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Happy Birthday, Coltishall

RAF Coltishall 60th Anniversary photocall, 30 June: Report by Dave Eade, pictures by Gary Parsons & Mike Kerr

Families' days at Royal Air Force stations today are very private affairs, with only a selected few invited. It is, therefore, all the more surprising when the public is given access to the jewels gathered for such events. But, as with the 25th Birthday celebrations for the Jaguar in 1998, Coltishall does it different. For the second time, WO Mick Jennings and his team proved that "if you invite them - they will come". For little cost to the RAF, around £8,000 was raised in tickets sold for the Public Photoday held on 30 June - the day before the Families Day at the station. Some idea of the popularity of the event can be gained by the fact that the allocated 800 tickets were sold out in a matter of a few days from the announcement, and that Internet enquiries for 'spare' tickets were to be found almost daily thereafter.

Home today of three squadrons of Jaguar attack/recce aircraft and soon to be THE home of the Jaguar with the arrival of 16(R) Squadron/226 OCU from Lossiemouth, the station is one of only two that saw action in the Battle of Britain and survive as flying stations today, Northolt being the other. The fact that the superb Anniversary brochure takes 12 of its 35 glorious pages to document the station history shows the reader what a big part the location played then and onward to today. It is not the intention to précis that excellent history here but to give the reader a flavour of the Photoday itself. Suffice it to say that it is with some irony that July sees the arrival of 16(R) Squadron as 226 OCU was the identity of the Lightning OCU formed at Coltishall that also played such a large part in the Coltishall, and Lightning, history.

Leaked information beforehand gave many hints about the aircraft visiting for the Jubilee Celebration, many of which led to rumours that belonged more in the fairy stories of Enid Blyton than anywhere. One aim that did reach fruition was the attendance of aircraft from the Polish Air Force. It is well known among WW2 aficionados that, during 1944, 316 (Polish) Squadron operated their Mustangs out of Coltishall to be followed by 278 and 308 Polish Squadrons. It was fitting, therefore, that returning to take their rightful place on the East apron were two Polish SU-22s (one a twin-seat) and an An-26. Unfortunately neither were allowed to fly, vicious rumour having it on the day that this was primarily due to the lack of flying practise within the Polish Air Force of today. The original plan to bring six airframes was gradually reduced until, with the lack of diversion and refuelling facilities, the whole enterprise appeared to be doomed. All the more welcome, therefore, were SU-22s s/n 8613 and two-seat 605 looking aggressive in their camouflage against the gloomy skies that are Summer 2000 in the UK. Support was provided by An-26 1602 and the carefully positioned low level tapes ensured that lenses were being filled to satisfaction.

Visitors flying in for the celebrations included three Hawk trainers, one each from soon-to-be-defunct 74 Squadron (XX332), 208 Squadron (XX349) and 100 Squadron (XX194/CO). 56(R) Squadron were at last allowed to air their new special colour scheme (ZE339/AV) intended as the display bird, but failing initially to meet their Airship's approval. Other RAF participants were Harrier GR7 (XD436/48), making the short trip from 3 Squadron Hangar at Cottesmore and a Tornado GR4A (ZA371/C), from 2 Squadron, which took up its position on the pan after a very impressive low-level photo-recce pass over the assembled aircraft and spectators - no airshow restrictions here!

Visitors from further afield, were the Danes - in the form of F16B ET-197, two F4Fs of JG-72 (37+09 and 37+36) - the former sporting in RAF zap on the port side (!) and a contingent of two AMX (MM7165/51-31 and MM7185/51-35), plus two F104S Starfighters (MM6733/9-33 and MM6764/9-39) from the Italian Air Force. The visitors pan was completed with the arrival of F15E 91-0306 from the 494th FS at Lakenheath - immediately becoming the centre of attraction for the Polish contingent - understandably perhaps when one considers the quantum leap in technology between the SU-22 and the F15E. Unusually, it participated in the following day's display, a rarity from a Lakenheath Eagle.

For your scribe, however, the most impressive part of this photo-day was the fact the station remained active throughout, launching frequent training missions from all three Jaguar units. The aforementioned tapes, positioned a few inches from ground level, were the only "barrier" between the observer and today's RAF at work, free access being available from the taxiway through to both pans. Ample opportunity was provided to view the hangars, and aircraft from the units in various states of weapons fit - or stripped even - in deep maintenance.

This was an excellent opportunity for "Colt" to do some worthwhile public relations and Air-Scene UK salutes those officers and men who provided such a special day for the spotters. It can only be hoped that their counterparts on other bases - on other occasions - see the benefit of such a day and repeat the process. It is also to be hoped that the "whingers" from whom this hobby hears far too much, and who have possibly killed the Brize Photoday for good, keep their opinions to themselves - and that the people at Coltishall can sit back and look at a job well done! Thanks guys!

 

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