Bombing along

by Steve Wilson

ON 17 August 1990, as an RAF navigator, I dropped a practice bomb on Holbeach range in the Wash. It was a perfectly run-of-the mill occurrence.  What I did not know, however, was that I would not be back over that target for 22 years.

You see, the UK has an ever-diminishing number of live weapons ranges scattered around its coastline, all of which need to be protected by a large volume of airspace provided exclusively to the range users. This, of course, is the Danger Area, and its mere existence has been a bone of contention with recreational aviators for generations.

Your regular perusal of ENR 5-1-3 of the UK AIP will have informed you that Holbeach is protected by EG D207 from the surface to 23,000ft and from 0900 on a Monday to 1200 on a Friday. Outside these hours, ordnance disposal was often required, so the top of the danger area was lowered to 5000ft to permit the transit of aircraft while protecting them from the activity below.

Late in 2011 the CAA announced that, in future, such disposal activity would be by NOTAM only, which meant that Holbeach range would be open at the weekends, so I began to plan a visit.

Unfortunately I fly an SSDR flexwing in East Anglia, so in 2011 desire and execution were proving to be two very separate things. Finally the high-pressure weather system arrived and I was off in my open, unpodded, chariot, undaunted by temperatures below freezing.

As is always the case with me, the entire aim was to take my camera for a flight, although I was also curious as to what changes had occurred during my 22-year absence. What I found was Holbeach exactly as I remembered it. I really could not spot anything unfamiliar

I hope that those who were unaware of this change in our airspace will make use of it to expand their horizons a little and see a bit of British military heritage.

In case you were wondering: my logbook tells me that in 1990 I was in a single Tornado GR1, registration ZA471, flown by Flt Lt Heard. We took off from RAF Laarbruch in Germany, dropped one bomb on Holbeach and then went round the corner and dropped three on Wainfleet. On the way back to Laarbruch we took fuel from a Tristar tanker over the North Sea.  The whole trip took 2h from lift-off to touchdown.

In 2012 I flew a Dragonfly from RAF Honington in a straight line there and back and took 3h 15min, landing with very cold feet and a very full bladder.

A selection of target types is available, and we never used the posts on the left; they must have been developed for another aircraft type. Target positions do not change. When the target wears out you just tow another one in, as seen at the top right

A classic dive-bombing target, marked with barrels and long lead-in lines showing the safe direction for weapon release and, possibly, laser ranging. Upper left of the dive circle is probably a simulated tank target. Top left of the picture suggests a previous position for the dive circle

An old Holbeach favourite known to locals as the doughnut but always to us as the plug. This was an experimental reservoir from the 1970s and sat, handily, where we turned onto base for dive attacks. Depending on the wind, you adjusted your turnpoint relative to this to get the dive angle and attack direction right

The sharp angles and elevation of the sea wall make it a great radar reflector for locating the target

The single ship must be popular, judging by the impact marks