Airfield Viewing Guides
About These Guides
The original viewing guides - often copied, never bettered
This section of the site is intended to be a rough guide to where to go to view military or ex-military aircraft at UK airfields. Most of the airfields in question will be active RAF stations, RN air stations or Army bases - a minority will be inactive MoD airfields or civilian owned airfields, at which privately owned ex-military aircraft may be seen. A few entries will be added to cover exercise areas/firing ranges as I get time.
Contributions to this area of the site are especially welcome; I can't complete it without help! In particular I'd like photos taken at airfields not yet covered, or from points mentioned in existing guides that do not have an accompanying photo for illustration.
Airfields vary in the amount of activity you can expect. Most military ones are basically shut down at weekends and during the evening and you will be lucky to see any movements. There are, of course, exceptions to prove the rule! The descriptions here will try and give you a rough idea of what to expect on the 'average' day - but don't complain to me if you spend a day at an airfield and see nothing at all - it happens. It's certainly happened to me on more than a few occasions.
If you haven't been spotting at airfields before, there are a few things you may need to know, though you'd probably figure them out anyway...
- If you arrive at 08:00 and nothing's happened by 11:00, chances are nothing will, unless night flying is scheduled. Many military airfields go suddenly and horrible quiet between roughly 12:00 and 14:00 - lunch!
- Flying is normally into wind - to find out which runway is in use, look at the nearest windsock. Many RAF stations have a red/white chequered mobile control tower which will sit near the end of the active runway (the end they will be landing at). Jets will put up with stronger crosswinds than prop jobs which can result in two runways in different directions being in use within very short times of each other.
- Many airfields have a brightly coloured (normally yellow) van driving around with loudspeakers on the roof. This is a bird scarer van, often civilian operated, and many of the drivers are good blokes who'll stop at crash gates to chat to spotters. Handy source of info about what's likely to be flying!
- The massive majority of airfields were military ones at some point, and normal practice was to name them after the local parish, so the village or town of the same name may not necessarily be the one nearest to the airfield.
So, pick an airfield (or several), and plan your day out...
Key (new style guides)
Key (old style guides)
Hopefully the maps on this guide are clear and easy to use; if you spot anything drastically wrong with one, let me know. Keys to explain the various symbols are shown here on the left and right. Open Access land is a fairly recent addition - see the Rights of way and accessing land website for full details on what Open Access means, but basically it denotes land you are free to enter and make use of. Each guide is designed so that you can print just the first page if you want a quick visual guide.
Watching the action, taking photographs and spotting for serial numbers all have very different requirements when it comes to finding a good spot at an airfield - so I have tried to mention where a spot is unsuitable for one or the other. Pictures alongside the text have been taken at or near the spots mentioned. Those credited to 'author' were taken by myself - if no lens size is mentioned, that means it was probably taken with lens in the 28-300mm range. Pictures are always full frame to give you an idea of how much of the frame you'll be able to fill with a lens of the specified size, and lens sizes include any crop factor of the body used - e.g. "450mm" could be a 300mm lens on a 1.5 crop body.
Rules of the Road
Next, a few golden rules. You can ignore them if you want, but expect your hobby to get dramatically more difficult if you do:
- Never enter an airfield without permission. If you're in doubt as to whether you're about to encroach on the airfield itself, just stop right there and don't go any further. There are large fines for unauthorised entry to airfields, and you can expect arrest and a thorough grilling.
- Don't block access gates of any kind, but particularly never, ever, ever, block a crash gate. If there is an accident outside the airfield boundary and you've blocked the appropriate crash gate through which emergency vehicles will go, you can expect to be arrested and I imagine the state of your vehicle will undergo a violent transformation. You may also cause the death of downed aircrew - nuff said.
- Don't go through red lights at runway ends. They're not advisory, they're instructions - you may cause a pilot to abort a landing, or worse, you may cause an accident.
- Bird strikes can kill - don't feed birds, and if you see a load of them in a field near the approach, avoid that field! Scaring a bunch of birds into flapping up into the path of an approaching aircraft is going to make you a seriously unpopular person.
- Don't damage fences or other property just to get yourself a better view of the action. As well as being a crime, the eventual result will probably be a higher and more substantial fence. Buy yourself a stepladder instead!
- If you're asked to move on, do so. You can always come back another time if you think the person asking you to leave is in the wrong; if you make a nuisance of yourself you're not likely to get anywhere and you'll just turn people against spotters. Of course if you are on Open Access land nobody should ask you to move on.
- Parking illegally, littering, using people's gardens for a toilet... well, no, okay. Pretty obvious stuff but the amount of people you see doing any or all of the above is quite amazing.
The authorities at airfields vary in their attitude to spotters, though nowadays you will rarely get moved on and things are much more relaxed than in the past. Warton and Boscombe Down can be a little sticky occasionally, and, bizarrely, the further away a base is from being an active fighter station, the more likely it is that station security (MoD Police) will get uppity (presumably as viewing at such bases is not such a common activity). USAFE bases have USAFE security police who have no powers to do anything to you if you're outside the base, but they can easily call upon MoD Police to help, and sometimes do as they are less understanding of the hobby. In general, though, you shouldn't be bothered when viewing at any UK military airfields. Civilian airports are another matter entirely!
Most of the information here has been contributed by enthusiasts, including myself. Many websites such as Google Maps now offer detailed satellite coverage of UK airfields and The Countryside Access website mentioned earlier is also great for detailed maps of the areas around airfields. Google's Streetview facility often covers the roads around airfields too so you can familiarise yourself with turnings etc. before your trip.
Deployments, Exercises etc.
There are now various Facebook groups which are worth keeping an eye on, too many to list, but in addition...