ASSIGNMENT No8: 493rd FS ‘Grim Reapers’, RAF Lakenheath

ASSIGNMENT No8: 493rd FS ‘Grim Reapers’, RAF Lakenheath

Mark Sutherland shadows the daily operations of the men and women of the 493rd FS ‘Grim Reapers’, part of the USAF’s 48th FW at RAF Lakenheath

The setting is RAF Lakenheath, specifically the squadron heritage room of the 493rd Fighter Squadron…

A somewhat harried-looking Rich Cooper enters…
Rich: “Ok guys… Do you know what's happening?”
Me: “Yes... You're going to come in here in a moment and say “let's go” and we will all go running after you!”
Rich: “Correct!”

The previous evening…

I have booked into our hotel and I'm amongst a group of 15 or so photographers who are on the COAP assignment to spend two days on RAF Lakenheath embedded with the 493rd FS. After the obligatory get to know you drinks and meal we sit down to have our brief and Workshop with Rich.

Now I have an advantage in that I've been to one of these Workshop before. Once the obvious house-keeping info specific to the visit is out the way he explains how he approaches a shoot with a squadron. I won't repeat the talk here, you'll have to pay good money for that, but we won't simply be standing at the end of the runway all day for landings, nor conversely at the lift-off point. 

Rich puts great stock in telling a story either in an individual image or a group of images over several days; to that end we will be photographing briefings, pilots kitting up etc. Now I can believe that some people reading this will be turning their noses up – I can only stress that you need to try it, there really is a point when you have enough take-off and landing shots, honest! The variety that can be achieved is amazing.

Fast forward to the following morning, where we came in, and there's a problem, it's foggy, it's... ‘the birds are walking’ foggy, well, it is Lakenheath in November.

But never let that get in the way of good productivity… It's off to photograph the atmosphere and heritage of the squadron, a step brief, the pilots suiting up and an F-15 in a HAS whilst the fog hopefully clears and the unit can fly which is where we started our story.

Well eventually the fog did lift and yes, he did run into the heritage room and say ‘let's go!’ and we did run after him, well more of a brisk walk actually.

I could try and recount the next 48 hours but in a sense it would be pointless in that my description would not do it justice. I would simply state that one our group with the appropriate app on his phone reckoned we covered 16 miles on base over the course of our visit and at the end we metaphoricaly if not physically crawled off Lakenheath!

Of course that's the easy part over – I've now got to edit the images. Now, yes we did have some sunshine but we also had rain, fog and general overcast. So much potential!

I'd like to digress here with Rich's indulgence. I had attended his first workshop which did involve editing images. At one point he showed how he'd edited an image of a MiG-29 being pulled out of a hangar. It would be hopeless trying to describe what he did in words but with one click on a mouse he effectively changed an image that was arguably hum-drum and very ordinary into a work of art. I can quite categorically say that was the most important and inspirational click on a mouse in my life and completely changed how I approach all my photography and editing.

It was a real catalyst for me to (I hope and believe) become more creative than ever previously. It was with that In mind that I approached the images from Lakenheath. Attached are a few of the 163 images I put on my website. You will either like them or not but I can say would not have achieved the same results 12 months previously.

Mark’s images were used extensively throughout the ‘Reapers Shadow’ book, put together by COAP as an operational record of the men and women of the 493rd FS.