Nick Heeley reports on RAF Valley's Photocall 2008, held on 14 August. Pictures by the author and Howard Heeley/Down to Earth Promotions
Attending this event for the first time, we were unsure what to expect, but were treated to a wide range of aircraft, displayed at a well organised event in good weather.
The timed arrival was a nice touch, helping ease congestion and minimise traffic jams - it also allowed everyone to be marshalled into queues to have bags and passes checked, all efficiently done by the dedicated members of the Valley Aviation Society. We were then bussed onto the base and within less than an hour of arriving at the base were photographing Hawk XX184, the 19(R) Squadron aircraft painted in the scheme of a Second World War Spitfire to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the squadron receiving the type, the first one in the RAF to do so, in 1939 at Duxford.
With the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfire P7350 in a nearly identical scheme, the two aircraft flew several passes together, allowing for some excellent photographic opportunities but also an excellent display to watch in the glorious North Wales sunshine (not a phrase too often heard in recent months!).
The Spitfire also performed a solo display routine before departing over the crowd line and the Rolls-Royce Spitfire (PS853) also showed the crowds what it could do with several passes and steep turns before touching down.
A large variety of aircraft arrived throughout the day including a Belgian Air Force F-16 with a 'Matrix' tail scheme and its C-130H support aircraft, the F-16 pulling several stunning turns as it came round the control tower and onto the flight line. The Hercules performed a low level fly-by as part of the mid-afternoon departure, much to the delight of the crowd - unfortunately we were just getting on the coach to return to our car. Other foreign aircraft included a Dutch Air Force F-16, which arrived during the mid-afternoon for a night stop, a French Air Force Alpha Jet and an Omani-marked Strikemaster, many of which performed fast passes and even mini-display routines.
RAF support for the show was good, although some of the larger transport and reconnaissance aircraft didn't attend due to operational commitments. A VC10 and E-3D Sentry were in attendance, performing several passes along the main runway. The RAF Role Demo Team also stopped at the base en-route to Dawlish and treated us to a small segment of their display, including group run-ins from the Tornado GR4s and F3s, as well as chase sequences involving two 100 Squadron Hawks. Of course there were no pyrotechnics, which might have helped warm up the crowd and counter the stiff sea breeze that was present all day.
A Dominie and two Kings Airs also flew into the event with one of the King Airs taking to the skies later on to perform its award winning display, ending with a Khe-San approach, often done by the C-130, which no doubted shocked some of the spotters outside the base at the end of the runway! It was also good to see two Harriers in attendance, a rarity these days due to the work they have been carrying out on foreign soil.
Unlike previous Valley Photocall reports there was very little operational flying to note from the based Hawks as their Families' Day was being run alongside the Photocall, but there was a diamond-nine formation that performed several passes of the crowd, reminiscent of another famous display team.
We also got to see a performance of the 2008 Hawk Display sequence performed in the specially painted jet, which may sadly be a thing of the past in years to come. There were also some passes made by Griffins and Squirrels, with the crew waving energetically to the crowd from the door, but the based SAR Sea Kings stayed on the other side of the airfield, not treating the crowd to a fly-by or landing.
There also appeared to be a bit of drama during the day, with the BAe 125 of the Royal Flight just doing a single flying-by and not landing due to a reported undercarriage fault. More dramatic was a 29(R) Squadron Typhoon that landed and seemed to mysteriously disappear over the far side of the base. From reports circulating amongst the crowd later in the day it was reported that while on the Aberporth Range, one of its missiles had a problem. So when the aircraft landed it was taken away from the crowd line to a remote stand 'supposedly' pointing out to sea in case the missile fired. There it waited for a team from RAF Coningsby to arrive to fix the problem - this also led to a heighted amount of activity for the Fire Department on base, with their trucks moving round the base throughout the day.
Even though there had been apprehension during the days leading up to the event surrounding the weather forecast, we were treated to a sunny, yet windy day with a large variety of aircraft from home and abroad. It is a credit to the members of Valley Aviation Society who continue to arrange a successful and well structured event, attracting crowds and aircraft each year and gives visitors to the chance to get a bit more personal with arriving and departing participants.
Although the cost of fuel rising, we may be making the eight-hour round trip to Valley next year for the next Photocall - what is important is that the event raises vital funds for local charities as well as allowing the RAF to show off some of its hardware on Ynys Môn (Anglesey for the non-Welsh speakers!).