Of the military airfields remaining active in the UK, RAF Mildenhall (MHZ/EGUN) is one of the few that still has the potential to offer a varied selection of types regularly , although activity levels in recent years have dropped off considerably. The USAF’s 100th Air Refuelling Wing is the major based unit, operating the KC-135R/T Stratotanker in the air-to-air refuelling role throughout Europe and further. Also based at Mildenhall is the 352nd Special Operations Wing with the 7th Special Operations Squadron flying the CV-22B and the 67th SOS with the MC-130J Commando II. Rounding out the flying units at Mildenhall is the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron which operates forward deployed RC-135’s from the US, although there is rarely more than one or two in residence at any time.
The base does offer transit services to US and allied air arms, which means that potentially many varied types can be seen at Mildenhall, but in reality the vast majority of these transits are US based KC-135s, C-130 variants and the occasional heavy in the form of a C-5/C-17/charted 747 or KC-10. Mildenhall is still officially scheduled to close in the late 2020’s but this has been postponed many times and still remains in doubt.
Written by Gary Stedman & Peter Adams (February 2020). Some pictures provided by Christian Preinl.
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|11/29||2,810m (9,219ft) – Asphalt|
|Ladder||A ladder is not required at all spots but is extremely useful, particularly at Folly Rd and Pollards Lane. Although this is a military airfield the USAF and MoD police are generally tolerant of ladders that are free standing but occasionally an individual officer will attempt to move observers on, but this is rare.|
|Car/Public Transport||As a military station there is no formal viewing facilities or parking, and a car is essential. The privately owned ‘Johns Field/Nook’ campsite on the South Western corner of runway 11 offers parking and camping arrangements for a small fee.|
|Restrooms||Restroom/toilet facilites are inside the ‘Johns Field/Nook’ campsite but it is expected that the parking fee would have been paid prior to use – currently £1.50 per person.|
|Drinks/Food||Numerous petrol stations and fast food outlets in Mildenhall town but nothing directly beside the base.|
|Hotels||Lodgings are available at several sites in Mildenhall town, and there is a Travelodge on the A11/Barton Mills roundabout just to the East of Mildenhall town.|
|Season||There is no real peaks or lows in traffic year round, unlike most military airfields, Mildenhall is generally open at weekends, but expect little traffic besides maybe a couple of transits.|
|11/29||Runway 29 is usually the preferred runway as the base has to co-ordinate with neighbouring RAF Lakenheath whose 06 approach passes directly over the end of runway 11. CV-22 Ospreys frequently use the ‘Alpha’ pad for vertical departures and recoveries which is situated just on the North-side of the most Western taxiway to runway 11.|
|Spot #1 – The Mound – 29 Movements|
|WHERE||This is on the extreme South Eastern corner of the airfield and can be reached by driving North out of Mildenhall town centre along the A1101. Just prior to the runway 29 landing lights and base fence if heading North you will come across a ESSO petrol station, then a mini roundabout with access to the left into the industrial estate – carry on straight ahead and pass the industrial building facing out on the A1101 on your left with it’s car park in front. IMMEDIATELY after that is a small clearing in front of a small wooded area that can take about 6 cars, park there if able. If you get to the runway lights you have gone too far but can turn around at the next roundabout. Unless it’s a weekend don’t try and park in the aforementioned company car park. From the clearing walk through the trees along the dirt track for about 5 to 10 minutes, as long as you keep heading in that direction you will come across the ‘mound’ that has a elevated view over the 29 approach. To your right is the base perimeter fence.|
|WHAT||This allows a perfect and elevated view over the 29 approach from the mound with no ladder. Aircraft taxiing onto runway 29 from the Southern and Northern taxiways can be photographed here with a ladder from the corner of the fence – this shot can be made above the fence from the mound without a ladder if you are exceptionally tall!|
|TIME||Pretty much all day except evening in the summer for the 29 approach, only suitable for aircraft taxiing onto 29 for a few hours early morning.|
|MISC.||You’re in the middle of some woods so only what you bring with you, the ESSO station is just across the road from where you’ve parked.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||A ‘135 sized aircraft is just less than a 100mm at it’s closest point on the approach, adjust accordingly for subject size. From the fence across to the taxiway it varies from between 100mm for a C-5 to upto 300mm for smaller types.|
|Spot #2 – Crash Gate East Side – 29 Movements + Ramp|
|WHERE||This is also reached from the A1101 and follows a similar route to spot #1 above. At the previously mentioned roundabout next to the Esso petrol station turn into the industrial estate on Hampstead Avenue rather than carrying on straight ahead. Keep on this road through the estate until you come across the site of JEB Engineering on your right. Immediately after JEB’s site is a small track called Folly Road that runs alongside their fenceline and towards RAF Mildenhall on the right. This small road is partially obscured by trees and is easily missed. After a few seconds driving the road merges with the RAF Mildenhall fenceline and hardstands used by the resident 100th ARW tankers are directly opposite the Folly Rd fence on your right, with the main Southern taxiway (Bravo) between the fence and the hardstands. Folly Rd itself ends right here with a crash gate.|
|WHAT||A tall ladder is pretty much essential here as you are faced with a tall mesh fence, topped by barbed wire. Any aircraft taxiing southside to and from the end of runway 29 will pass here at close range, also the static KC-135s are only slightly further away and still easily photographed, providing you possess a ladder. With longer ranged lenses and assuming there is gaps in the parked tankers, arrivals onto runway 29 can also be photographed here, as well as aircraft departing 11 towards you, providing they keep low.|
|TIME||For most of the day this spot is suitable, just the very early and late summers day sees you facing backlit aircraft.|
This spot does, on the very rare occasion attract attention from the USAF police, sometimes as a result of personnel jogging on the track inside the fenceline not being familiar with cars and ladders by the fence . The normal practise is that the British MoD police, who patrol the exterior of the base will visit cars down Folly Rd if asked to by the USAF. They are normally ‘onside’ and will just ask a few basic questions and then leave you alone afterwards. Ladders must be freestanding and not placed against the fence and it is probably wise to keep them on the ground until needed to avoid any unnecessary attention. Problems are however extremely rare. It is normal practise to park on the left hand side of the road, under the trees whilst down Folly Rd and to leave space empty up against the crash gate. No facilities are close by, only the ESSO petrol station at the entrance to the estate.
|FOCAL LENGTH||On ‘Bravo’ taxiway you’re looking at 30 to 40mm for a KC-135 sized aircraft, 60 to 70mm for a C-130, also on the taxiway. ‘135s parked on the stands opposite are about 70mm. For aircraft over or on runway 29 from here it’s around 160mm for a ‘135 sized aircraft, adjusting up and down accordingly to size. Shooting to the right down the 29 approach goes as far as your lenses is capable!|
|Spot #3 – Opposite the bungalows – 29 Departures|
|WHERE||The previously mentioned A1101 heads North from a roundabout in Mildenhall town centre. Instead of heading North towards the base, take the Western exit from the roundabout and immediately take the right turn onto ‘Queensway’ that runs through Mildenhall town before exiting and becoming ‘West Row’ road. This runs for several miles along the Southern side of the base. After you go past the MC-130 line that is visible on your right side, take the right turning onto Jarmans Lane and you will see a small row of bungalows on your left, on the slight left bend there is a grass and earth verge that you can park a small number of cars on. Take care as this cuts up badly during wet weather. Looking out to your right there is a field between you and the base.|
|WHAT||No ladder is required here and it is only used to photograph departures climbing out of runway 29.|
|TIME||You’re looking directly North so this spot has the same requirements as spot #2.|
This spot is not commonly used but under the correct circumstances will give good results. Parking for more than three/four cars is not possible and the verge has become increasingly uneven. No facilities are close.
|FOCAL LENGTH||Can only be used on larger subjects and with a long telephoto/zoom. A KC-135 sized subject is over 300mm.|
|Spot #4 – Nook Camp & “Johns” Field – 11 Movements + Ramp|
|WHERE||Commonly known as ‘Johns’ field amongst the Mildenhall veterans, the Nook campsite and viewing area is the most popular of the viewing locations around Mildenhall. From spot #3 above and Jarmans lane on the South Western side of the base continue heading West and you will quickly come to a T junction, turn North towards the base and immediately after that you come to a small triangle junction, turn right and you are on Pollards lane heading in towards the base. Pollards is a poor quality, extremely rough track with little visibilty forwards given the over hanging trees so take care and keep slow. The gate allowing entry to the viewing and camping area is on the left and has a welcome sign clearly visible. Parking for day visitors is straight ahead and down the dirt track inbetween the two fields, then parking on the grass beside the fence on your right.|
|WHAT||This area is right up against the underrun for runway 11. An old trailer, topped by some pallets is located in the corner to you right and allows a clear view over this end of the airfield, above the fence and barbed wire without a ladder but space is restricted to a few people. Using your own ladder along the fence is quite acceptable and delivers the same results. Any aircraft backtracking for the 11 underrun is just a few feet in front of you, this is usually only ‘heavy’ KC/RC-135s. Aircraft taxiing onto the standard length runway 11 from North and South can be photographed as well. From the trailer or a ladder you also have a clear view of any aircraft climbing out of runway 29 towards you, although most will be high by the time they reach you. The ‘Alpha’ pad used by the CV-22s of the 7th SOS is also to your right just to the North side of the runway and joining taxiway, although rather distant. Finally, this area gives a near perfect view of the runway 11 approach. By the fence or on the trailer is generally considered too close as you are underneath the subject, it is better to walk back down the track you came in on to get some distance.|
|TIME||Looking directly over the runway and approach from the South you have the same requirements as the previous spots. Aircraft taxiing onto runway 11 to your right, Ospreys on the ‘Alpha’ pad, and aircraft rotating towards you off 29 are afternoon/evening shots when the sun has gone past the centreline.|
‘Johns’ field and the Nook campsite are privately owned facilities and as you pass through the gate, on your right and hanging on the wall of the toilet and shower block is an ‘honesty’ box where it is expected that visitors will pay a token fee, currently £1.50 per person each day. Caravans and campers are welcome but need to contact the site operator in advance. This area is considered one of the jewels of the UK military enthusiast scene, so it is strongly suggested that the visitor respects the site operators wishes and obeys the rules. During periods of poor and wet weather, as well as over Christmas the site is closed and the gate is locked with access denied. A toilet/restroom block is located on the site, and access to basic snacks is also available. Further site details and contact information pleas click here.
|FOCAL LENGTH||Aircraft landing on 11 vary depending how far back you walk, A C-17 is about 80mm if you have backed up against the toilet block or parked caravans. Up against the fence with a ladder a ‘135 sized aircraft turning on the underrun is around 50 to 80mm depending on position. Aircraft turning onto runway 11 from the North and South on your right and not using the underrun require 100mm or more depending on size. The ‘Alpha’ pad is a good 300mm plus.|
|Spot #5 – Pollards Lane – Ramp + 29 Departures|
|WHERE||This is reached by simply not turning into the Nook campsite on Pollards lane and by just driving down to the end of the lane which finishes with a crash gate.|
|WHAT||A tall ladder is essential as you are faced by a crash gate topped by the now familiar barbed wire. Whilst not very far from spot #4 this has the advantage of being closer and overlooking the 7th SOS CV-22 parking apron and the ‘Alpha’ pad from which the majority of Osprey departures and landings are conducted, although they do sometimes use the main runway. Aircraft rolling out on runway 29 can also be photographed here, with visiting types turning North away from you, but resident KC-135/MC-130 and RC-135s turning onto the Southern taxiway directly in front of you. Aircraft climbing out of runway 29 can also be shot here, although the same height problems as at spot #4 exist.|
|TIME||This is a afternoon/early evening position for when the sun has moved across to the South West. Anything shot earlier will be backlit.|
There is very little room at the end of Pollards, you can probably get about 3/4 ladders down here at most and parking is just alongside the lane, but further back from the gate. This is rarely a problem as the spot is not well used, the only advantage over the previous spot being if the Ospreys are operating or an aircraft is taking the Southern taxiway. Like Folly Rd, this is another spot that can attract attention from the security forces, but also like Folly is usually tolerated although you may be approached by the MoD police.
|FOCAL LENGTH||Ospreys operating from the pad are around 300mm, resident types taxiing to/from the runway on ‘Bravo’ taxiway in front of you are about 50mm. Aircraft rolling out after a 29 arrival or climbing out on 29 vary considerably depending on size and distance, a ‘135 sized subject rolling out comes down to about 150mm.|
|Spot #6 – Hurdle Drove – 11 Arrivals|
|WHERE||Rather than turn right into Pollards lane for spots #4 and 5, just keep left and drive along Hurdle Drove at the Western approach end of the base. Parking here is limited to just a small area grass verge for 1/2 cars max on the left side of the road and the entrance to another crash gate on the right hand side, just to the South of the runway lights. Parking on the grass verge at the entrance here is fine for a couple of cars without blocking the track.|
|WHAT||Only useful for the runway 11 approach and duplicates the Nook site visible to your right, but allows a certain amount of freedom in walking back further down the side of the road to frame larger subjects. No ladder required either.|
|TIME||Similar to the other South side spots, only backlit during the early morning or evening during summer.|
Can be used quickly if not concerned with going into the Nook campsite/’Johns’ field. Parking is very limited and walking beside the straight road could potentially be dangerous – take care if used!
|FOCAL LENGTH||You can vary your distance depending on subject, backed up a C-5 is 100mm, adjust distance up and down the road accordingly.|