This scene from the video below was in fact not recorded in Libya, but in the Royal Air Force base Waddington near the University town of Lincoln. During its annual RAF Waddington International Air Show, which is the largest of all RAF shows in the United Kingdom, over 130.000 visitors and many members from foreign air forces visit the area.
But once the marvelling crowd has dispersed and the fumes of the jets have been blown away, another species of aircraft enthusiasts still remain. I meet two of them after a dangerous bicycle ride on the car-infested A-15 at the Waddington Aircraft Viewing Enclosure (WAVE). As I learn later, this tarred spot was custom-built by the RAF and even houses a snack bar, the Sentry Point.
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At first a bit reluctant that someone actually wants to talk with them about their passion, the duo soon becomes forthcoming. Ian Moore, a grey-haired pensioner from Scampton explains why he spends the whole day close to a busy road: ‘I am here because I am retired, and I do it out of interest for airplanes. I take pictures and write down aircraft registration numbers.’
His fellow Graham Cortney, a burly forty-something with mirrored aviator sunglasses adds: ‘I am very interested in the photography side of aircraft and travel around the county to visit aircraft museums, but I also keep a list of all the aircraft that are coming to Waddington. I record them in a book called Military Aircraft Spotting.’
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While he explains his passion for aircraft spotting, the ‘aircraft enthusiast’, as he refers to himself, sits in a camping chair and adjusts the frequency of his creaking scanner. When I ask whether it was legal to overhear the communication between the tower and the pilots he just shrugs and says: ‘It is not really legal, but the RAF allows it, they don’t bother us as long as we don’t make a nuisance of ourselves.’
He says that with the ability to overhear radio traffic as far as Coningsby, he often hears of near misses when pilots who come in the wrong way notice that there is a plane coming in from the other direction. ‘There are a lot of things that happen all the time in the air but do not get recorded much because it is such a commonplace.’
|Not an usual anorak...|
The two are aware that the public considers them to be a little bit weird. ‘They think we are nutters’ laughs Mr. Brittain, while Mr. Cortney adds: ‘Especially the young people, who go clubbing every night, they call us old fuddy-duddies and anoraks.’ A prejudice that Naomi Green, a nurse from Lincoln, confirms. ‘These anoraks are definitely weird’ she says. ‘Who else would sit around the whole day and look at planes?’
But Mr. Cortney says it is an interest. And he points out that they also are a part of the fight against international terrorism: ‘For example if we see a car full of Muslims who set up big receivers and aerials. It might look a bit suspicious then and we let the RAF know. We can report any stranger that comes in.’ In fact, aircraft spotters around the country have been approached by the police and asked to act as a lookout and to report anything suspicious.
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On my remark that Muslim aircraft spotters have a hard time to indulge in their hobby at the moment Mr. Cortney remarks gravely: ‘Yes, you don’t know whether they are friendly and if they are not working for somebody else. But it is very rare you get Muslims up here. Mostly we get a lot of Dutch and French people.’
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We are joined by Ron Brittain, an 80-year old plane-spotting veteran, who remembers a time when he actually saw suspicious people near the air base: ‘A few years ago the RAF regiment were having an exercise and this battered old pick-up truck drove in here with three of four people dressed up as Iraqis. They got their AK-47s in the back of the thing and the back was down and they parked just here in the spotting area, which was the wrong place. They were supposed to be in the exercise area. They were playing the enemy. So the chap that used to run that place then he rang the base, and then he rang the civil police. And the police came in and all these people suddenly realized they were in the wrong place.”
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Apart from reporting potential terrorists, aircraft spotters are also involved in reporting other suspicious observations, only this time to the embarrassment of the authorities.An American Gulfstream jet that was named in a 2006 inquiry by the European Parliament into alleged CIA ‘torture flights’ was seen by aircraft spotters touching down both in Birmingham and Prestwick airport in 2009. Human rights campaigners are convinced that planes of that type were used to transfer suspected terrorists to countries that turn a blind eye to torture.
|Good spot for spotting?|
Mr. Moore, however, does not sympathise with them: ‘There are rules for each country and if you don’t respect them it’s your own fault’ he says, and listens with half an ear to the creaking scanner, where the next pilot is asking for clearance to land.
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