report by: Doug Mac Donald
RAF Marham holds an annual Enthusiasts Day where a number of persons are allowed on base to get close up and personal with some of the based aircraft. Over the past few years, it has just been the Tornado GR.4 with a few visitors, but this year was highly sort after, as four Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II’s had been delivered to the Royal Air Force on 6th June 2018 and it was anticipated that at least one would be on show. The day in question was to start at 1pm but there was formalities that had to be taken care of in the car park just outside the main entrance. Passes issued and we were taken onto the base passing the gate guard, Tornado GR.1B ZA407 and Victor K.2, XH673. We also passed a Canberra PR.9, XH169 hiding inside the base.
Once we had arrived at the location that had been set aside for those attending, it was easily noticeable that RAF Marham as a base, was in the middle of a major restructure to accommodate the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning. Buildings were being erected, the main runway and hover pads being built or strengthened. The base did look like a building site but it was in the process of transition for the new fifth generation stealth multirole aircraft. On static display for photography was a Max Holst 1521 Broussard G-HOUR that is registered to Bremont Watch Company which was built in 1960 and served with the French Armed Forces as serial 149 until 1981 when it was sold to an unknown buyer and re-registered as F-BXCP.
The Tornado GR.4 was represented by ZG752 which has been in service with the RAF since 15th October 1991 when it was delivered to RAF Lossiemouth 15R Sqn, coded “129”. On this day, it sported the small “RAF 100” sticker on its tail. ZM145 was the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning on show. Sitting next to the Tornado, it was obvious to the scale of this new aircraft and surprising to see that it was not that much smaller than it’s elder. The sleek lines and hidden armament bays made it look very futuristic indeed, but it is its performance that matters, not its looks. The large “bubble” canopy was the most prominent feature on the aircraft giving the pilot an all-round visual scope and also to give plenty of room for large VSI Helmet worn by the pilot.
The more I looked at the aircraft, the more I warmed to it and look forward to seeing the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning in the skies over the UK. The static display was then joined by a Supermarine Spitfire LF.IXC, MK356 which is operated by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, based at RAF Coningsby. It was built in 1944 and allocated to 443 Squadron, Canadian Air Force. On 6th June 1944 (D-Day) this Spitfire was used to give cover to the allied forces landing on the beaches and obtained a “kill” of a Messerschmitt BF.109.
After the war this aircraft was used as an instructional airframe and starred in the film The Battle Of Britain but only as a ground airframe. In 1992 it became part of the BBMF and in November 1997 it flew again for the first time in 53 years.
On this day it sported a sandy livery, to commemorate “the hard-fought war in the deserts of North Africa.” The new markings recreate the desert camouflage of Mk IX EN152/QJ-3 of 92 Squadron, a machine that operated in Tunisia during April and May 1943 and was once flown by Flt Lt Neville Duke, who became the highest-scoring Allied ace of the Mediterranean theatre with 27 confirmed victories. During the afternoon a Tornado, single flypast took place of four aircraft over the base, “MONSTER Flight” with a camera ship, ZG771. The latter did a number of passes over us, taking photos and filming the event. Unfortunately because the main runway was being strengthened these aircraft landed on Runway 01 and were just too far away to get decent arrivals photos.
It took five years for me to finally get onto the RAF Marham Enthusiasts Day. From the moment I was advised that I was included in the event, I looked forward to it each day leading up to it, thinking it may be my last chance to get “up close and personal” with a Tornado. I am pleased I went as I can now say that I have been “on base” at RAF Marham and I managed to see my first ever RAF Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. I would like to thank all those at RAF Marham that made the day possible for us.