After a long winter of persistent unsettled weather, it would good to see a more settled spell of dry clear conditions move over the UK in time for the 20th RAF Northolt Nightshoot. Though the “off-season” from October through to April is seeing more and more specialist aviation photography events, the evening photoshoots at Northolt remain some of the most popular.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from Nightshoot XX. All photography by the author.
RAF Northolt, situated in the North West of London, is home to 32 (The Royal) Squadron. This unit provides Command Support Air Transport for small, but important groups of military personnel and cargo around the world. The Squadron is based in a state of the art complex of hangar pods and offices on the south-side of the airfield which also operates as a small VIP and business airport.
These Hangar pods provide the setting for the Nightshoot events with their very powerful lighting towers illuminating the main concrete apron and the old RAF station providing the backdrop. Organised by Phillip Dawe and his team of volunteers, the Northolt Nightshoots bring together a number of different aircraft from the modern military, police and emergency services and the occasion civilian visitor. Sadly, on this occasion there were a few cancellations which included a French Securite Civile Canadair CL215 and French Army Puma. However, there was still a good line-up of aircraft for the photographers to enjoy.
2016 sees the centenary of 32 Squadron, and this formed part of one of the planned themes of the Nightshoot. Sadly operations conspired against plans to showcase the specially marked BAe 146 CC.Mk.2 which was sent on task just prior to the event. In its place however was on of 32 Sqn’s newer BAE 146 C.Mk.3 aircraft wearing all-over grey. These were converted from BAe 146QC freighter aircraft to provide extra transport capability for the Royal Air Force carrying personnel and small, but vital cargo loads.
Also on show, albeit at the back of one of the hangars was the latest aircraft to join 32 Squadron, a AgustaWestland AW109SP Grand New. The aircraft is currently provided by Sloane Helicopters and wears the civilian registration G-ZIOO which also marks the squadron’s centenary. During the Second World War, 32 Squadron used the identification code “GZ” on its aircraft.
Also on show during the evening were some aircraft representing 32 squadron’s history. Newly installed as a gate guardian to the hangar complex is a BAe 125 CC2 which was abled to be photographed in the very low light. The Gazelle Squadron had hoped to bring their aircraft that wears 32 Squadron colours, but sadly that was unserviceable so they brought Westland Gazelle HT3 ZB627 instead. 2016 will see the Gazelle Squadron make their flying display debut at the RAF Cosford Air Show as well as attending a number of other major events.
RAF Northolt is also home to the London Air Ambulance MD Helicopters MD902 Explorer helicopters which were both on show in the hangar alongside the AW109SP. Further emergency service participation came from the National Police Air Service unit at Redhill who sent an Airbus Helicopters EC135P2+. This was not their standard helicopter but an aircraft borrowed from the Benson based unit.
Making a short stop was a Boeing Chinook HC4 from No 27 Squadron at RAF Odiham in Hampshire. While the aircraft did not shut down, it was posed in a handful of different positions for the photographers for a few minutes before departing for home.
Unusually for a Northolt Nightshoot, the line-up of aircraft included a pair of historic aircraft from RAF Halton. Like the Gazelle these gave engine runs for the photographers. First to run was a Piper L4 Grasshopper wearing the markings of the US Army Air Force in 1944 and it was followed by a Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1.
RNAS Culdrose provided the final two visiting aircraft. 736 NAS sent one of their BAE Systems Hawk T1s which provided a nice pairing with the Bulldog to represent Cold War training types. It was joined by perhaps the star of the evening, a 750 NAS Beechcraft King Air Avenger T1. This aircraft, based on the King Air 350ER, replaced the HS Jetstream and provide training for Royal Navy Observers. While they have been in service since 2012, they have made relatively few public appearances away from their home base.
Despite the cancellations and a few teething problems with some unfortunate aircraft parking early on, it was another enjoyable if a little chilly evening at Northolt. Phillip Dawe once again pulled together a nice line-up of varied aircraft. Thanks must also go to the RAF and contractor personnel who help put on the event and help provide many of the unique photo opportunities on offer.