Taking things for granted...
Howard Heeley, Down To Earth Promotions thinks things ain't quite what they used to be...
By the early 1980s the above heading perhaps best describes how I had begun to view many aircraft types that were then found around the UK.
Certainly things were always the same - Vulcans were always at RAF Waddington, Lightnings at RAF Binbrook, Harriers at RAF Wittering and the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing [USAFE], flying RF-4C Phantoms, were always at RAF Alconbury.
Indeed for me RAF Alconbury was the perennial 'stop-off' point for any aircraft spotting trip to the south or east of England and it always had Phantoms. These were normally viewed after following a well-worn side road from the A1 through Sawtry Fen to the rear perimeter fence that ran almost parallel to the main runway. You could always rely on a pre-arranged group visit following every welcome contact with the USAF Chief from the base's Office of Information.
My earliest memory of checking things out over the back fence at Alconbury was in the summer of 1974. I had joined a group of volunteers from the Newark Air Museum who were visiting the Pinewood Film Studios to collect a replica Hurricane that had been used during the filming of the Battle of Britain movie. Loading duties safely completed at the film studios, we managed a quick stop-off at Alconbury on the way back to Nottinghamshire.
By 1977 I was editing the member's newsletter at Newark Air Museum, which proved a tenuous enough privilege to secure invitations to an assortment of Press Days and previews that seemed to be the norm at the time.
One of the first of these events that I attended was at RAF Alconbury on 23 September 1978, where, along with around fifty other photographers and enthusiasts, we were allowed excellent access to the RF-4Cs of the 10th TRW. If my memory serves me correct we also had access to the recently arrived F-5E Aggressors and an F-15A Eagle, although I have been unable to locate any negative for either of these two types. No matter, the various black and white images that accompany this short reflection of days gone by were taken on that day and they illustrate something that at the time were taken for granted - American RF-4C Phantoms at RAF Alconbury.
How some things have changed. The current proposed Defence Cuts make sighting Jaguars, Sea Harriers and even Tornados less certain and many other things liable to change.
As I now look back I regret selling on the countless colour transparencies that were also taken at the Alconbury Photo Day in September 1978 and indeed at may other Photo Days and Press Calls I subsequently attended.
What would the images have been like if I had been freed from the constraints of costly slide film and if I had access to a digital camera? Certainly more adventurous than the images featured in this article - however, back in 1978 it was great to be allowed such access to something that only a few years later I was taking for granted, but were soon to be consigned to a scrap yard by Treaties and changes to the politics around the world.
AR well, back to the negative scanner and let's see what more we can find in the files!