RAF Northolt held the second Nightshoot of the RAF100 year in mid-October in somewhat cooler conditions that the previous edition in April. The Nightshoot, in it’s 25th edition, brought together aircraft from the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Belgian Air Force, German Navy plus the historic scene all posed under the bright lighting of the southern hangar complex.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography and video by the author.
The April nightshoot took place at a slightly unusual time. Being delayed until April meant daylight lasted longer into the evening and it was a quite warm evening. Nightshoot XXV took place in more familiar conditions with darkness descending over North West London just after 6pm as the event got underway and a very cool mid-October evening.
Northolt Nightshoots are very popular events and are held with high regard. Not only are the aircraft line-ups international, but it also attracts enthusiasts and photographers from overseas as well as the UK. It is not unusual to see Dutch or Belgian number plates in the car park.
Nightshoot XXV did suffer from a number of cancellations including perhaps surprisingly most of the civilian owned historic types pencilled in to attend. Also falling by the wayside were a RAF Puma, French Air Force Alpha Jet and a German Navy Sea King Mk41.
The German Navy (Marineflieger) did still attend however with a relatively rare UK appearance by a Westland Sea Lynx Mk88A from MFG-5. The Germans operate 22 examples of the Sea Lynx which is due to stay in service until 2025. Like the Royal Navy did with the Lynx and now the Wildcat, the German Navy deploys its Sea Lynx helicopters aboard its frigates. The aircraft are equipped with the Marconi Sea Spray 3000 radar, a Forward Looking Infra-Red turret and can be fitting with the Sea Skua anti-shipping missile.
The Royal Navy added to the maritime rotary theme with a Leonardo Merlin HM2 which arrived after the nightshoot had begun. Static engine runs cannot currently be performed during the Nightshoots so the Merlin’s arrival was a rare chance for photographers to catch some rotors-running shots as the crew ran through their shutdown procedures and checks. The aircraft came from 824NAS based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.
Adding to the international flavour were a pair of Belgian Air Force Dassault Alpha Jet Es from the Advanced Jet Training School (AJeTS) based at Cazaux in France. AJeTS was a joint French and Belgian operation but closed on the 13th October. Formed in 2003, AJeTS trained 215 French and 165 Belgian pilots amassing some 50,000 flight hours. Prior to the formation of the joint unit, Belgian Alpha Jets were operated by 11 Squadron and were once regular participants at UK airshows often taking part in flying displays with a striking solo display. With the closure of AJeTS the appearance of the pair of Belgian Alpha Jets may well be the last in the UK. One of the two jets carried special markings celebrating the 100th anniversary of Escadrille SPA 73, a French squadron that traces it routes back to the First World War when it flew Neuiport and SPAD VII aircraft.
Amongst the modern military machinery, David and Mark Millers beautiful de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide was also on display under the floodlights. This aircraft wears the colours of Scottish Airways in 1943 but was originally built for the Royal Air Force in 1941 as a de Havilland Dominie with the registration X7344. The aircraft was used by Scottish Airways during the Second World War on services between the mainland and the Scottish islands.
32 Squadron once again supported the Nightshoot with one of the RAF Northolt based BAE Systems 146 CC2 aircraft. Further Royal Air Force participation came from two aircraft from the renewed Military Flying Training Scheme (MFTS) fleet making their first Nightshoot appearances. The RAF Shawbury based Defence Helicopter Flying School was represented by its new basic helicopter training, the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno HT1. Junos replaced the Squirrel HT1 in service and are used to train all UK military helicopter pilots. The type has already become a regular sight around the UK as DHFS Junos are often used to support Red Arrows displays during the summer months on top of their normal training role.
45(R) Squadron have regularly support Northolt events with the Beechcraft King Air B200 in the past, however Nightshoot XXV was the first time the unit had attended with their new mount, the Embrear EMB-500 Phenom 100. The RAF operates five of the small corporate jets to fulfil a requirement for a modern multi-engined training aircraft preparing pilots for the Voyager tankers, A400M, Hercules, Poseidon, Sentry, Sentinel and 146 aircraft.
As ever Phillip Dawe, his team and RAF Northolt put on a great evening for visitors with some interesting aircraft gathered under the lights. As with the April event it felt very relaxed with plenty of time and space for photographers to get their shots and we look forward to returning to Northolt for future events.