report by Mike Danks
With RAF Lakenheath within walking distance and RAF Mildenhall only 5 minutes’ drive away I thought it was time to report on some of the interesting visitors to the USAF bases in Suffolk. Being some of the last USAF bases in the UK, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath still see a number of interesting visitors either transiting ‘down range’, back home state side or aircraft deploying to work with the locally based squadrons and other air forces in Europe . These vary from the large C-5 Galaxy to the fifth generation F-22 Raptor. RAF Mildenhall is home to the 100th ARW with KC135s belonging to the 351st ARS, MC130Js of the 67th SOS and CV22Bs with the 7th SOS. RAF Lakenheath is home to the 48th FW with its mix of two Squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagles, F-15C Eagles and also the HH-60s of the 56th and 57th RQS. These aircraft operate over the large expanses of the North Sea, Low Fly Areas (LFAs) and the local STANTA range.
With winter in full swing and the dark evenings making it difficult to catch visitors to either base January drew mainly a blank with regards to photos. I did manage to catch 85-0005 C-5M being loaded with three HH-60s of the 56th RQS. These three were heading ‘down range’ on a nine month deployment. The C-5 didn’t depart until the next day after being de-iced from a cold night. A rare event, thankfully, is an aircraft catching the arresting wire. The next two photos show one of the local F-15Cs of the 493rd FS catching the wire after declaring an In Flight Emergency (IFE).
The focus with visitors to RAF Mildenhall is usually on the unusual and rarer aircraft that do not usually come to the UK. The next three photos are of the regular aircraft to pass through RAF Mildenhall and are often taken for granted. A KC135R of the Mississippi ANG and a C-17A belonging to the 62nd AW based at McChord, WA. Although the C-5 Galaxy is not a rare aircraft to see at either base, a C-5A, that either hasn’t been upgraded to a C-5M or flown to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan, is though. With its old engines producing a high pitched scream that used to grace the USAF airfields across the UK.
The start of spring saw a change in the weather and an influx of interesting and varied aircraft to both Suffolk bases. First to arrive at RAF Lakenheath, over a few days, were eight F-15Cs of the 142nd FW, Oregon ANG based at Portland IAP. The Eagles were using RAF Lakenheath as a staging post before heading further afield on an exercise. They transited back through RAF Mildenhall on their way home two weeks later being supported by two KC-10s from the 305th AMW based at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft also pass through RAF Mildenhall as well as many other airports across the UK. One visitor in March was a USMC KC-130J, callsign OTIS 61. Here it is landing in the setting sun on R29. Just because it is the weekend does not mean that there will be no movements. The weekend of 11th March saw some very interesting aircraft night stopping at RAF Mildenhall. These were in the shape of three U28s. They were supported on their long journey back the USA by a HC-130. The U28 (PC-12) provides an oncall/surge capability for improved tactical airboure Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of Special Forces in conflict zones. The three U28s belong to the 1st Special Operations Wing based at Hurlbert Field, Florida.
It’s not only the KC135 that uses the Boeing 707 airframe in the USAF. Two types that use this airframe made a welcome visit to RAF Mildenhall in March. An E-3 Sentry from 552nd ACW at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma was heading home after a deployment and a WC-135C of the 55th OW based at Offutt AFB, Nebraska was completing missions from RAF Mildenhall. The WC-135 is used to detect and identify nuclear explosions using specialist equipment attached to the heavily modified airframe. Aircraft that are being delivered to other nations have transited through RAF Lakenheath for many years. This year has seen the delivery of the latest version of the F-15 Eagle, in the shape of the F-15SA. The Royal Saudi Air Force has purchased 152 (84 new build and 64 reworked) of these highly advanced fighter/ground attack aircraft. The first of the aircraft to be delivered night stopped at RAF Lakenheath in January but arrived in torrential rain at dusk. There were two subsequent deliveries with the last being at the end of March. Below are two photos of the last batch showing no markings apart from the US delivery serial.
April continued as March had left off with aircraft transiting on their way back to the US and a sign of the future with eight F-35A lightning IIs being based at RAF Lakenheath to fly and fight with the local aircraft and other European nations. This was the first overseas deployment of the USAFs latest fifth generation aircraft. This is a landmark deployment and a show of support to NATO countries. First was the arrival of 18 F-15Es at the start of the month, based at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. These were heading home after a six month deployment in the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The mission marks were full on the port side of the aircraft and more markings were seen on the starboard side. It was also interesting to see the use of the gun mission marks too on these aircraft. Markings on the Strike Eagles were a mix of 389th and 391st Fight Squadrons with the 366th Fighter Wing commander’s aircraft being amongst them. Another USMC KC-130J was at RAF MIldenhall in April. This aircraft arrived as ‘BRONCO 65’ and was deployed for three days to use the RAFs Spadeadam range in Northumbria. The Spadeadam range is used by aircrews wanting to practice manoeuvres and tactics against a multitude of real world threats. And finally, the aircraft that attracted aviation enthusiasts from all across the UK and Europe. The eight F-35As were from the 388th FW based at Hill AFB, Utah. These aircraft participated in RED Flag 17-1 at Nellis AFB in January as a build up for this deployment to the UK. This was a chance for locals to see what the future of RAF Lakenheath will be, with the first F-35As for two Squadrons to be based at RAF Lakenheath by 2021. The aircraft flew multiple missions a day and trained with other NATO countries whilst also visiting Estonia for the day as a forward deployment. Finally six F-22A Raptors of the 90th FS, based at Elmendorf Alaska, passed through RAF Mildenhall as they had finished their TDY in the Middle East. Below is a photo of one of them departing RAF Mildenhall, chasing down the Mississippi ANG KC-135 which supported the two Raptors across the pond.
Many thanks to Mike for this nice compilation; we are ready from now to edit a new version for the following months…