departed for what I presume was local training. The RAF workhorse may look scruffy and like its covered in a patchwork quilt but they really are a superb asset to the RAF.

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With Brize done, it was time to get my kit ready and head off to the SPTA – in particular the FARP (Forward Arming Refuelling Point) which is located up at Netheravon Aerodrome. This was my first time up on the plain and I was surprised at just how much was setup by the armed forces. As the majority of Salisbury Plain is public land, the roads and pathways remain open – all the army ask is that you stay within the designated areas (white tape) as a matter of health and safety. When people stray out of these areas it means that they could be putting themselves and those around them in danger. There have been several aborted landings in the last couple of weeks due to people disregarding the advice given and as we all know wasted time means wasted money. If you’re heading up to the SPTA, please use your common sense and stay within the boundaries defined by the forces. Anyway, rant over.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived and setup base, the first Apache came over and parked up to refuel. It looked like the Apache was down for a while and taking on quite a load so I made the mistake of going back ot the car to get my phone – unfortunately I missed it take off, fortunately it was only the first of many that day.

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I wasn’t too sure what to expect but there’s something quite special about seeing the armed forces in their natural environment. For the majority of the day the lighting was almost perfect and in the first couple of hours alone, I managed to see Apaches, Merlins and the AAC’s Lynx Mk.9.

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I’m not sure if I like the AAC Lynx with wheels, it just looks wrong and not agile at all but each to their own. For ten minutes the light was absolutely perfect come midday and just before it went quite for a while, another Apache and Merlin came in to grab some fuel. Being so close to these aircraft was incredible, some of the pilots even seemed to enjoy the fact that all attention was on them. A little showboating from an Apache pilot was very well received – whoever you were, thank you very much!

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A member of the refuelling team kindly came and informed us that things would be coming to an end around 1:30pm as he didn’t want us to hang around for no reason but that between 1-1:30pm  we could expect it to get very busy as everything came in to get its top up of fuel for the day. He wasn’t wrong either, for half an hour the refuelling mats were almost constantly in use as three Apaches, two Merlins, a Lynx and two Chinooks came in to grab their juice. The sun once more decided to show its face and rewarded us for staying out in the cold all morning. That 30 minutes allowed me to capture some of the best shots I think I’ve ever taken – I’ll let you guys be the judges of that…

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Thanks for taking the time to read, as usual the full set of photographs can be seen on the Facebook page

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