RAF Northolt Nightshoot I Review
Thursday 29th January
I don't know who the chaps at Northolt worship, but it obviously works because this, the fourth enthusiast photocall held there in recent years, was once again blessed with clear skies. However, this being night-time in January, rather than a sunny afternoon in June, meant temperatures were somewhat lower than those we've enjoyed at previous events! The idea was to provide us with as many uncluttered night-time photographic opportunities as possible, to raise money for charity. The event was hosted by 32 Squadron on their pan, unlike the June photocalls which are held on the day after the Station's Families Day.
reports on a photocall with a twist. Additional photography by and .
So, at 1720 hours over 60 enthusiasts were let loose on 32 Squadron's pan. Well, once we had been given a briefing by Wing Commander Steve Pitcher, Office Commanding 32 Squadron. Venturing out onto the pan, we were greeted by a line up of aircraft, with no barriers or other obstructions, all widely spaced and parked at approximately a 45 degree angle. What more could we photographers ask for? We were told to keep behind a yellow line, which meant that nobody was allowed too close to the aircraft, something I imagine was welcomed by most attendees because it kept the shots clear. There was plenty of room for us all to spread out, and everybody was polite and considerate, even when the action was taking place around particular aircraft.
At 6pm, one of the 32 Squadron Agusta A109Es was fired up for 10 minutes or so of ground running, allowing us to take photos with rotors running and lights and strobes switched on.
After shutdown, there was another unhurried half an hour or so to spend taking photos of some of the other aircraft. Star visitor was a US Army Cessna UC-35A Citation Ultra. This graced the pan alongside an Irish Air Corps Learjet 45, a 78 Squadron RAF Merlin HC3A (with Team Merlin's Gareth Attridge onboard), two of 32 Squadron's A109Es and one of their HS125 CC3s. The Irish Lear was a late addition to the line-up, taking the slot earmarked for a 32 Squadron 146 that was required for duty. The Lear just happened to be visiting anyway, and thanks go to the Lear crew and their superiors for allowing it to be made available for us.
As 7pm approached, the Merlin crew walked out to their aircraft and proceeded with their pre-flight checks and then started their engines. There was plenty of time for us to take photos with rotors running, and the crew made sure we had various lighting configurations to work with too. As soon as the Merlin had taxied out the UC-35A could be heard starting, giving us plenty of opportunity to take photos with lights on before it too taxied out for departure.
We were then invited back to the terminal for tea and bacon butties, which gave everybody a chance to catch up and warm up, and was a very welcome end to the evening!
Thanks must be given to Phil Dawe and his team for organising yet another great event at Northolt; Wing Commander Steve Pitcher, Officer Commanding 32 Squadron, for allowing it to go ahead and for the warm welcome; everybody else at Northolt who helped out; and of course the crews of the visiting aircraft. Money raised from the event will go towards restoration of the Battle of Britain Ops room at RAF Northolt (it was the prototype for the standard design Sector Ops room rolled out across Britain in the late 1930s). The intention is to restore it to how it was back then, complete with plotting table and 'tote boards' showing squadron readiness etc. The aim is to raise £25,000, and this event has raised £1,450 towards that.
The event could not have taken place without the blessing of Group Captain Guy van den Berg, Station Commander, RAF Northolt, who had the following to say: "RAF Northolt held a hugely successful Night Photoshoot on 29 January 2009, which was supported by some 65 aviation enthusiasts, who took some superb pictures of the communications aircraft, an A109 and a Merlin helicopter. The quality and purity of the photographs is something special, which in part is why I am keen to authorize a similar event in March 2009. This time the theme will be Support Helicopters. All proceeds are being donated to our WWII Sector Operations Room restoration programme; led by Mr Chris Wren, the man responsible for restoring the 11 Gp Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge".
I know I'm not the only one looking forward to the next event.
To round off, here is a list of participants (in order from West to East on the 32 Squadron pan):
- ZK001/AF, Westland Merlin HC3A, 78 Squadron, RAF
- ZR322, Agusta A109E Power, 32(TR) Squadron, RAF
- ZR323, Agusta A109E Power, 32(TR) Squadron, RAF
- 258, Learjet 45, Irish Air Corps
- 95-0123, Cessna UC-35A Citation Ultra, 52nd Avn Reg, US Army
- ZD703, HS125 CC3, 32(TR) Squadron, RAF