Assignment No25B: RIAT Air-to-Air (Departures)
Darren James goes air-to-air with the aircraft departing RIAT 2016.
I arrived at Kemble early with a sense of disappointment, cloud so low you couldn’t see the end of runway, horizontal rain, and a missing Skyvan photoship unable to get out of RAF Fairford. I was resigned to the fact that the day would be scrapped due to the weather. As the others arrived, you could sense the apprehension as Eric Coeckelbergh from the ‘Aviation PhotoCrew’ taking to Rich from COAP and making calls to the Skyvan crew. Word spread that the Skyvan had departed Fairford, and we waited on Kemble’s flight line for the Skyvan to come into sight.
While waiting we were allocated positions in the aircraft, I was sat on the first row, on the floor alongside Eric and two others, behind were three seated positions, and behind those were a number of spaces that allowed for standing. The standing positions also allowed access to the side windows. The side windows have a nifty little porthole, giving nice clean shots with no Perspex in the way. When the aircraft arrived, we were up against a tight schedule, with pre-arranged rendezvous with the aircraft departing the Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. We all got harnessed up and I located a GoPro camera onto an existing bracket on the edge of the tail ramp. We all wore a balaclava, to prevent our hair being blown around and getting into each other’s shots. We were all hooked up to the straps inside the Skyvan, and ready to go, taxing over the grass to the end of the runway with the tail ramp open, the ground almost within touching distance.
We climbed to 9,000ft, to try and get above the weather, but in many cases we were flying around towering clouds. Our first guests were really very special, Ramex Delta appeared through the cloud with their three Mirage 2000s and a pair of Rafales. Due to their fuelled up weight, formatting on the Skyvan wasn’t possible, so we were treated to flypasts beneath us, in various different formations with and without smoke. Shortly afterwards we were joined by two Armee De L’Air Alpha Jets, these were able to format on the back of the Skyvan, getting extremely close. I was able to get full cockpit shots with a 24-70mm lens on a DX sensor body!
At this point the battery on the GoPro ran out, not liking the -5C. We were then joined by a Luftwaffe Tornado ECR, sporting four large drop-tanks, again due to its weight, it treated us to number of flypasts, going just beneath us. The noise was incredible followed by some buffet as we flew its wake, the final pass was a lovely aggressive break to the left. The Tornado was then joined by the mighty 48th Fighter Wing with a F-15E and a pair F-15Cs, with a lovely flypast in a four-ship Echelon. The formation then broke away, and departed due to the weather closing in around the photoship. In the distance a large transport aircraft could be just made out, it made its way slowly towards us. It was the Boeing 757 from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. It held formation below us to the port before gently breaking to starboard for its long flight back home. We returned to Kemble, descending through some bumpy air and great views of Gloucestershire, and a sporty 180 Hurricane style approach to complete the three and a half hour flight.
A quick refuel and comfort break, and we embarked for the next flight – I was in a standing position with Rich and two others. The weather had improved, with broken cloud allowing shots with the rolling green beneath. Shortly after taking position in the holding pattern above the Severn estuary, a Typhoon from No 41(Res) Squadron approached from behind. It was the gorgeous ‘Seek and Destroy’ special. Holding station off the loading ramp, before formating of the starboard and then the port wing, allowing for superb close quarter views of this spectacular jet. The jet moved from wing to wing giving lots of different angles, the standing position allowing shots of both sides of the aircraft and head on shots when it was positioned of the cargo ramp. With two windows with portholes on each side of the aircraft, it’s necessary to be respectful of the other photographers’ equal access, however the Typhoon was in no rush to leave, staying with us for around 30 minutes, the only issue being the size of our memory cards.
This was such an exhilarating experience, something that I’ll never forget. This is something that has been on my bucket list for a long time, but now I’d like to repeat this on a regular basis, it’s so addictive! Many thanks to Rich and all at COAP, and to Eric and his crew at the Aviation PhotoCrew.