Airfield Viewing Guide - RAF Lakenheath
RAF Lakenheath is a USAFE base located only a few minute's drive from RAF Mildenhall, West of the A1065 between Mildenhall and Brandon, around 12 miles North-East of Newmarket in Suffolk. The 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, otherwise known as the Liberty Wing, is based here and provides the mainstay of any activity you'll see.
|494th Panther Ops
|Supervisor Of Flight
|Approach / Radar
|2nd April 2022
What you can expect to see
F-15s and F-35s, and plenty of them. The F-35As of the 495th Fighter Squadron (Valkyries) are now based at Lakenheath, and as a result the F-15C/Ds of the 493rd Fighter Squadron (Grim Reapers) have ceased operations. This will not be an end to the F-15 in the UK though, as the F-15Es of the 492nd (Bolars) and 494th (Panthers) Fighter Squadrons will continue to be based here.
Each squadron flies on almost every weekday from around 08:00 to around 16:00 and often later. Lakenheath sees intermittent visitors from abroad, though fewer than before - for instance F-16s (mostly USAF ones), USAF transports, F-15s from stateside or European units or foreign operators transiting through, etc. Sometimes aircraft from Mildenhall divert here too. On rare occasions you may even see an RAF aircraft fly an approach and overshoot.
Lakenheath is normally completely dead at weekends; indeed they sometimes place obstructions on the runway at weekends to make sure it stays that way! Friday afternoons are now usually very quiet too, with flying often stopping by midday.
F-16 departing (taken from point B); author
Assuming you are coming off the A11, take the A1065 off the A11 roundabout and just follow the road North. After a while you'll see some large water towers on the left side of the road and the road curves to the right. The speed limit drops to 40 from now on and you can come across queues of stopped traffic so be careful. At the traffic lights outside the main entrance to the base (A) you can glimpse the F-100 gate guard (to take photos of this, you would need to contact the base in advance requesting permission).
Aircraft breaking into the circuit can do so more or less overhead here but it's very hit and miss, they are high, there is nowhere to park and the police will soon show up if you hang around here, as it is opposite to the entrance. So, continuing on... you'll pass another entrance (in another 40mph zone), then once past that the end of the runway comes into view and there is a layby on the right-hand side of the road where you can pull over and park under some trees (B). This is access to National Trust land so do not block the lane entrance! There is normally room for 10 or so cars to park here. This is known as 'the forest entrance'.
In 2021 there were a few instances of the police turning up to move cars on if they parked on the roadside verge further along from the forest entrance - despite there being no apparent restriction markings. It isn't the safest place to park, so it is perhaps unsurprising that it occasionally provokes police attention, but most days you'll find the verge being used regardless.
F-15E taxiing (taken from near point B); author
This is a decent spot from which to take photographs of aircraft on approach to runway 24, though the trees to your right can mask their approach and give you only a few seconds in which to take your shot after you hear engine noise. For F-15s etc. you ideally need to take a short walk to get closer to the runway, depending upon your lens size.
F-15E on finals (taken from point C); author
It's also a fine spot for logging serials of aircraft landing or taxiing out onto the runway from the hangars across the road. Aircraft taking off on 06 will initially be out of sight but the mounting volume of noise will alert you to their presence and you have a good opportunity to take pictures of them as they climb and often bank towards you for a nice topside.
For good side-on shots of aircraft on approach to 24, a walk into the field here is necessary. The gate is now replaced by barbed wire, but it's easy enough to climb over in the corner by the track entrance. Now you can position yourself anywhere you fancy (e.g. point C), on either side of the approach depending on the time of day and therefore sun position. Eagles do tend to be a little high here though. You can of course stick to the roadside outside the field but traffic can be heavy and is usually fast so take care. The field itself is mostly Open Access land so the MoD police should not have any issues with you being there unless you are among the approach lights - that strip of land is not Open Access.
F-22 on final (taken from point D); author
If you want some nice reheat shots of anything taking off on 24, you can cross the road and shoot through the fence; there's a large expanse of verge so you are safe from the traffic on the road. However the runway is fairly distant so a big lens is necessary (say 500mm+). The distance, high chainlink fence and other obstructions within the airfield makes this spot more useful for head-on pictures of aircraft on finals to 24 really; it also tends to make base security take more of an interest if you hang around close to the fence.
If you couldn't find enough room to park at point B, your next option is the paved layby on the left side of the road just after the approach lights (E). While this is an OK spot for photos of aircraft landing on 24, it's not a pleasant place to wait at because of the traffic on the A1065. You're better off parking in the viewing area and walking back here.
F-16 taxiing (taken from point G); author
So, give up on this and keep on going on the A1065 to the traffic lights at the crossroads; turn left here and then turn left immediately again (signposted for the Aircraft Viewing Area). Down this small road you'll soon see the viewing enclosure on your left F. There are a good number of parking spaces here but they tend to fill up quickly if anything remotely exciting is rumoured to be happening - the lane leading to the carpark then fills up on either side too (please DO NOT park on these grass verges - they are a protected nature reserve and home to some rare plant life). The viewing area is fine for logging serials but is poor for photography because of the high fences surrounding it.
While from the viewing area you can get fairly good views across the airfield, some aircraft are bound to be at just the wrong angle to get a serial read off, or partially hidden, and it's not great for photography of aircraft taking off from 06. So, out of the viewing area and turn left towards the crash gate (G - don't forget to wave at the CCTV camera - or armed guard on some days!).
Better photographic opportunities exist further along the private road towards Wangford (from points G to H). In 2021 one of the residents at the end of the road put up signs forbidding aircraft viewing from the lane, but in fact a public footpath runs the length of the lane (on the right hand verge) so you're entitled to use this freely, on foot or bike or horse! There is a taxiway and holding area on this side and F-15s delayed for whatever reason will wait here; those that have landed on 06 also sometimes use this area to hold until they a parking spot opens up for them. There's a raised grass verge on the footpath side of the lane and a medium to large stepladder can help to view over the fence from there.
Right up at the end of the lane is a yard of an abandoned farm building, but it is private property and one of the local residents (probably the culprit for the signs) takes great exception to people using this spot so please avoid it. The public footpath goes on to wander off into the countryside in this direction but it is little use for viewing.
F-15E sunset (taken from point D); author
F-35A landing (taken from between points G and H); author
F-15E take-off (taken from between points G and H); author
F-15C taxiing (taken from point J); author
If runway 06 is in use and you want to try some different taxiing shots, go back to your car, leave the viewing area and go back down the road you came in. Turn left to go towards Lakenheath village on Wangford Road. At the t-junction turn left towards Lakenheath and proceed into the town. Turn left into Wings Road and join Maids Cross Hill. There is a public car park along this road for access to the nature reserve (I), and you can walk down to the crash gate (J) to see aircraft using the Northern taxiway. A ladder is necessary to shoot over the fence, or just take photos through the chain link. There have been reports of spotters being challenged by base personnel at this spot, despite being entirely within their rights to be here and having used this spot for years without a problem. As ever, be polite, you can always come back another time.
F-15C taxiing (taken from point K); author
To the South is a track leading to the hill (all Open Access land) and from here (K) you have a good view over the airfield. This can offer views of aircraft on the western taxiway but is too distant from the runway for decent flying shots. You can continue to follow the perimeter fence for a long way here but unless you particularly need the exercise or want to explore this ancient landscape, it's not worth it; there are no real improvements in photo opportunities.
Back into the village and turn left go further down the B1112. Outside the village there is a small derelict church and a barn on the right, and just before this on the left there is a rather well hidden entrance to a public footpath/vehicle track. You'll probably need to drive past one or two times to spot it! There's room for a handful of cars to park in this entrance (L), as long as you don't block the farmer's access. From here the view of the station is pretty much non-existent but there's a well trodden path leading closer.
F-15E on final (taken from point M); author
If you walk up the path towards the station you'll soon see the perimeter fence ahead of you. You can choose to keep left and straight on towards point M for landing shots on runway 06 (best light late on summer days), but much more usefully you can head to the fence in line with the runway and walk around to the other side of the approach (N). The outer fence here actually surrounds land now used by the American High School, so you can't get get as close as you used to be able to, and the distance from the runway end is significant. Walking further south along the fence line can be useful for topsides of aircraft breaking hard left after an extended low approach to runway 24 (very hit and miss, if you get one a day doing it this late you're lucky), or on final approach to runway 06.
F-15E 'unrestricted climb' (taken from near point O); author
Point O offers limited alternate parking for this end of the runway but can offer some photo opportunities too. It's directly on the runway heading, so you do get aircraft going overhead. You only get a few second's warning of aircraft departing from 24 and they are normally fairly high here but occasionally (often on Fridays for some reason), pilots will request a 'quick climb' on departure. This means a Lightning-style departure with full reheat, straight up! Handily they seem to pull back on the stick just before they cross the road here, so if you're quick you can get a shot of them pulling up into the sky, vapour boiling off the top surfaces and burners blazing. It's hit and miss but you may get lucky.
You can also walk into the entrance and turn left to strike out in the field behind the road here. This is so-so for approach photos when 06 is in use (they're a bit high really) but also offers a more side-on view of aircraft keeping it low on take-off. Follow the track in the field South to the edge of the field (where there is a public bridleway). You can progress further, into the next field and towards the group of trees near the stream crossing to get shots of aircraft curving round onto finals; they are still banked over towards you as they go past so side-on shots are easy despite their height at this point. A further walk would probably enable you to get topside shots but steer clear of the house further on, the owners might take exception to camera-toting spotters practically in their garden.
Lakenheath village has a number of petrol stations and convenience stores and a Lloyds/TSB bank with a cashpoint that accepts most cash cards.
RAF Mildenhall is a short drive away so you can certainly visit both bases in one day.
Security: Base security or MoD police will take an interest in you around the less-easily-accessible points on this guide but are normally okay with you being there once they know what you're up to.
There have in the past been some incidents of base security telling people outside the fence that they are not permitted to take photos except from the approved viewing area. This is nonsense. You are entirely within your rights to walk on the public footpaths and open access land bordering the airfield, and take photographs of aircraft in flight. They can legitimately object to you taking photos of the airfield itself but US security have no powers outside the fence and would need to call the local police to deal with you if they felt you were a genuine security concern. If you are hassled, threatened or lied to in this manner by USAFE security personnel you should complain to the station commander at RAF Lakenheath and also to the local police. The US are after all guests in our country - not the other way round. Equally, however, being polite and friendly will get you a lot less grief than winding them up!
The "Lakenheath Action Group" (who are opposed to nuclear weapons being stored on the base) occasionally try and break into the station and this results in heightened security and occasional closures of the viewing area.
Contributors: author, Michael Anderson, Nick Challoner, Mike Tighe.