Andrew Bates reports on Valley's annual photocall
Now a regular fixture on the airshow calendar, RAF Valley again hosted its now annual summer photocall, or 'enthusiasts' photo-shoot' as it is sometimes referred to, on Thursday 16 August.
Held with the kind permission of RAF Valley Station Commander Group Captain Tony Barmby, the slickly-run event was once again organised by Dick Thomas and his team from the Valley Aviation Society. As with previous events, this is what could best be described as a 'live' photocall, allowing enthusiasts the opportunity to sample at close range a typical day of operations at a very busy Royal Air Force station. With Hawk training sorties launching almost continuously, along with visiting and overshooting aircraft, RAF Valley is arguably one of the busiest military airfields in the UK, so the potential for airborne action and associated photo opportunities is generally quite high.
Driving up to Anglesey on that morning, there were two niggling factors at the back of the mind to consider - firstly, the weather forecast looked to be, at best, pretty grim, which considering the summer so far, was not exactly a surprise; secondly, according to advance details, the location for the event had been moved from the usual position adjacent to the VAS ramp on the north-northeast side of the airfield to a position out over on the west of the airfield. As it transpired, these niggles were wholly unjustified, as it would subsequently prove to be a big 'thumbs up' on both counts; for a start, the weather didn't follow the script, as despite numerous sightings of black cloud on the horizon there was just the one heavy shower right at the end of the afternoon as everyone was packing up to return to their car. Better still, the change in location appeared to get universal approval from most people present as it afforded an excellent view along the length of primary runway 14/32.
As is customary with this event, the day's activities tend to start slowly but soon build up to a peak of airborne activity as the morning progresses. After picking a suitable spot along the edge of the public area, it's just a case of sitting patiently and waiting to see what's going to turn up, which is all part of the fun really. At first there was just the occasional Hawk sortie to watch plus the newly established, twice-daily Highland Airways flight to Cardiff as it made its morning departure from Anglesey Airport (which is actually the VAS ramp, so perhaps that's why the change in photocall location for 2007). However, it wasn't long before the tempo of operations began to intensify, shortly followed by the day's first visitors.
During past photocalls, the Irish Air Corps have usually been enticed to make the relatively short flight over the Irish Sea, so it was quite fitting that the first visiting aircraft was a PC-9M from the FTS at Baldonnel. Later in the morning this was joined on the tarmac by a fellow compatriot, one of the newly delivered AW-139 helicopters from 301 Squadron, still looking pristine and 'factory fresh'.
Next to land was the first Tornado of the day, 13 Squadron's now familiar 90th Anniversary machine. This was to be one of four opportunities to once again capture images of some of the RAF's 90th Anniversary commemorative colour schemes currently in circulation. The Tornado was followed in by the specially painted 72(R) Squadron Tucano T1, the special 45(R) Squadron Super King Air and also the attractively marked Hawk T1A from 100 Squadron.
Other visitors included a pair of Lossiemouth based Tornados, one from 15(R) Squadron, the other looking very nondescript with an absence of squadron marks, whilst for the second year running we were treated to the appearance of a 3(F) Squadron Typhoon F2. At the heavier end of the spectrum there was a brief appearance from a Hercules C3 from Lyneham, followed later on by a 101 Squadron VC-10 C1K, of which the latter was destined to perform a number of 'rollers' on the main runway, enabling a multitude of photographic opportunities of a classic shape in the skies. Again, for the second year running, the most impressive performance came courtesy of the 99 Squadron C-17A, which easily held the attention of everyone with a number of low approaches and steep banking turns.
Apart from the IAC AW-139, the only other rotary winged visitor was an Army Air Corps 670 Squadron Squirrel HT2, but this was complimented by the occasional flypast from the based Griffins and Sea King. As always, this is not a huge event in terms of participation, but with the ever attendant Hawks in and around the circuit, not to mention some of the other passing trade from other jets in the vicinity, there's usually something going on somewhere on or around the airfield. The real strength of this event is its almost exclusive nature; being allowed to sit at such close quarters to active aircraft on a busy military airfield. Added to that is the relaxed atmosphere and of course the beautiful backdrop of stunning Welsh scenery. It all adds up to a recipe for a really super day out, which is greatly assisted by the sterling efforts of the Valley Aviation Society who make it all happen. So well done folks, hope to see you all again next year.