RAF Marham Enthusiasts' Day

Thursday 11th May 2017

Thursday the 11th May 2017 saw 31 Squadron at RAF Marham host an enthusiasts' evening. This event gave a small group of enthusiasts rare behind the scenes access to an operational Tornado GR4 squadron as the type enters the final years of an illustrious career.

Craig Scott was lucky enough to secure himself one of the limited spaces, and brings this report for UKAR. Additional photographs courtesy Cameron Sys.

The evening started with a quick brief from RAF Police and squadron personnel before the 80 enthusiasts were bused over to Marham's flightline. Upon arrival we were greeted by the sight of 31 squadron’s centenary special Tornado waiting on the ASP, shortly to be joined by a second Tornado running in to finish the day’s flying. The Tornado is still very much in demand operationally and these commitments coupled with the type’s dwindling numbers meant that this was to be the only Tornado seen in the air, but the personnel on 31 squadron went out of their way to use what was available to best effect.

Once the second Tornado was safely shut down the waiting photographers were invited to photograph the two jets at close quarters and a set of stairs were made available to allow for an elevated angle. Access was also provided to a nearby hangar containing the weapons load trainer and a rare Tornado F2. Photography of these two airframes was a little tricky, but cockpits were available for enthusiasts to inspect as was a full collection of the Tornado's current weapons systems. The station fire brigade were also on hand to dampen the apron, allowing photography of the 31 squadron anniversary jet reflected in the wet surface, making the best of the superb weather.

Once all photographers were happy with their photographs in this area, the coach returned to bus everyone over to see the highlight of the evening, the Op GRANBY anniversary aircraft, positioned in the HAS complex. At the same time the remainder of 31 squadron's jets were being returned to their shelters for the night so enthusiasts were also given the opportunity to photograph a jet in the HAS complex. This made for some impressive photo opportunities and was a very welcome bonus.

The rest of the evening was spent in the company of the GRANBY jet, the colours of the dusk sky making for an impressive backdrop as night fell and the assembled photographers made the most of the unrestricted access to the aircraft. At just after 10pm the ground crew finally arrived to tow the jet back to its own HAS and the assembled enthusiasts boarded the bus to return to their cars.

For many the chance to shoot these aircraft in their operational setting was what the day was all about. The lack of operational flying could be seen as a disappointment, but this was more than made up for by the access to the HAS complex that would have been impossible had the squadron still been flying. The feedback from enthusiasts who attended was very positive with the friendly, welcoming and helpful approach of the 31 squadron personnel supervising particularly worthy of note. Chances to see these aircraft up close in their home environment without restrictive and obstructive barriers and clutter made for some excellent photographic opportunities. On the coach on the way back the chatter seemed to be focussed on whether then squadron will hold another, the consensus seemed to be that it is hoped there will.