My first trip out to the Mach Loop wasn’t what I expected but then with an exercise in the Tactical Training Area (TTA) and the recent cut to students from 208(R) and 19(R) Squadrons I wasn’t expecting a busy day. I had gone to open my low level account for 2011 and with hopes of catching something a little rarer in the Loop, like a Chinook HC3. The Met Office had forecast that there would be light fog in the morning that would clear by 9am on the Saturday before and then upgrading that to no hill fog at all when I checked again on the Sunday. Of course, they were wrong. Thick hill fog clung to the hills and filled the valleys. After giving it an hour to clear with no luck I scouted around and made my decision which location to use, it wasn’t high on the list of places I want to shoot from that day but I had little choice.
The usual supply of Hawks had seem to have dried up with only five Hawk T1s coming through my valley of choice. The one pictured below is in 100 Sqn markings (based at RAF Leeming) and I expect was involved in working with a JTAC on the exercise nearby.
With the hill fog closing off some of the valleys the aircraft were mostly coming from a direction that isn’t usually that busy. From my location their approach is obscured from view and listening out for the noise of the engines was the only warning I got. I could hear a jet engined aircraft coming but the engine note was very different from the F-15s, Hawks, Tornados or Typhoon that I’m use to hearing. Then a black aircraft with straight wings appeared. My brain said Tucano and my hands quickly changed the shutter speed to get prop blur on the photo but the sound wasn’t a prop. As it got closer I could see it was a Strikemaster, G-FLYY to be exact. I quickly changed my settings back and grabbed a few quick photos before he was gone. My first Strikemaster at low level (I’ve previously caught a Jet Provost).
Whilst the RAF were quiet, the USAF Europe had four F-15E Strike Eagles operating in the area. Practicing air to air combat under the callsigns Mogul 81 / 82 and Claw 61 / 62 they mostly operated high up but when trying to evade they did drop down to low level. One of the Claw flights (left photo) dropped down just low enough to get some ground in the shot but with a Mogul callsigned F-15E bearing down on him (middle photo) he wasn’t low for very long. One of the flight (F-15E serial 00-3004 – pictured on the right) caught my eye. Compare it to the middle photo and you will see it doesn’t have a navigation pod, a targeting pod, an AIM-9, an AIM-120 or a RAIDs pod fitted. It’s quite unusual to see a F-15E operating in a clean configuration.