Northolt Nightshoot 22

Thursday 1st June 2017

The events of March 2017 in London will be added to the growing list of public tragedies that have bestowed the UK and Europe recently. One unlucky but justifiable result of this incident was the postponement of the 22nd RAF Northolt Nightshoot. Out of the ashes was born a new event - an evening photoshoot, something that has not been tried before at this particular airfield. Appreciating the efforts of the organisers in putting on a revised event rather than cancelling outright, did the revised format have future potential?

Andy Evans attended the rearranged photoshoot at RAF Northolt and gives his thoughts for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the UKAR Staff Team.

Falling into a regular pattern, the RAF Northolt nightshoot tends to occur in March and October to take advantage of early nights combined with moderate temperatures and as per “normal” the first 2017 event was scheduled for Thursday 23rd March. However, things were not meant to be. On Wednesday 22nd March an unspeakable act of evil was carried out at the heart of Government in the United Kingdom. The organisers - being placed in an impossible situation of security concerns and the airfield being used as a forward base by highly classified elements of the military - had no choice but to postpone or cancel the event altogether. However, a decision was made shortly after to rearrange the event until the 1st of June.

A June date would pose some unique challenges for the team at Northolt, not least that for the duration of the "nightshoot" it would not be dark! As was to be expected a number of the items that were due to attend in March were unable to attend the June event, however there was still a good selection of aircraft attending. The RAF fixed wing fleet provided two rarely seen special tail aircraft in the shape of the 100Sqn anniversary Hawk and the 206Sqn anniversary Hercules and RAF Shawbury sent examples of both the Griffin and Squirrel to the event - a welcome attendance of two types that are shortly to leave service.

RAF Northolt was strongly supported by the French Air Force who not only sent a pair of Alpha Jets to the event but also a Xingu - a type that is rarely seen at events and its appearance was appreciated by the assembled enthusiasts, as were its flight crew who were more than happy to talk. Unusual international participation at RAF Northolt nightshoots has always been one of the major attractions that has maintained their popularity over the past years and this June event did not disappoint. Also making a debut appearance was a C-12 Huron from the US Army - hopefully not the last time we see this aircraft at an event (with luck the next appearance will be when it is dark).

As a result of the few (who have been banned following the previous event) spoiling it for the many and with the understandably increased security the format of this, and future, RAF Northolt events has changed. Now subject to strict start and end times the informality which has become synonymous with the nightshoots was - at least at the start of the evening - partially lost. However once everyone had gotten used to the changes things did appear to return to normal and the RAF hosts were, as always, helpful, even going so far as offering to take small groups the other side of the pan to take alternative angles.

The inexperience of hosting an afternoon/sunset shoot was in some ways apparent. The parking of aircraft, in particular the Hercules and the helicopters, meant the sun was immediately to the rear of the aircraft for most of the shoot, making photography of these dark aircraft extremely difficult. Whilst there were no engine runs at this event, the lack of a dark sky meant if there had been, they would have been wasted.

The afternoon/sunset format has some potential and could be used in the future to provide some variety from the usual nightshoots. There were lessons to be learnt from this revised event, particularly regarding the parking angle relative to the sun. There is one thing that must be remembered however - the RAF could have quite easily cancelled the event outright after the events of 22nd March but chose not to and to try something different. This is a choice that should be applauded and, despite a few teething difficulties with the new format, the photoshoot was certainly a success. The next event will take place in October and will return to “business as usual”. Here’s hoping Phil Dawe and his team can continue to attract the unusual items that we all love.