RAF Valley Fast Jet Future
Keith Meachem experienced being on Assignment at RAF Valley, shooting the next generation of RAF fighter pilots going through their Fast-Jet Training. We spent the day with Nos IV(Res) Squadron’s slick Hawk T2 sand No 208(Res) Squadrons classic (and soon to be retired) Hawk T1s, and had a super rare chance to shoot a SAR Sea King HAR3 and SARTU AB412. This busy Assignment also included hooking up with a serving QFI and skilled aerial photographer in the evening for a briefing & squadron tour followed by a photography Workshop. Furthermore, the next day offered the chance to try low-level photography in the famed ‘Mach Loop’.
I was fortunate enough to attend COAP’s third Assignment, heading out to RAF Valley for my second trip with Rich and COAP. The Assignment was split between a day on base at RAF Valley and an optional day undertaking low-level photography in the Mach Loop.RAF
Valley is used by the RAF for fast-jet training as well as Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) and until recently, Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.
First stop of the day was to see ‘C’ Flight, No 22 Squadron and photograph one of its Sea King HAR3s. Even though ‘C’ Flight’s been stood down, it continues to support No 1564 Flight based at RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands. Next stop was down to the Search and Rescue Training Unit (SARTU) to catch one of its Bell 412 Griffin HT1s operated by the unit.
Once the Griffin had departed, complete with crewmembers in full rescue kit, it was back on our private coach and over to the other side of the airfield to visit and photograph the Hawk T1/T2s of No IV(Res) Squadron and No 208(Res) Squadron on their respective flightlines. The final stop of the afternoon was at the end of the runway (19) opposite the caravan for the right side of the sun, in order to catch the Hawk take-offs and recoveries.
It was then a quick trip back to the hotel for dinner before heading back to base for an evening tour of No IV(Res) Squadron with Flt Lt Paul Heasman.
“The photographic opportunities over the two days could not have been more varied. Access at RAF Valley was superb with a whole day of photographing aircraft. A lot of work had gone into the locations we’d shoot from, allowing us to work with the light, have freedom (within reason) to move around the subjects and shoot in locations you wouldn’t normally have access to.”
Our first stop was The Moran Building, which is the facility used to see pilots through their Fast-Jet Flying Training on the Hawk T2, before they head off to frontline squadrons. We then moved to No IV(R) Squadron’s hangar and photograph the T2s at rest and in maintenance. The hangar was busy with engineers preparing the aircraft for the next day’s flying. Paul took this opportunity to do a walk-round one of the Hawks, talking in detail about the aircraft and answering questions from us.
The final part of the day was with Paul (@AirTwoAir) talking about his experience of doing aerial photography. Paul's workshop covered the basics of air-to-air photography, as well as going into detail of how you plan and execute photo shoots.
The second day started at the end of Runway 32 (down by the Anglesey Golf Course), shooting Hawk T1s and T2s from several vantage points as they taxied, departed and recovered to Valley. As the weather cleared we made the call to make the two-hour drive down to the ‘Mach Loop’. The location we choose for the afternoon was Cad West, which was about a 20min hike from the car park. This was my first visit to the Loop, so I found it beneficial to have Rich and Steve on hand to show me the different spots around the loop from which to photograph aircraft. With the Loop you’re never guaranteed traffic, but we were lucky to get some RAF Hawk T2s, a Typhoon and an AAC Lynx fly though during the three hours that we were there.
The photographic opportunities over the two days could not have been more varied. Access at RAF Valley was superb with a whole day of photographing aircraft. A lot of work had gone into the locations we’d shoot from, allowing us to work with the light, have freedom (within reason) to move around the subjects and shoot in locations you wouldn’t normally have access to. One of the big benefits of being on base was chance to capture the day-to-day life on the base and interaction of the crews and ground crews with their aircraft. Once up at the Loop it was very much action photography, coping with variable light conditions and battling against a very strong wind.
I can’t wait for the next Assignment!
A special thanks has to go to RAF Valley for being such excellent hosts, especially Flt Lt Paul Heasman and Sqn Ldr Dave Williams for making it such an enjoyable and successful visit.
NAME: Keith Meachem
EXPERIENCE: 5+ years