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RAF Wattisham icons


On Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, Timeline Events organized a fantastic photo shoot at former RAF Wattisham featuring some iconic military aircraft. This event was organized in collaboration with the Wattisham Station Heritage Museum which holds three old fighter aircraft that played an important role within British military aviation. RAF Wattisham, located in Suffolk, opened in 1939 as a medium bomber station equipped with Bristol Blenheim bomber aircraft after which this airfield in 1942 was handed over to the United States Army Air Forces (ASAAF). In 1946, the base was returned to the Royal Air Force and became home of squadrons equipped with Gloster Meteor, Hawker Hunter and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 aircraft. During the Cold War RAF Wattisham was a major front-line air force base, operating Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) before closing as a Royal Air Force station in 1993. Since 1993 it has been operated by the British Army as Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Wattisham. 


The photo shoot itself took place near a Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) at an older area of former RAF Wattisham which is home to the restored McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR2 XT914. This iconic supersonic jet was withdrawn from service in November 1992 and went to RAF Leeming, where it was positioned as a gate guardian. It was later transferred to RAF Brampton to also stand as a gate guardian. With the closure of RAF Brampton at the end of 2013, Phantom XT914 was saved from the scrap and returned to its original home at Wattisham where it was restored and displayed as part of the Wattisham Station Heritage Museum collection. During its operational life, the Phantom FGR2 XT914 was part of the 228 OCU at RAF Coningsby, 14 Squadron and 17 Squadron at RAF Bruggen, 92 Squadron at RAF Wildenrath and 56 Squadron at RAF Wattisham. Thanks to the work of some reenactors and the unique location of this shoot, we returned briefly to the glory days of the impressive Phantoms. 


In addition to the Phantom FGR2 XT914, photographers were also able to take pictures of the Hawker Hunter XG194 and the Armstrong Whitworth Meteor WD686. The Hawker Hunter XG194 was delivered to the RAF on October 3rd 1956 and became part of the Black Arrows Display Team when they performed a historical 22 aircraft loop at Farnborough Air show in July 1958. When the aircraft was finally grounded it was modified to resemble a Russian MiG, and put on the edge of RAF North Luffenham runway as a Cold War target. In September 2012, this Hawker Hunter finally regained its black color as during the days of the Black Arrows. In honor of Air Commodore Topp as “Blackjack Red One” this Hawker Hunter was named "Blackjack" by the Wattisham Station Heritage Museum. They chose this because “Blackjack Red One” was Topp's call sign whilst performing the record-breaking maneuver. The Armstrong Whitworth Meteor WD686 (Gloster Meteor) was the last aircraft to fly out of RAF Defford before this airfield finally closed for flying in 1958. After its operational life, this Meteor was also part of the collection of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, The Muckleburgh Collection at Weybourne in Norfolk and the Boscombe Down Aircraft Museum at Old Sarum in Wiltshire. On 8th September 2023 WD686 was moved to Wattisham to join the Wattisham Station Heritage Museum.


Due to the unique location, the presence of reenactors and the beautifully restored aircraft, the participating photographers were taken back for several hours to the 1970s when the Cold War was in full swing. This well organized event ended with an impressive appearance of the Phantom FGR2 XT914 combined with two reenactors in the Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) filled with smoke and special lighting creating a beautiful Phantom silhouette. 

The author and photographer would like to thank Timeline Events and the Wattisham Station Heritage Museum for this fantastic photo shoot! 

Text & photos: Kris Christiaens

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