When you go ‘low leveling’ in LFA 7 you can be sure of only two things. The first is the weather, the Snowdonian National Park with it’s valleys, hills and mountains has it’s own micro-climate making it very hard for weather forecasters to predict what the next day will be like let alone two or three days ahead. This makes it even harder for photographers trying to pick a good day. It’s over 300 miles, round trip, for me to go. You don’t want to drive that far and stand in the rain or under a huge cloud but I have on more than a few occasions.
You get within five or ten miles of the Loop and suddenly see a change in weather, usually for the worse. I remember one visit where I left home with sun and blue skies but when I got to my chosen location I was greeted with freezing fog that refused to lift. By lunch time the fog had lifted only to be replaced by rain. Giving up I went to Cottesmore where it was back to blue skies and twenty-something temperatures.
Friday 11th December was different, I had driven through over forty miles of thick fog, thinking all the way I was wasting my time but five miles away from my destination I saw a break in the fog and could see blue cloudless skies and the sun! For once the micro-climate had worked in my favour! Of course, being December it was a single figure temperature and a 35mph gusting wind that I could find no shelter from. Now, all I needed was something to shoot.
This brings me to the second thing you can be sure of; you have no idea if you will get any aircraft at all. Referred to as a ‘blank’ by regulars. If you do get aircraft you never know what they will be. Everyone hopes for a frontliner – a fast jet such as a Tornado, a Harrier, F-15 or a Typhoon. After those the likes of a C-130 Hercules, an Alphajet or a Dominie are next on the request list of the photographer staring into the distance hoping for something to appear whilst trying to keep warm and hide from the wind that is cutting through his layers of clothes. No one hopes for a helicopter, that doesn’t mean they aren’t wanted, they would be very welcome but they are a very rare sight in the valleys so rarely thought about.
The Hawk, the fast jet trainer, is often overlooked and it’s not uncommon to hear “it’s only a Hawk” from a low leveler but personally I like the Hawk. You just need to look up from this article to my website banner to see that. I was especially grateful for the Hawk on this visit as it’s all I got! Without it, the day would have been a blank. You see, the flipside of the lucky break I had with the weather was the rest of the UK was still fogged in and all the frontliners were sat in their hangers, it was only Hawks from RAF Valley flying.
I’d like to especially thank Number 19(R) Squadron RAF as all the Hawks were from them, thanks guys!
My photos are now in 900px wide rather than 800px, I’m hoping this will be a better experience for people viewing on large screens without being too large for the people still using 1024×768.
Hawk T2 ZK030 of Number 19(R) Squadron pulls up from low level – click to enlarge
19 Sqn are currently working up a new course for the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), known at the Hawk T2 by the RAF. Both ZK030 and ZK020 were operating together along with a Hawk T1 from 208 Sqn.
This shot was the very last frame I shot from the day, possibly the last of 2009. I personally think it’s a good one and I’d be happy to end the year with it.