The call of the Valley…
Glenn Beasley got the call, and headed off to RAF Valley for the annual photocall
The Valley Aviation Society (VAS) was once again allowed to stage its annual photocall on 10 August at RAF Valley in Anglesey.
The event is obviously a popular one for the local enthusiasts, whilst for myself as a first time visitor to the event it meant a 05:00 departure from home. Would the long journey be worth it? Driving through the equally driving rain on my way to Holyhead I did wonder if I had made the right decision. I couldn't help thinking the spectacular Welsh scenery could have been far more appealing than it was given a few breaks in the cloud. Certainly the valleys, where some of the resident Hawks would no doubt be visiting during the day, looked buried in the clouds.
Arriving at RAF Valley the rain had ceased, although prospects for a dry day looked slim and there was also a brisk coastal wind to contend with. As a base Valley is a picturesque landscape that would no doubt provide a pleasing backdrop, should the weather improve. Hunter T8C WV396, Valley's resident gate guard, is easily visible from the roadside but there was little on the ground at this point in the day - the resident Hawks were already quite active and they continued to be that throughout the day.
Photocalls bring even more uncertainty than airshows in terms of what will and won't make an appearance, but most of what was on Valley's advertised list made it during the day. The first arrival was was Tucano T1 ZF341 from Linton-on-Ouse. Already on the ramp for viewing were XX205, the specially painted blue and yellow 90th anniversary Hawk, plus two more T1s from 100 Squadron at Leeming and XX221 from the home team.
Arrivals then followed fairly steadily throughout the morning - the RAF Cranwell team of Dominie, Tutor and Super King Air 200 were quickly followed by a Typhoon F2 from 3 Squadron at RAF Coningsby and two Harrier GR9s, a fly-by from an E-3D and the first rotary participant in the shape of a Puma.
Probably the stars of the show on the ground were the helicopters, with a very welcome visit and short stop by two Apaches, which looked particularly mean and menacing in the still grey and overcast conditions. Their participation was particularly noteworthy given the lack of attendance by these types at any of the big airshows in the UK this summer. Another very notable helo was the EC-135 from the Irish Air Force, another type not particularly common on the UK. Completing the vertical lift types were examples of the Merlin and Squirrel that arrived during the best of the weather which by now had become a very pleasant summer day.
There was plenty of Tornado GR4 action to be had with no less that five examples visiting at various points during the day. The RAF's Tornado woes continued though with an engine failure on ZA554 as it attempted to depart at the end of the day.
Star item in the air had to be the C-17 Globemaster III, which performed several very spirited flypasts of the airfield, at times being engulfed by the moist air as the conditions improved. A combination of steep turns and low approaches made a big impression on the gathered audience. Another major coup for the organisers in getting such a busy arm of the RAF to come and take part in the event. The home display team of 208(R) Squadron flown by Martin Pert in the Hawk put on a very spirited show, most of the display being conducted right over the crowd and visiting aircraft! It is testament to how busy a station Valley is, in that both of the specially painted display jets were flying regularly throughout the day.
As a first time attendant to the event, the highest compliment I can pay is that the occasion is already in my diary again for next year. The relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the participating aircraft is a real winning combination. Add to that the backdrop of the Welsh hills and gradually improving weather, it was a really good opportunity to grab some great pictures of the participants. Being my first engagement after RIAT, it was the perfect contrast to that event, calm and relaxing, plenty of space to roam and look for different angles to shoot from, whilst being able to take time out to enjoy the local surroundings. The RAF Valley Photocall is a super event - many congratulations to the men and women who made it possible and lets hope they can spring one or two more surprises next year. Four hours to get home….no problem.