Joe Biden: The plane spotters gathering for the president’s arrival

image copyrightReutersimage captionThe president or the planes? For scores of visitors awaiting the arrival of US President Joe Biden, the man himself was something of a side-show

There is a campsite just beyond the American airbase at RAF Mildenhall. For the past few days, a throng of visitors have gathered awaiting the arrival of US President Joe Biden. But are they here for the man himself, or the aircraft that will bring him in?

Tracy Williams and her daughter Vanessa have been setting up their gazebo at The Nook Campsite in Mildenhall each day for three days straight.

But the pair, from Soham, Cambridgeshire, are not here to camp. They are here to see aircraft.

And the president is due to arrive at Mildenhall on Wednesday evening, ahead of the G7 Summit which starts on Friday at Carbis Bay, Cornwall.

The Suffolk airbase will be the first place outside the United States that Joe Biden has visited since becoming president following his election victory over Donald Trump last November.

image caption"It is a once in a lifetime type of thing," says Tracy Williams (l) who was joined by her daughter Vanessa and grand-daughter Ricci-Leigh

"It has been very busy for the past three days, seeing the [Lockheed] C-5 Galaxy and the [Boeing] C-17 Globemaster, it has been brilliant," says Mrs Williams. "It is just, the size of it, how it gets off the floor is amazing.

"We've been doing it for years since the kids were little."

And as for the arrival of the US President?

"That will be really great," says Mrs Williams.

But it is the chance to see Air Force One that she is especially excited about it.

The presidential fleet includes two identical jets, and whichever one the president is aboard is given the signal name Air Force One.

The current Boeing 747s have been in use for nearly three decades. The 4,000 sq/ft (1,220 sq/m) aircraft features three floors, armoured windows, medical offices and a kitchen that can feed 100 people at a time. A new version is expected to come into service in 2024.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. It is going to be great," says Mrs Williams.

"I've been coming over here since I was nine years old," says daughter Vanessa Hale, who has brought her own two-year-old girl Ricci-Leigh. "It is amazing, it is in my blood.

"Now I've got a two-year-old and she is amazed by everything. I love it.

"I am really looking forward to seeing Air Force One come in and sitting on the base.

"It will be the first time I remember seeing it up close and personal. I've waited years for this."

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But Mrs Williams and family have only come from just over the border in Cambridgeshire.

Paul Darlow has travelled up all the way from Devon and has met up with his parents John and Janet Darlow, who have joined him at Mildenhall from Wiltshire.

image captionThe Darlows came from Devon and Wiltshire to see the aircraft arrivals at RAF Mildenhall

For them too, the interest is more in the aircraft than the president himself.

"It keeps my husband happy and he loves the aircraft," says Mrs Darlow.

"We come together to sit read and watch the aircraft.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime to see Air Force One and the other aircraft that go with it."

As for the senior Mr Darlow, there is a tinge of disappointment about the Biden visit.

"I would prefer to have seen his helicopter," he says, "but it doesn't sound like that is going to happen.

"We are hopefully going to see the flying command post that flies with him [Joe Biden].

"For me, that will be the star of the arrivals. There will probably some other VIP aircraft flying too."

While it will not be Mr Darlow's first experience of Air Force One and its aerial entourage – he has seen them before at Fairford, Gloucestershire – this will be the first time "in recent years".

"It is a bit special," he says. "I grew up just after the war and we were surrounded by military bases and there was aircraft everywhere, and I suppose [my interest] just grew from there.

"I really like the US Navy stuff that lands on carriers. I don't think I could pick out a favourite aircraft."

image captionDozens of vehicles were lined up at the fence of RAF Mildenhall ahead of the presidential arrival

As for Mr Darlow (junior), he has come for what he describes as "a free air show without all the crowds and the hassle".

"I had nothing on, the sun is shining and its a unique opportunity to see some unusual planes," he says.

"The jumbo [Air Force One] is a nice aircraft but it is the stuff that accompanies him that is more interesting, such as the command post, like my dad says.

"I was taken with plane spotting when I was growing up. We used to do a lot of air shows. It is nice to pick it up again with my parents. Mildenhall is a wonderful place."

image copyrightReutersimage captionThe Mayor of Mildenhall says the arrival of the Joe and Dr Jill Biden, the president and first lady, had created a "buzz" in the town

What does the presidential visit mean for the town itself?

"We are very excited here in Mildenhall," says the mayor of Mildenhall Jane Busuttil.

"There's a huge buzz in the town about receiving the president of the United Sates and the First Lady, Dr Jill Biden.

"There's real excitement to have the president visit and perhaps stop over possibly on his way over to Newquay for the G7 Summit.

"It is a great opportunity for the president to meet the personnel and their families."

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