RAF Coltishall Photocall 2005 Review
Friday 16th September
As another of the RAF's most famous fighter bases loses the fight with the MOD accountants and enters the last days of its existence, RAF Coltishall in Norfolk opened its gates to enthusiasts, photographers and those who just love the place for its 65th anniversary celebrations on Friday the 16th of September. A full house of 1000 lucky ticket holding enthusiasts braved the notorious North Norfolk microclimate for one last photocall at the RAF's last Battle of Britain fighter station.
gets a dose of sunshine and showers at RAF Coltishall. All photography by the author.
During the lead up to events like this the wires on the enthusiast bush telegraph can start to get very heated, and with very good reason. The number of Air Forces with strong links with Coltishall include some operators of some very 'tasty' machinery. Couple this with excellent access and photo opportunities that previous photo calls at Coltishall have provided, this sure was one of the hottest tickets in town to have.
In these days of internet message boards it was quite good that the organisation team did not 'set out their stall' weeks in advance, in fact it was refreshing to almost get back to the old days of not knowing what would turn up on the day itself.
Upon arrival at the base the rumour grapevine was well and truly cut down to size, the welcome leaflet said that many of the Air Forces invited had cancelled due to 'reduced defence expenditure'. This did not dampen spirits too much, with the sight of the empty 41 Sqn pan just waiting to be filled by something, plus the forecast heavy rain and low cloud had not shown up.
On the day, access to the grass areas alongside the dispersals and taxiways was given to the assembled enthusiasts. A set of stairs provided to get a higher viewpoint of the Jaguars on No 6 Sqn's ramp was a nice touch by the organisers. Hanger tours were also run thoughout the day to view the aircraft under maintenance.
After a couple of sharp showers the first of the arrivals showed up in the form of an F-15C Eagle from Lakenheath, which performed a series of missed approaches followed by a very impressive pitch up and bank to the left.
The Fighter Collections Hurricane IV was next in, looking pristine in full 6 Sqn markings (more of this later). Classic jets in the shape of two Gnat T1's from Kennet Aviation at North Weald, one in a Red Arrows scheme (its pilot seemed to be intent upon covering the ensembled photographers in oily white smoke) the other example in a smart 4 FTS white and red scheme, later in the day performing a neat pair's routine.
As midday approached the arrivals notched up a gear with an F-15E from Lakenheath, a pair of Danish F-16s (that later flew a mission and recovered back to Coltishall), a 56 Sqn Tornado F3 (thanks to the crew for posing their aircraft to perfection) plus what for many was the star of the day, a pair of Mirage 2000Ds from EC3 of the French Air Force. The strike/attack version of the Mirage is not a common visitor to these shores compared to Mirage 2000Cs of the AdlA's air defence units, so to see two at very close quarters was a real treat.
From now on it's RAF all the way, with a steady flow of Tornados, Hawks, Tucanos and a single Harrier GR7 arriving in the best light of the day. One Tornado from 31 Sqn sported a full load of ordnance including AIM-9's, ALARM's and clusters of the recently introduced Brimstone anti-armour weapon. In fact the action got so busy that your intrepid reporter got so engrossed by snapping the aircraft taxing past me that I very nearly missed one of the highlights of the day. TFC's Hurricane had gotten airborne to formate with a pair of Jaguars, appropriately from 6 Sqn, for a flypast.
So that's just about it, after all the aircraft had recovered (in another downpour) and shut down the whole base seemed very quiet. After most of my fellow enthusiasts had departed for home I took one last walk along the static line, thinking to myself that this was the last time that that I would be walking on Coltishall's tarmac as an operational RAF base - this time next year it would be all over.
Aviation enthusiasts can be a hard bunch to please at the best of times, but on the walk back to the car park no complaints were to be heard. To be given such wonderful access to an operational RAF station and to be so close to (and sometimes under!) live military aircraft made for a great day out. £15 very well spent!