Thunder & Lightnings

Airfield Viewing Guide

RAF Waddington

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General Description

RAF Waddington is located East of Waddington village, between the A607 and A15, 3 miles South of Lincoln in Lincolnshire. "Waddo", as it is popular known, is home to No.34 Expeditionary Air Wing, the RAF's ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance) centre, consisting of 5(AC) Squadron (Sentinel R.1), 8 Squadron (E-3D Sentry R.1), 39 Squadron (Reaper - none actually based at Waddington though) and 54(R) Squadron (ISTAR training on all three based types - no airframes of their own really though their badge appears on the E-3s alongside the 8 Squadron badge) as well as various entirely ground-based supporting units.

RAF Waddington viewing locations
Frequencies
FrequencyDescription
125.350Zone
127.350Zone
231.800PAR
234.625Operations
250.850Approach
256.675Tower
259.525Zone
291.675ATIS
308.625Departures
378.500Director
379.950Operations
386.625Operations

What you can expect to see

Waddington is nowhere near as busy as it used to be with regular foreign and RAF fighter deployments having ceased with the closing of the North Sea ACMI ranges. These days you are only likely to see a handful of movements a day, a mixture of the based types (Sentry and Sentinel), practice approaches from Cranwell's Tutors and King Airs, and occasional visitors such as NATO E-3s, French Xingus, RAF helicopters stopping for fuel and so on. The Lincolnshire Air Ambulance is also based on the airfield and is a common sight.

Waddington is a 24-hour emergency diversion airfield, so occasionally aircraft will divert here if they have problems or their destination is weathered in. As the station is basically shut down over the weekend though, anything diverting here between Friday afternoon and Sunday is stuck there until Monday! Other infrequent users of Waddington are civilian aircraft using the runway for training - something RAF types do much more often of course.

Viewing

This station is easily found alongside the A15 just south of Lincoln, with the Waddington Aircraft Viewing Area (WAVE) signposted just before you get to it (A), and opposite the preserved Vulcan. WAVE is one of the best viewing areas in the country, with lots of (paved!) parking, toilets (airshow style) plus, believe it or not, the Sentry Snack Bar and Shop. Hot and cold drinks and hot food available all day, ideal for those winter days waiting for something good to turn up! Opening times do vary a little but it's normally open by 9 or 10 in the morning and closes by 6. Sitting here in the car park you can get passable shots of aircraft landing on runway 20, or departing from runway 02, but for really good shots you'll need to get walking. Tucano on final
Tucano on final approach (taken from WAVE, point A - 500mm); author
Tornado F.3s taxiing
Tornado F.3s taxiing (taken on stepladder south of point B; 180mm); author
So, out of your car and cross the road - the A15 is very busy with fast-moving traffic, so take care. On this side of the road (B) all that's between you and aircraft taxiing is a thoughtfully small fence plus some vegetation and barbed wire - there are a few spots where the geography of the verge means you can get clear(ish) shots across this lot but to be honest a small stepladder is in order. What that gives you is truly excellent views of aircraft taxiing at close range - a 28-200 size lens will do for stuff on the taxiway, up to 300-400mm lenses for fighters ending their landing run on 02 (or landing on 20) or smaller for E-3s. You can also look South down the taxiway to sometimes see at least the tails of aircraft parked up on the dispersals there - no good for photos because of obstructions but possibly useful for serials. As they taxi out of these dispersals heat haze and distance tends to make photos fairly pointless.
Looking across the airfield to the Northernmost hangar (the modern looking one) you'll see any E-3s parked outside; photos aren't really worth the bother because of obstructions though a 300mm lens can frame an E-3 over there quite well. Aircraft departing from 02 will usually lift off out of sight over the hump of the runway and are a little high by the time they get close to you, but passable shots can be had. It's always worth tracking any departures - particularly of visiting fighter types - with your camera anyway, because some of them show off a little, knowing that you're there. Aircraft departing from 20 or landing on 20 give you even better photo opportunities. Sentry departing
Sentry departing (taken from south of point B; 375mm); author
Sentinel on final
Sentinel on final (taken from north of point B, 150mm); author
Further up the road the fence becomes a much higher affair as it runs along the end of the runway, so a stepladder is necessary to see over - just don't set yourself up directly on the centreline or within a short distance either side! The fence has been blown over a few times in recent years by departing or landing aircraft so it's not a healthy place to hang around for long at! The opposite side of the road (C) is a little safer though obviously offers no view inside the airfield itself. The wide verge on the airfield side does at least offer a bit more separation from the busy A15 traffic so that you can reposition at will as the light changes through the day.
There's one further spot good for arrivals to runway 20, or aircraft circuit bashing on 02. Bloxholm Lane runs to the North-East of the A15 and fighters often turn over it, providing good topside photo opportunities. E-3s circuit bashing on 02 sometimes turn quite tightly on departure giving similar opportunities. So, back to the car and drive out of the WAVE, turning right, then taking the first right into Bloxholm Lane just before you reach Bracebridge Heath. Now if you keep an eye out on your right you'll soon see the approach lights again. There are a number of places where you can pull off the road to park (particularly on the wide flat verge on the right e.g. D). Anyway, basically the whole length of this road can be useful, it depends entirely on the style of circuit aircraft are carrying out. If you're lucky you can get some nice top-side shots as they bank hard over to bring themselves onto the approach for 20 or downwind for 02. As always the bigger your lens the better; 400mm is really a minimum for this style of shot and frankly on most days you'll need much more. NATO E-3 turning finals
NATO E-3 turning onto finals (taken from near point D, 800mm); author

The next spot is more for spotters than photographers - back to the car and continue down the road, turning right onto the B1178. As you reach the A15 you'll see a track straight ahead. This runs along part of the southern perimeter of the station. It is gated, and sometimes locked, although ownership of it is not clear (MoD or farmer). Either way, enthusiasts regularly drive up it (E) to get more views of any aircraft parked in the dispersals nearby (a rarity these days!), often providing another serial or two, mostly without serious hassle from the station or from the farmer. I would recommend parking nearby and walking (in case the gates are locked after driving up!) and being courteous to anyone challenging you.

Nimrod on approach
Nimrod on approach (taken from point F, 600mm); author
There are a lot of dispersals down at the southern end of the airfield, and these are sometimes used by visitors, or even residents (particularly on the airshow weekend) so it can be worth a look here just to make sure. Also, of course, if runway 02 is in use then for any approach shots you need to get to the Southern end of the airfield anyway. To do so, drive South on the A15 and turn right to head West on the B1178. After approximately 1.5 miles the road bends to the right and then to the left; as it bends right there's a lane running North (actually an old Roman road). This lane has become very rough in recent years with some suspension-killing potholes and often lots and lots of mud so it's best to leave your car at the start of the lane (F). Large aircraft on approach can be photographed from here, but you need a big lens - 500mm+.
So, it's best to walk the rest of the way to the crash gate (G) - if you do bring a vehicle down here though, please park off to the side so you don't block the gate - there's room for at least three cars to do this. From here you're right next to a large dispersal and can look across to the 02 threshold; nice landing shots in the morning if you have a big lens (300mm plus, less for larger types) - but only of them airborne, the large lighting poles along the fence ruin the view as they pass to your right. You can also walk along the fence between the new wire-mesh fence and the old wooden fence/hedge (i.e. keeping off the farmer's fields) if you need to. The RAF police do sometimes move people on from here so if you intend to stay at this end for some time it really is best to leave your car further down the lane rather than near the crash gate. Nimrod on final
Nimrod on final (taken from point H, 75mm); author
Su-30 taxiing off runway
Su-30 taxiing off runway (taken from east of point H, 680mm); author
To get closer to the runway end, simply continue walking west following the station fence and you'll soon see the approach lights (H). Not only can you get great head-on or side-on landing shots from around here, you can also catch aircraft touching down (from behind naturally) or completing their landing roll on 20, or get good reheat shots of fighter aircraft departing from 02 - though you'll need a stepladder to see over the fence. It's obviously not the safest place in the world so try and keep off the direct centreline and don't be surprised if you do get asked to leave on some days. Locals do tend to use the field edges round here as unofficial footpaths e.g. for dogwalking so you can also reach this spot from the A607 if need be.
Returning to the crash gate, there is another dispersal that can be reached by walking to the right of the gate, following the station fence once again. This does get tight in some places where you'll have to squeeze past hedges etc. but does lead to the final dispersal worth checking out (I). The viewing is not easy as there is a high chainlink fence but some shots can be had through the chainlink, or if you want to go to the trouble of bringing a large stepladder there are a few spots where the ground is stable enough to use it to take photos over the top of the fence. It has to be said that station security aren't keen on spotters venturing down here, and as it is unusual for anybody to bother doing so, you will almost certainly attract a response. On that basis it is best to steer clear of this particular spot unless there is something particularly juicy parked up that has already attracted a crowd (the last time this occurred was the Indian Su-30 deployment in 2007). Su-30 parked
Su-30 parked (taken from near point I, 130mm); author
Islander on approach
Islander on approach (taken from point J, 650mm); author
Back down the lane and turn right to get back onto the B1178 and just before you reach the A607 crossroads there are a couple of places off the side of the road where you can park (only room for one car on one and two or three on the other though); e.g. by a field entrance (J). Aircraft on approach to 02 pass nearly overhead here, but are usually quite high so photographically it's a bit of a dead loss. One further spot not well known is a footpath that is about 200 meters South of Waddington village, leading off the A607 and going right up to the airfield perimeter fence (K). From here a 300-400 mm lens will give you good shots, but it's only useful in the late afternoon because of the sun's position earlier in the day. It does offer good views across to the dispersals, depending on which ones are in use of course, but they are too distant for photography.

That's about it for Waddo; there are three preserved airframes on the station - the Vulcan you will have already seen, but if you want pictures of the Lightning or Phantom, you'll need to visit the annual airshow. The Lightning is visible from the WAVE area (far too distant for photos); the Phantom is hidden behind some buildings near the Sentry hangar.

Preserved Lightning
Preserved Lightning (taken from within the station); author
Preserved Phantom
Preserved Phantom (taken from within the station); author

Other Information

RAF Waddington hosts a major two-day airshow each year, which is well worth attending. On the Thursday and Friday before the show and the Monday after, the RAF open up part of the station by the threshold of runway 20 (L) and charge around 5 quid for entrance (the WAVE is shut on these days). This is excellent for logging serials, and great for photos (though for stuff landing on 20, the morning and early afternoon sun makes life difficult - stuff taxiing is fine though). Many people walk outside onto the verge for the first half of the day, and while the RAF would prefer that people didn't because of the dangers of the A15, there's never been any attempt to put a serious stop to this. The local police cone off huge amounts of the roads for miles around, so cough up your five quid or whatever and park on the airfield!

The general attitude to spotters at Waddington is pretty relaxed; during the airshow, however, the parking restrictions are draconian and access to the southern end of the airfield is monitored much more closely. The no parking zone extends for some miles away from the airfield and basically rules out parking anywhere but on the airfield itself or in residential areas of the local villages (not the main road). Almost all of the spots on this guide are within the airshow no parking zone.

Petrol and shops available in Waddington village.
Tornado taxiing
Tornado taxiing in (taken from point L, airshow arrival); author

RAF Scampton is about 30 minutes away to the North via the A607/A15, RAF Coningsby is about 30 minutes away to the East via the A17 and A153 and RAF Cranwell is about 20-30 minutes away to the South via the A15 or A607.

Contributors: Nick Challoner, Michael Anderson, author, Gary Parsons, Milscanners.

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Site contents copyright © 2014 Damien Burke/Handmade by Machine Ltd.
This page last updated on Thursday 12th April 2012

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