One of my most anticipated events of 2022, as having attended the last event, we were unfortunately not treated to a full startup and taxi run, as the aircraft had some problems, and couldnt continue with the plans. Though this time around, the weather was on our side from the start, no clouds in sight, a good sign that today was going to be the day it all came together.
Bentwaters isnt far from where I currently live, only an hour away, but we stopped off at KFC Ipswich beforehand to fill our stomachs for the afternoon/evening ahead. We then convoyed together (Myself & Max and my dad, Mark) up to Bentwaters Parks, where the Cold War Museum is located. After signing in we had a brief look around the museum itself, in awe of how much history was on this airfield. Even discovering that the current 510th FS (Buzzards) who fly F-16's and are currently on TDY at RAF Lakenheath, used to be based here in A-10's. The museum also has a couple of canopies from aircraft that were once housed here, including an F-16 one, which was part of the 527th Aggressor Squadron.
After a safety briefing, and rundown of key moments in todays programme from pilot Dheeraj Bhasin, better known as 'D Reg', we all headed back to our cars to convoy across the active airfield to the first area of todays event. As we drove over, XX741 was sitting in the sunshine right in the middle of the tarmac runway, which was blessing, as last time we were here, the clouds had rolled in, and the heavens opened in the latter part of the event. But here we were, now walking towards her, admiring the light catching the port side of the airframe. Time to take some photos!
Starting with some low down angles to try and hide some of the buildings in the background, and moving behind the aircraft to capture the firetruck and control tower in the backdrop. Then moving around to the front where the light was a bit harsh, as we were technically facing the sun. We then had some reenactors come out with rifles, and ground crew to imitate checking the aircraft over whilst under guard. There was also an additional scenario where a potential enemy was made to put his hands up and surrender to the guards.
Once it got nearer 5:30, the ground crew then started double checking everything was set for the big cat to start up. D Reg climbed into the cockpit and started his own checks, and once happy, signalled to the crew that he was about to begin turning over the first of the Adours engines. Something about these engines starting up just sounds so good, from the whine of the turbines spinning, to a very low pitch hum that rattles your insides. It was a sound I'd not heard before, having not seen any Jags when they were around in RAF service. So hearing this was completely new, other than the partial startup from the previous event.
When both engines were purring, D Reg signalled for the chocks to go, and he set off to complete a long figure of eight to line himself up on the end of the runway 07. Once lined up, he paused to check all the instruments were as they should be, before pushing forward the throttle with brakes applied. You could see the nose of the big cat drop towards the floor as the thrust increased. In a split second, the brakes were released, and she lurched forward, gaining speed significantly faster than I had imagined, as the Adour engines roared past us on the edge of the runway, and a couple of seconds after she passed, it went quiet as the afterburners were switched off, and she rolled all the way up to the other end of the runway to avoid using the brakes too much. We were all so happy that the XX741 team had managed to pull it off successfully this time around, and were all shouting how awesome that experience was. As she taxied back towards us, we got a couple more shots before she parked up, and the shutdown procedure began. Once the crew had finished tending to the big cat, D Reg climbed out of the cockpit to an applause from myself and the other photographers at the event. A huge success so far, with the rest of the evening to go.
We started packing up our bags ready to move to the next location of the event, but werent in a rush because the light wasnt quite at that point where long exposures work properly. And with being some of the last to vacate the runway, we waited for the tug to come out and tow XX741 to the dispersal pad at the next location. We were also treated to the crew all piled on the back of the tug, expressing their joy at the success of the fast taxi, as they drove past with the big cat in tow.
After driving in convoy to the next location, we took a well needed break to consume our sandwiches we bought earlier, and a hot drink from the flask. Before heading over to the dispersal pad, armed with our tripods and remote shutters. I started by getting some shots from the right side of the aircraft, from a regular height, before reducing the height of the tripod and opting for some low down angles of XX741. I then spotted the stunning gradient of light in the sky to my right, and decided to go around the left side of the aircraft t capture a silhouette against the vivid sunset sky, which I thought turned out spectacularly. After capturing a series of shots from that side, I moved back to the center of the aircraft to get some head ons whilst it was vacant.
As the night went on, the crew got in position to act out a bomb loading procedure, together with the bomb trolley raised, attempting to hook a bomb to the one of the inner pylons. We had a few take of this so everyone could move around and get different angles. Another of the scenes we had was with sentries wielding assault rifles, standing guard around the Jag, and what was really helpful was the countdown before the actors froze as still as they could, helping our images come out a little sharper, as some of us were open from 2-10 seconds. One of the last scenes involved the marshalling lights, which worked really well for long exposures as the crew member raised and lowered the lights in an outwards arc. At that point I'd got a few angles of the scene, and over the megaphone we were told we had three minutes to grab ay last shots, before we would be escorted back to our vehicles and convoy back across the runway and out of RAF Bentwaters.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, I must say I'm not the greatest at putting experiences into words, but its something I'd like to work on, and I hope to improve with the more blog posts I make.
Some pictures are uploaded to this blog but the full gallery is available here.