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RAF Valley  

Gate Guard
(Shown here are two gate guards from some time ago - a Hawker Hunter T.8C and the tail of a Folland Gnat T.1, both of which have now been replaced with a black painted Hawk T.1. The Hunter now lives at the Tacla Taid motor museum on the island.)

The Isle of Anglesey, or Ynys Mon in Welsh, lies off the North West coast of Wales.
RAF Valley is on the West coast of Anglesey, between the towns of Valley and Rhosneigr. There is another RAF airfield nearby at Mona, used for diversions and for practice touch and goes.
  • On an average flying day there will be Hawks, Hawks and more Hawks. They will be lined up on ramps either side of the control tower, and over by the 22 Squadron helicopter Search And Rescue base.
  • If you like Hawks, red ones, black ones, grey ones or blue ones, then you will love it at Valley. The weather would have to be fairly poor for you not to see dozens of movements a day (Monday to Friday) by Hawks. Anglesey is blessed with an excellent climate, part of the reason the airbase is there. The island is also very flat, and adjacent to good low level training areas in the Snowdonian mountains, and to practice ranges further down the Welsh coast.
  • RAF Valley is now the only RAF fast jet training base in the UK. All fast jet pilots pass through here, and since the closure of other bases in England, they will continue their training from the unarmed and high viz Hawk T.1s and onto the grey and fully combat worthy T.1As. These can carry Sidewinder missiles, gun pods and iron bombs.
  • However, though a major part of Valley's function is to host nearly all the Hawks in the RAF inventory, there are frequent visitors, passing trade like F-15Es from Lakenheath, or regular camps by other RAF squadrons to STCAAME or STrike Command Air to Air Missile Establishment.
  • (New information, STCAAME has been renamed the "Air Guided Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit" or AGWOEU.)
  • (Even newer information, sadly the unit has now closed! Which is a great pity for spotters.)
  • Valley is just a few minutes flying time from ranges down the coast, where live ordnance can be used against offshore targets, and air-to-air missiles against pilotless target drones.
  • In the 'good old days' not so long ago there would be visiting squadrons of Lightnings, Buccaneers and Phantoms - now it's Tornado F.3s, Tornado GR.1s, Jaguars and Harriers GR.7s. They tend to stay for a week or a fortnight, fly once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and predicting their comings and goings is a frustrating black art.
  • Passing trade - Valley used to get frequent visits from F-111s, EF-111s, A-10s, even the odd F-16. Now it's mostly 'only' F-15Es from Lakenheath that regularly pass by, or occasionally land. There are frequent visits from French Alpha Jets, Navy Sea Harriers, Hercules of all type, Andovers, Tucanos, Nimrods, VC-10 and Tristar tankers, AWACS Sentries, and a few years ago we even had a couple of German MiG-29s flying around for several weeks. Plus, once or twice a year at least, Valley is visited by the Red Arrows - and they may put on a practice show, just for you. And nowadays the most interesting regular visitors are Eurofighter Typhoons and the occasional F-35 Lightning II.

The Runways

There are four main viewing points, indicated by the four orange blobs on the map above - and corresponding to the main runway in use.

I should stress that RAF Valley is a working airfield, not an entertainment centre for us. There are dangers involved in flying, so please be careful and don't make things worse. Very importantly, don't park in places that could impede safety vehicles - so that means anywhere near the airfield other than the designated spot close to the Base main gates, see below.
There is a perimeter fence around the base, please don't cross it, and please don't allow dogs (or children!) to go inside either - they might shoot them. And finally, avoid loitering near the runway thresholds, you never know what might land on your head!

  • Runway 31 (was 32!)

    Taking off towards Holyhead mountain. Head for Rhosneigr, and park somewhere near the golf club. There are viewing points on either side of the threshold, the West side probably better.

  • Runway 19

    Taking off towards the sea. Come off the A5 towards the Camp itself, follow the road past the Camp housing, over a railway bridge and park in the area provided to the right. This area has been created by Valley for you, and is the recommended parking area for visiting the base. It is the closest and safest place from which to view the aircraft, and the pilots always wave back. Don't feed the birds, don't get run over by a bowser as you snap a Harrier.

  • Runway 13 (was 14!)

    Taking off towards Snowdonia. Follow the road around from the above instructions for 19, away from the Camp entrance, take a left turn at the T junction and follow the nasty narrow road till you get to the rocks, and all the other Rubber-Necks. Take extreme care how you park here, don't block the emergency roads.

  • Runway 01

    Taking off inland. Tricky if you're idle. Park up either as for 31 or 19 above, and walk on the gloriously empty beach around to the end of the runway. Avoid getting too close to the runway threshold again, stay well to one side or another. From here you'll also see the yellow Sea King helicopters of No.22 Squadron, and the black and yellow Griffins, (see No.22 & SARTU the Search And Rescue Training Unit) on the way. They get visits from Pumas, Gazelles, Chinooks, Lynx - and more.

The airfield itself has three runways, however only two are used on a regular basis, 31/13 (the main runway) and 19/01. Hawks, the aircraft based at Valley and by far the most commonly seen, can use either runway. Visitors usually stick to 31/13 due to it's length, though of course Harriers can use as short a runway as they like! On a windy day Tornado F.3s can use 19/01, but that's rare. Also, you can get quite close to AGWOEU from the beach, just about near enough to get pictures of aircraft on the ramp - with a 200mm lens. There is a nice high sand dune at the point where the two beaches meet which gives a panoramic view of the whole camp. And as you walk back to Rhosneigr along the perimeter fence you will pass a largely complete (less engines) venerable old Phantom - with a black Tiger tail - now used for fire drills. (Oh no you won't, suddenly it's disappeared. Damn. It's been replaced by a strange red mock up Hawk used for fire fighting practice)

The Down Side...

The down side to the glamorous world of flying fast jets is that you can get killed doing it. Sadly this happened on the 13th February 1996 at RAF Valley. The first flight of every normal working day is the Weather Hawk, usually taking off at 7:30, 7:45 or 8am. A young chap called Flt Lt Simon Burgess set off on one of these routine missions and didn't make it half way down the runway. It appears his Hawk T.1 (XX164) started to roll as soon as it was airborne, due to a control linkage fault. Simon ejected but was killed. Aviation experts and personal injury lawyers did an investigation on what happened.
His mission had been to report on the cloudbase, visibility and general weather type information which would be useful to the less experienced flyers following him into the air that day. His mission a few years previously (Jan 24th 1991) had been to fly a Tornado GR.1 (ZA403) into Iraq during the Gulf War. He was shot down, captured and tortured by the Iraqis in much the same way as his more famous colleagues John Peters and John Nichol (who now has a web site here). He was the youngest of all the captured airmen, and on his release returned quietly to the job of flying fast jets. A very sad loss.

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May I recommend a visit to the RAF's official site, which now contains an excellent write-up about the past and the present of RAF Valley by Flight Lieutenant Greg House.

Here you will find four pages of interesting info about the base, its history, and descriptions of all the units currently active.

Click :

To read an interesting article from the 2003 RAF Yearbook on Valley, click here.

Visit RAF Valley's
own web site!

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visit the RAF Valley site