RAF SCAMPTON – THE RED ARROWS

← Back to Previous trips

November 25, 2015

TRAF SCAMPTON – THE RED ARROWS

I was keeping the group visit to fly into RAF Scampton and visit the Red Arrows that I had managed to arrange for March 2016 a closely guarded secret so that I could include it as a bit of a highlight in the forthcoming 2016 programme. However my hand was forced when I had notification that due to forthcoming operational changes in the New Year our visit had to be cancelled but could we come on the 25th November? This was only a few weeks away and my heart sank somewhat thinking that the chances of us being able to fly into this iconic and very famous airfield given this was late November were probably slim given the weather and the short daylight hours just making it worse. This meant rustling up some enthusiastic group members who could drop everything mid week to take part. Needless to say the group rose to the occasion and with 14 participants in seven aircraft on my sheet I went to work on the process of booking forms, advance notifications, the sending of insurance certificates and liaising with the PR department and ATC. Fly in visits aren’t usually allowed but having managed a previous visit some years before as well as being able to show that we were very experienced in flying into military airfields they kindly finally agreed to my persistence for which I am very grateful. To visit the Red Arrows is a privilege in itself but for those that hadn’t been before (some of us were very lucky to have been before in 2009) and to get such a famous airfield as ‘Scampton’ in their log book is a big bonus.

With all the usual paperwork of advance info, aircraft details and insurance sorted, as well as the important liaison with Scampton ATC to ensure an efficient and safe arrival for our whole group it was just a question of sitting back and waiting to see what happened with the weather. Due to the length of the available daylight hours there was no flexibility and certainly no ‘plan B’, either we were going that day at the specified times or the whole thing was in the bin until 2017.

The weather leading up to the visit date was simply horrid, every combination of cloud, rain, wind and fog were presenting themselves on a daily basis. Surprisingly though on checking the general forecast a few days before it looked like it might just be doable, cloudy with some rain but nothing to dire. There is no instrument approach into Scampton and a call to ATC to see if Waddington could take us all for a SRA if need be was met with a ‘yes’ but we would have to be pretty strung out for sufficient separation. If that was going to happen I would have to have a late juggle with the seating to ensure that the IMC rated pilots were in the left seat prior to leaving North Weald. Oh well, something else to give some thought to, and not really the route I wanted to go down unless absolutely necessary.

However those thoughts were put to one side on checking the TAF the evening before, we were definitely on with quite a reasonable forecast first thing and the day improving all the time. The only slight issue was a rather brisk NNW wind which would be right on our nose on the way up. Needless to say nothing is straightforward and an accident on the A414 that morning was a really good start as it caused quite a few of our number to be pushed, me included as I got caught in it on the way over to High Cross to get ‘VB’. No problem I thought, but with Paul Cook who was flying with me that day also delayed I decided to contact the others and tell them that we would depart direct to Scampton from High Cross. Once again the Gods of Sod struck and on pre flighting ‘VB’ I found the right fuel drain had been leaking for over a week and the tank was almost empty. A quick trip to North Weald was required and so Paul and I launched ourselves from HX for the 10 minute hop to North Weald where the bowser was running on standby for a ‘splash and dash’. I hate rushing but on calling Scampton ATC to confirm our arrival time I was asked to push it back for 15 minutes due to an early practice display by The Reds.

With things a little calmer and all the crews given their final brief we mounted up with ‘VB’ leading the group out to 02. The route was relatively easy, west across TMZ 2 to Ware VRP before turning North up the Luton/Stansted gap direct to Newark on Trent where we would turn NE to the old RAF Swinderby airfield to then join the circuit at Scampton. This route would take us directly over the top of RAF Wittering’s MATZ and finding a frequency had proved a little troublesome as the one on the chart had been superseded by NOTAM but this had apparently changed again and even Scampton couldn’t tell me the right frequency. If necessary we would just have to go around it.

On taking off from North Weald my heart sank a little as there out to the west was a big black mass of what was clearly thick cloud and torrential rain. As we got closer we could see that it was moving quickly on the strong wind and although we gave the plane a good wash the sky was a lot clearer further up the gap north of Ware. I hadn’t heard anyone turn back so I hoped that the guys had stuck with it and we were still in a nice line. As we climbed the wind was a factor being stronger than forecast at around 35kts right on the nose which was going to make our expected arrival time a bit fluid. The further North we (slowly) flew the better the weather and the viz which went from good to excellent and some lovely blue bits started to appear. Out of the gap and heading towards St Neots I requested a change to Wittering Zone and asked Farnborough to confirm the frequency for my own and the following crews information. Unfortunately the one given proved to be wrong and the next few minutes were spent speaking to various other units all of which came up with the wrong answer. Eventually we made contact with Wittering only to be told to recall them on another frequency……if you are going that way it’s 119.625 and it’s just as well we spoke to them as they had aircraft everywhere.

With the MATZ crossing compete we were back on familiar territory and the next call was to Waddington Zone who would handle us all the way through to Scampton Tower. With the controller having all our details in advance it made the calls short and brief and being given our relevant squawks we continued towards Newark as planned. Although windy the flight was really quite smooth and the views just great. On reaching Newark we were told to expect a right hand downwind join for runway 22 at Scampton and to report at Swinderby. The old RAF Swinderby is easy to pick out with the runway running parallel to the main A46 road and it quickly appeared right on the nose.

Overhead the old airfield and with Lincoln Cathedral visible out in the distance we were instructed to call Scampton Tower and turned NE towards the airfield and had no trouble is spotting the 2740 metre runway in the distance. Will instructions to join downwind right hand we continued towards the airfield commencing a gentle descent to the quite high 1500ft QFE circuit height.

COMING ONTO DOWNWIND FOR R22

Entering the downwind leg we could see the famous red Hawks on the dispersal east of the main runway and the familiar wartime airfield layout. With the high circuit and getting into the mood of the visit we made a descending curving approach towards the threshold being careful not to allow the now strong wind behind us to carry us through the centreline. As we come onto final we were nicely on the white/red PAPIs and had a great view of the long runway stretched out ahead of us with the original Vulcan nuclear QRA stands on the left side of the threshold. The wind was pretty lively but we touched down nicely and in an easy position to vacate at the second left as requested by ATC. The long taxi to the Echo dispersal took us towards the tower and as we rounded the corner six red Hawks looking resplendent in the winter sunshine appeared on our right hand side parked in a perfect line. Passing the ‘Reds’ apron we found our way onto our dispersal and with smug satisfaction moved ‘VB’ perfectly onto ‘line one’. As we were in the company of the perfectionists the boys had been briefed that I expected a perfectly straight line of aircraft and they didn’t disappoint as they began to arrive and fill up each numbered line in sequence which looked pretty good!

A minibus appeared and our host for the day SAC Heather Scarlett introduced herself and laid out the plan for the day. Fitting in our arrival with the ‘Red’s early practice and also allowing us to get back to North Weald before the very early sunset time unfortunately meant that we had to have a rather abridged tour but that didn’t matter, at least we were actually here and we had managed to fly it! The first stop was outside the ‘Reds’ hanger where we watched three of the Hawks get airborne to carry out a practice sortie over the airfield. Being early in the practice run up period the formations are small with either three or four aircraft taking part as the new members of the team are trained towards display standard. It might only be three aircraft but we had a cracking view as they carried out their formation and references training. With the aircraft breaking into a line to land we headed off to the engineering hanger where as two groups we had a fascinating and highly informative talk and presentation from two of the engineers as we got up close to the famous red jets.

Our engineering tour was followed by the all important lunch which was taken in the junior ranks mess and very acceptable it was too.

THE CHAPS GET UP CLOSE

After lunch we headed back towards the ‘Reds’ hanger to watch the next display sequence this time with five aircraft taking part and once again we were in a great position to watch the practice taking place. Standing outside next to the original hangers of arguably one of the most famous and iconic wartime airfields it was impossible for me at least not to feel the atmosphere that surrounds this place. The ghosts May 1943 seemed very close standing as we were yards from the 617 Squadron hanger and the very area where Guy Gibson and the rest of the ‘Dambusters’ crews sat waiting to leave for that famous raid. It was very easy to imagine the sights and sounds as the crews made their way out to the heavily laden Lancasters with the ‘bouncing bombs’ suspended beneath the fuselage, many of those crews of course were never to return. The ‘Dams’ raid was of course probably the most famous part of Scamptons history but 266 aircraft were lost in the war years from this base and much has happened over the years since. For those interested a history of the base is at http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafscampton/aboutus/history.cfm

NOT A BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE

THE REDS TAXI IN

Once the ‘Reds’ had finished their afternoon practice unfortunately our abridged visit was over and we were taken back out to the apron where we said our goodbyes to Heather. With everyone in their respective aircraft to give the impression (!) of a well disciplined group I had arranged with ATC that once we were all ready I would call for start for the whole group. With a ‘thumbs up’ going along the line I called from line one for the group. With the start approved I started ‘VB’ and the others then started in turn from right to left, so far so good. With a taxi clearance came the next bit which was for me to move off the line towards the taxiway with the others following at exactly the same spaced interval of about 5 seconds. As we turned right onto the taxiway for a 04 departure I’ve got to say we may not have had the shiny Hawks but at least we did look good in our more modest machines. The next little bit of show was for us to turn at the same angle for the power checks before carrying out the pre flights. The tower asked if we would be happy with a 30 second departure separation which I acknowledged as absolutely fine.

With VB’s take off clearance and a left turn out we pulled onto the runway. With the long wide 2740 metres of concrete stretched ahead of us it wasn’t difficult to imagine the Vulcans roaring off from this very spot as we rather more modestly accelerated down the runway. Once airborne we climbed to 500ft before starting our left turn towards Swinderby with a stunning blue sky above us. Hearing the others departing behind us we were directed to change to Waddington Zone and continued with them towards Newark, getting a very nice view of the Newark Air Museum as we passed overhead. The routing back was to be the same only this time although we had a beautifully clear sky with the afternoon sun starting to dip a slight haze was forming. This wasn’t a problem and with the wind still rather strong but now right on our tail we had 143kts groundspeed showing on the GPS.

THE GROUP IN TYPICAL POSE.

Needless to say the return journey was a lot shorter and soon we were slipping back into TMZ 2 and joining the North Weald circuit. With all safely back in that brought a very successful day to an end. Despite being an abridged visit and missing out on meeting some of the team this was a pretty special day. To have had what was the best weather in the whole of November was just amazing and a sheer fluke. This time the weather Gods were smiling on us and for that I’m very grateful. A huge thank you to Heather Scarlett and all of the team at RAF Scampton for a truly memorable day.

Paul

← Back to Previous trips


Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090