The Sandman cometh!
Dave Eade/DEltafoto reports on a strange weekend at Mildenhall
It was a bizarre day! It was Thursday 5 June. Three members of the Ipswich Aviation Society*, to be joined by a fourth, had decided to have a day spotting at Mildenhall. Nothing unusual about that, you say.
On arrival at John's field (bless him!) the owner arrived to collect his nominal £1 for the day's parking. "You've heard the rumour, then?" was the greeting. "What rumour?" was the only reply to give, considering our total ignorance of any rumour. "Air Force One is due in today" John retorted. Various replies of "Bargain", "Sorted" and "What's he on about?" were to be heard. On hearing a rumour of this sort, the keen spotter can make 2 + 2 = anything from 5 upwards! There is definitely something going on!
The RC135 pan is suddenly invaded by about fifty military personnel in overalls who proceed to complete a FOD-walk. For the uninitiated this is where we all stand in a line abreast across the pan and walk slowly, inspecting our feet to ensure that there are still two after every step. Other more unlikely explanations circle round the idea that they are looking for pieces of extraneous litter, metal etc. that could endanger aircraft engines. There is definitely something going on!
A coach with blackened windows proceeds to the RC-pan from the area of the MAC terminal escorted by various police and security bods, who view the spotters carpark with a look recently honed in Baghdad or Basra, one feels. A feeling that it was best to lower cameras pervades the assembled group. It was noticeable at this time that very few spotters were to be seen - the rumour was obviously a well kept secret! There is definitely something going on!
BBC 'Look East' arrive, complete with camera man who sets his tripod up on the 'grandstand' - how to win friends and influence people. Another set of foot inspectors set about a FOD walk on the RC pan. Had the first group missed something - or found something? We will never know.
Scanners burst into life - but on the Lakenheath tower frequency. Two, of a flight of three, F-15Cs are given permission to land while the third is cleared to Mildenhall FOR DISPLAY! A puzzled F-15 jockey (who thinks he fell asleep during the briefing this morning, perhaps) calls Mildenhall with a simple request. "Mildenhall Tower, this is Eagle 3, what do you want me to do?" "Eagle 3, just fly about out there!"
There followed the opportunity on about four low (and lower) passes to photograph Eagle 3 in various poses. F-15 displays don't happen often nowadays, so ad-hoc displays are definitely a surprise - most of all to the crews.
"Oh no! here comes the man from BBC!" "What's going on today?" he asks. I was always under the impression that he was the one that was supposed to know! For the next 15 - 20 minutes the assembled group of enthusiasts (nay, experts - just ask BBC) are asked, persuaded - everything but bribed with attempts by BBC-man to get an interview as to why we are there and how we knew. "But, we didn't know till we got here!" I said. "Just say you did" was the response. Just remember that next time you see an interview where someone is giving a report of what he knew. "What do you know?" was the obvious question to ask TV-man. "We just heard there was an exclusion order on Mildenhall today and that George Dubble-ya is coming." There is definitely something going on!
Fire engines from the base are suddenly dispersed to all points of the airfield. Fire-crews are all resplendent in their silverware. "What does that mean?" demands BBC-man. "REPLY CENSORED"
The hour approaches. Rumour had said 1645L was the arrival time. Scanners are switched on, ears are pricked. BBC-man has found some unassuming holidaymaker to interrogate and film with his questions. "Sandman 1 - vectors to Mildenhall" Sandman - who the .?
end of Runway 29 there appears, eventually, an immaculate C-32 (98-0001)
of the 89th Air Wing. He lands, stops short - almost un-photographable
in the heat haze, and pulls over to the MAC terminal - totally ignoring
the RC pan, which by now is almost polished. BBC Man packs up his kit
(does he think this is
.? No, even he cannot be that dim. Bemused spotters
head home. This was a day that should have been - perhaps.
1830L - BBC 1 - Look East. "Over to our reporter (still) live at Mildenhall, where the twitchers have been out in force - fuelled by a rumour that President Bush would stop for a refuel on his way back to the US from the G8 summit and Middle East talks." Film is shown of spotters looking at 'Sandman 1' and five minutes is taken talking about low-level fighters patrolling the skies and what didn't happen. Excuse me! Who was out in force fuelled by a rumour? But remember There was definitely something going on!
Early morning call
Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau reports from RAF Mildenhall where on 9 June a small air power demonstration took place in support of the ceremony on the change of the Commander of the USAF 3rd Air Force.
First was a flypast by a 100th ARW KC-135R with a 49th FW F-15E on the boom and another F-15E on the wingtip, with two F-16Cs from the 52nd FW based at Spangdahlem. This was followed by an airfield attack by two A-10As also from the 52nd FW, two F-15Es and two F-16Cs. Then came a low level para drop by a C-130E from 86th AW based at Ramstein followed by a tactical assault demo by two C-130s, one from the Kentucky ANG and one from AFRES based at Youngstown. Finally another attack by the two A-10s. And all this before 0915L!
*The Ipswich Aviation Society meets at 19:30 on the first Tuesday in the month at the Gainsborough Sports Centre, Ipswich - new members are welcomed!