RAF Northolt Nightshoot V Title Image

RAF Northolt Nightshoot V Review

Thursday 3rd December

Another three months have gone by, so it must be time for another Northolt Nightshoot. These events, along with the summer photocalls, have become regular features on the enthusiasts’ calendar, and rightly so. The nightshoots are usually fairly low-key events, with just a handful of aircraft on display, and 60-70 enthusiasts in attendance. However, that’s what makes them so attractive – no crowds and plenty of time to photograph each aircraft makes for a very enjoyable evening. Once again the weather gods were smiling on the organisers. The UK has suffered a very wet autumn this year, but a window of dry weather opened up for the evening of 3 December over London. There was a cold westerly blowing that kept everybody a little chilly, but importantly there was no rain.

Nick Challoner reports on another successful Northolt Nightshoot.

With the sun well set, it was time to make our way to the entrance gate to check in with organiser Phil Dawe and volunteers. Before long we were driving around the old perimeter track to park behind the 32(TR) Squadron hangars. As usual, there was a short welcome brief and we were let loose on the apron. There are no barriers on these events; the only stipulation being that we keep behind a set of white lines marked on the apron. Many enthusiasts made their way to the 84 Squadron Griffin, which most agreed to be the star visitor. Although this example is based at RAF Shawbury at the moment, these aircraft are usually stationed at RAF Akrotiri, Crypus.

Also planning to attend was a Sécurité Civile Bombardier CL415 from Marseille, France. Unfortunately the crew decided to cancel due to forecast icing en-route. Being a fire-bomber, the CL415 isn't fitted with anti-icing equipment! We have been treated to a Sécurité Civile CL415 at Northolt before (at the 2008 summer photocall), and the crew have said they will try to attend a future event too.

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Most of the rest of us chose to photograph the other top attraction, which was a 32(TR) Squadron BAe 146. I know Phil has been eagerly trying to provide us with one at previous Northolt events, but has been thwarted by their busy schedule. It was due to be towed back into the hangar for further maintenance after an hour on display, so we were keen to photograph it. Some enthusiasts enquired as to whether it would be possible to switch on its lights, and this was arrange for us, another example of the helpfulness of the organisers.

Separately, the brake problem with the Hawk was being investigated, after which further problems were found and it was eventually towed into the hangar for further maintenance. This limited photographic opportunities somewhat, as did it being parked quite far back – not ideal due to its small size and black colour! I’m sure if it didn’t have problems a quick request to the organisers would have seen it positioned closer to the apron lighting for us.

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A 45 Squadron King Air was due to arrive during the middle of the event, and it duly did so. Its arrival was eagerly anticipated due to the possibility of shots with props running. Once parked, the crew duly obliged, complete with a couple of different lighting configurations. I suspect many would have liked the crew to have kept the engines running for longer, but it must be difficult for the crew to balance that against their requirements to carry out their shut-down checks, button up the aircraft and book in for the night.

Finishing off the line was a 32(TR) Squadron BAe 125. However, that was not all we were allowed to photograph. There were a number of executive aircraft outside the executive terminal, and we had been told not to photograph these during the initial briefing. Executive aviation operators like to keep things discrete for their clients, so in general the idea of 70 camera-wielding enthusiasts dressed in hi-viz wandering around the apron wasn’t too appealing. However, a number of us were keen to photograph the aircraft if possible, and again the organisers sorted out permission for us to shoot three of the visiting aircraft, including a rather nice Italian Falcon 900 that arrived and departed during the course of the event.

More help was forthcoming towards the end of the event, when requests to cross the white lines to photograph the King Air from the side were granted. This also allowed closer photography of the Griffin. Once done, we were shepherded off the apron and as usual most people headed into the executive terminal to warm up and enjoy the now famous generously filled bacon butties.

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Speaking to Phil afterwards, he commented on how well received the events were at Northolt, with mention often being made of how well behaved the enthusiasts are. This allows Phil to have events approved without difficulty by the powers that be. Indeed RAF Northolt's new Station Commander, Group Captain T A Barrett, appears to be very enthusiastic about the events, as was his predecessor. Gp Capt Barrett had this to say about the evening's event:

"I am always delighted to receive members of the aviation world at RAF Northolt be they air crew, ground-crew or aviation enthusiasts. I see it very much as part of my role to ensure that the Station is welcoming to the wider community and thereby help people to develop an understanding of Northolt and the broader RAF and Defence role.

One of my passions is to protect our aviation heritage and I am therefore thrilled that the old Battle of Britain prototype Sector Operations Room has been retained. We have renamed it the "Sir Keith Park Building" in honour of his pioneering work developing British air defence strategy and your donations from the night photo shoots are currently the main funding stream to support the restoration project. When the work is complete this will be a national treasure for the RAF (and broader), alongside the 11 Group Bunker at Uxbridge.

I do hope that you will come back in March 2010 for the next event and while you are enjoying photographing the aircraft you can be assured that your donations are being put to good use."

I'm sure you will all agree that the new name for the ops room is very fitting indeed.

Thanks must go to Phil and his team for another very enjoyable evening. Not only are we very well looked after during the event, but it’s clear a lot of thought and effort is expended on trying to provide a varied selection of aircraft for each event. As mentioned above, the next nightshoot is planned for March, and I’m sure many of us will be there again. Details can be found on this thread on our forum.

Nightshoot participants, from west to east on the 32(TR) Squadron apron:

  • ZD621 British Aerospace 125 CC2, 32(TR) Squadron, RAF
  • XX234 British Aerospace Hawk T1, 208 Squadron, RAF
  • G-RAFX Beechcraft King Air B200GT, 45 Squadron, RAF
  • ZJ703 Bell 412EP Griffin HAR2, 84 Squadron, RAF
  • ZE700 British Aerospace 146 CC2, 32 (TR) Squadron, RAF

Executive aircraft available to photograph outside the executive terminal:

  • I-CAEX Dassault Falcon 900EX
  • VQ-BGN Gulfstream GV-SP
  • PH-EVY Dornier 328-100