RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall

RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall; Fighter jets, huge tanker planes – all set within a nature reserve! Perfect places to take your motorhome in Suffolk.

Situated within a few miles of each other in Suffolk, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall are owned by the British Royal Air Force. They are on lease to the United States Air Force (USAF). The bases are American-operated and are classed as American soil.

But first, a question: What does a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F15E Strike Eagle have in common with our VW Autotrail Cree motorhome?

Let’s find out…

RAF Lakenheath - a motorhome and a fighter jet

Motorhome vs fighter jet

Let’s compare the two…

The F15E Strike Eagle’s top speed is registered at 1875mph. Knock 1800 off that and you’d have the top speed of our VW Cree – downhill with a following wind.

The aircraft weighs 14,300kg, the motorhome somewhere around 2,600kg.

At 60mph, the motorhome uses around 2 to 2.5 gallons of diesel an hour. The F15E Strike Eagle uses 25 gallons of aviation fuel a minute and up to 385 gallons per minute at sea level with afterburners lighting up the sky. (We’re SO glad we don’t have to fill THAT baby up!)

As for 0-60mph comparisons; it is just embarrassing!

The jet costs upwards of £35,000,000. Anyone with that sort of money is welcome to put in an offer for our Cree!

Of course, there are advantages of owning a motorhome as opposed to a fighter jet…

You cannot wee in an F15E Strike Eagle. (Well, you’re not supposed to, even if you’re VERY scared!)

And unless you are very inventive with the afterburners, you cannot cook your breakfast in a jet either.

However, despite their differences, you will sometimes see our motorhome within shouting distance of the F15s and F35s of RAF Lakenheath. Not that there’s any good shouting during the take off – the noise is simply amazing – and deafening! Louder than our Cree with the hole in the exhaust!

Info about RAF Lakenheath

This is all correct to the best of our knowledge – we are strictly jet amateurs. If anyone cares to add further information, we enjoy learning!

At Lakenheath (LKZ) you will find the 48th Fighter Wing or Liberty Wing, subdivided into squadrons:  

  • 492nd fighter squadron, nicknamed The Mad Hatters or the Bolars, flying the F15E Strike Eagle with a blue flash on the jet’s tail.
  • The 493rd the Grim Reapers were using F15C/D Eagles, but their yellow flash is now shown on F35A planes.
  • The 494th, The Panthers, have the F15E Strike Eagle with a red flash.
  • And the 495th Fighter Squadron, nicknamed the Valkyries, use F35As with a green flash.

You’ll sometimes see F16s too – just to spice it up a bit. These come from Europe or Stateside. There is great excitement when something else lands!

At Lakenheath you’ll also find all the important auxiliary units and amenities as well: medical, tactical, maintenance, along with all the recreational and daily living facilities.

Are Lakenheath and Mildenhall going to close?

Announcements a few years ago that either or both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall would be closing or reduced in capacity caused great consternation in Suffolk! Both bases are very welcome in East Anglia.

RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall bases provide local amenities with custom and employ staff from nearby – the last figure stated that the contribution to the local economy is £500-700 million! But also, the American staff are valued and active members of the community. Many live off-base and some remain in Suffolk after retirement.

There are news reports of airmen visiting the children’s ward in local hospitals at Christmas and participation in the county show for example. And personnel from RAF Mildenhall helped tackle a fire in early 2022.

So, more recent announcements of a temporary stay of execution have been greeted with relief.

The situation in Ukraine might also have had something to do with it.

American airmen of the past

Personal experience of American airmen…

During her childhood, Hobo Trudi had a neighbour who was a member of the Mildenhall airbase. A man with a bigger heart would be difficult to find.

Coincidentally, the homes they lived in were built on what had been the living quarters of USAF airmen and women assigned to Rougham airfield in WWII.

Rougham was initially home to the 322nd Bomb Group flying the A20 Havocs and the B26 Marauders. From 1943, the 94th Bomb Group flew the huge B17 Flying Fortresses from Rougham which was also known as RAF/USAF Bury St Edmunds for a while. The airfield there is now gradually being built over. Such a shame! Hopefully lasting respects will be paid to those Americans who came over to help us during WWII.

Rougham Control Tower opens to the public during the summer months and is well worth a visit.

But let’s get back to the modern jets…

Lakenheath – one of our favourite places to visit in Suffolk

We have spent many hours in the motorhome at the viewing area at RAF Lakenheath. It is such a thrill to see the comings and goings of the fighter jets.

There are folks with cameras – with lenses longer than your arm – and people with intimate knowledge about the base’s activities. You can speak to almost anyone and they will happily share what they know.

We sit in the motorhome and work on the Hobos website between take offs and landings.

At first, we just saw jets and had no idea what they were – but now at least we recognise the different aircraft.

The airbase lies 4.7 miles north-east of the town of Mildenhall and 8.3 miles west of Thetford. The area is 727 hectares (or 1800 acres) in size.

Surrounding and actually within the base is the SSSI Breckland Special Area of Conservation…

As you view the planes you are sitting amongst what remains of an ancient landscape. Thankfully, the Brecklands are being saved from reforestation. Exmoor ponies, sheep and goats graze saplings at nearby Knettishall Heath.

RAF Lakenheath viewing area

The Lakenheath viewing area address is: Wangford Rd, RAF Lakenheath, Brandon IP27 0SJ. Plenty of room for cars and motorhomes – there is usually a burger van and if you’re lucky, an ice-cream van will arrive too. One HUGE advantage of using the motorhome is the loo as there are no public toilets! You’ll see men disappearing off into the trees. Girls, it’s so much more difficult isn’t it!

Look across the site to where the planes emerge prior to flying and you’ll see RAF Mildenhall planes coming and going too.

You’ll also see cars parked across the A1065 in the small car park for a nature reserve. There is not as much room here. Cars also tend to park alongside the road if there is a special visitor or exercise. If the area becomes clogged, the police may move everyone on.

We have not attempted to park here since our larger dimensions would take up the space of two cars and be rather conspicuous – more likely to attract the attention of police. We would not wish to ruin everyone else’s day out!

For fantastic photographs and information, try the RAF Lakenheath UK Facebook Group.

RAF Mildenhall

Like RAF Lakenheath, the RAF Mildenhall base (MHZ) is also leased to the USAF. You will see the larger planes here. Perhaps these have more in common with the motorhome – or not!

RAF Mildenhall

The 482 hectare (1191 acre) Mildenhall site hosts the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, the 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group, the 752nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron 321st Special Tactics Squadron. Like Lakenheath, there are also the invaluable staff who keep the base wheels turning.

You are likely to see:

  • The KC135 Stratotanker, an aerial refuelling plane which can also carry cargo.
  • The information gathering and transmitting RC135V/W Rivet Joint.
  • The stealthy MC 130J Commando II , a multimission combat transport/special operations tanker which usually flies during darkness. It can refuel helicopters and tiltrotor craft as well as carrying troops.
  • And the CV22 Osprey, a tiltrotor aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing and hovering like a helicopter but with the range, speed and fuel economy of a normal aircraft. This one, frustratingly, looks like a drone when photographed by a basic phone camera!

RAF Mildenhall viewing area and campsites

There is a viewing area known as John’s Field owned by The Nook campsite. There is a small parking fee but this allows access to the toilets on the site.

If you want to stay overnight in the campsite the fees are very reasonable and include EHU but it’s best to book a pitch rather than just turn up at the site. Gav has stayed here with his son a couple of times. The planes take off just about right overhead!

The viewing area is adjacent to the runway and there is a platform you can stand on to get some great shots.

We stayed at a nearby campsite – The Willows – which sits neatly at the end of the runway. This allowed us to see planes land or take off right over the motorhome.

plane taking off over the Nook Campsite near Mildenhall, Suffolk
The Nook Campsite, adjacent to Mildenhall Airbase

The Brecklands

The surrounding area is agricultural fen and breck, a flat landscape where the horizon seems so much further away. Wonderful for walking and cycling holidays as well as plane spotting.

An ideal few days for us would be to camp at one of the campsites mentioned above. Then it’s just a 15 minute drive to RAF Lakenheath to “feel the noise” of the jets.

The surrounding area is rural so we’d visit the RSPB centre at Lakenheath Fen to rest our ears!

Pastoral and arable farming set amidst large areas of nature reserves and sites of biological and historical special scientific interest. It seems an uncomfortable mix, but the airbases just seem to fit.

Sunset over the Brecklands at RAF Mildenhall

Where do you go plane-spotting? Let us know in the comments section below.

Remember to check out our other favourite places to visit in Suffolk.

Further Plane Resources:

Fact Sheet for the F15E Strike Eagle

Planespotting UK

Lakenheath and Mildenhall Plane Movements Group Facebook

Aviation In Action for live YouTube streams from Lakenheath…amazing videos and brilliant information! Daz knows his stuff!

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