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United Kingdom Tour Part Two; RAF Coningsby July 14, 2009

Air Power at Typhoon City; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Tuesday July 14, a visit to RAF Coningsby was on the program. This base is the home of the British Typhoon fleet and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Four squadrons of Typhoons and a test unit equipped with a few Harriers and Tornado's are based at RAF Coningsby.

At the beginning of World War II in 1940, RAF Coningsby was used as a bomber base from where the AVRO Lancaster bombers flew their sorties. Among these bombers units was also no 617 Squadron. Later during the war they would be known as the Dam busters because of their famous missions deep into German territory where they destroyed the German dams. At the end of the war also the Gloster Meteor was based at Coningsby; it was Britain's first jet fighter and it was used for the interception of German V1 and V2 rockets. Later after the Second World War the English Electric Canberra was based at Coningsby; soon the base was expanded and modified for the Avro Vulcan but they left Coningsby in 1964 and went to Cottesmore. The base was then designated as a fighter base and would receive the TSR2. This has never happened however, since the project got cancelled for economic reasons. The British Government was thinking of buying the General Dynamics F-111, but this aircraft exceeded the budget. Ultimately the Mc-Donnal Douglas F-4 Phantom was chosen by the government. RAF Coningsby became a part of the British Fighter Command since the Phantom arrived at this base. In November 1984, the first Phantoms were replaced by the Tornado F-3. The Shelter camps which are nowadays at Coningsby were built when the Tornado F-3 entered service.

In the British history Coningsby was the first field that received the Phantom, the Tornado and also the Typhoon. The Typhoon is the replacement for the Tornado F3 within the RAF and made his first entry from December 2004. From July 2007 the first unit was fully operational with this type. At the moment there are 4 squadrons at RAF Coningsby which fly the Typhoon namely: no 3 Squadron, No 11 Squadron, No 17 Squadron and No 29 Squadron. This last unit is the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) to prepare RAF pilots for a career as a Typhoon pilot. In addition to the Typhoon units also no 41 (R) Squadron is based at RAF Coningsby. This unit flies a few

Harrier GR9's and some Tornado GR4's. This unit is called the Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit (FJWOEU). It is responsible for testing and evaluation of current and future use of weapons and combat aircraft within the RAF.

In addition to these operational units, Coningsby is also home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). This flight was founded in March 1976 at Coningsby and has one of the two in the world still flight worthy Avro Lancaster bombers in its arsenal. Next to the Lancaster bomber, the BBMF has also five Super Marine Spitfires of different types, two Hawker Hurricanes, one Dakota, two Chipmunks and one Tiger Moth in its arsenal. These last two types are used to train pilots to fly the Spitfire and the Hurricane. The British aviation history from the period World War II is kept alive by these planes and they all fly several flight pasts at air shows and ceremonies.

After a two hour journey, I arrived at RAF Coningsby on Wednesday morning at the west side landing. I was able to take place on top of a hill in a farmer's field from which I had a view over the fence. Light conditions were really perfect so it promised to be a very nice day with some nice photographs. The first engines on the ground were starting up after half an hour of waiting and the aircraft came alive. First a Tornado appeared on the opposite side of the runway shortly followed by a dual Typhoon. The tornado waited a few minutes at the beginning of the runway before it went airborne with full after burner. Behind the Tornado, the Typhoon taxied to the runway. Finally there were starting up more engines after a brief period of silence. Two Typhoons appeared after awhile from the southern shelter camp. It seems there was no mass start today, because all Typhoons departed with at least ten minutes between them. All the Typhoons went airborne in a time window of two hours. The light conditions at this moment of the day were really great and as time passed it only became better and better. I saw that none of the Typhoons were using their after burner when they took off. This is because the engines have more than enough power to climb out without afterburning. Because of this, the Typhoons are able to stay longer in their target area because fuel consumption is much lower.

About one and a half or two hours after the first aircraft took off, the first Typhoon reported to come in again for landing. The first aircraft which came in were flying in a tight formation, strictly according to the procedure, before entering the brake before landing. The Typhoon is coming in with a pretty high speed because of the delta wing construction of the aircraft. The landing of the aircraft was a nice photo opportunity because I had a nice angle on the front of the aircraft which came in. I decided to drive to the other site of the base when all the Typhoons were back from their missions to photograph some banking aircraft. It wasn't a good choice, because the Typhoons were climbing out very steep halfway the main runway. Therefore I decided to leave this spot quickly. I found a nice spot just halfway down the runway where the Typhoons came loose from the ground during take off. Photographs from this location looked quite spectacular. Over here I also saw a Beach King Air and a RAF Alpha-Jet. At about 5 PM the last Typhoons returned from their missions and Coningsby was about to close. For me it was the moment to go further on my journey through the United Kingdom and I left RAF Coningsby. Tomorrow I would visit RAF Lakenheath to see some F-15's. Today's conclusion is that RAF Coningsby is a very active base where you easily get over twenty Typhoons with some really great photo opportunities. I had a very pleasant day at this base and although this was the first time that I visited it, it will certainly not be the last time. With again a few Gigabytes of photos on my cards I left this great base with a very satisfied feeling.

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