The RAF Nightshoots are always popular off-season events. Despite all manner of challenges, Phillip Dawe and his team always put on enjoyable evenings with aircraft from the UK and across Europe taking part. The first event of 2018 which was slightly delayed featured historic RAF types as well as modern military machinery posed against a spring sunset and under the floodlights.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The first Northolt Nightshoot of the year took place in mid-April. It had been originally been scheduled for a more traditional mid-March slot but the base’s operations at the time forced a postponement. Timing of such events is always tricky as the days get longer so the third week of April is just about as late as you would want a nightshoot if you want to finish at a reasonable time.
The postponement brought with it very different conditions. Being later in the Spring and a few weeks into ”British Summer Time” meant it was more sunset photoshoot that a night one with darkness only falling towards the end of the event. It was also unseasonably warm; Northolt recorded temperatures of 28ºC during the afternoon so it was shirt-sleeves were the fashion rather than warm coats!
2018 is of course a special year for the Royal Air Force which is celebrating its centenary. On arrival along the perimeter road, there were RAF Ensigns and RAF100 banners hanging from almost every lamppost outside the airfield to mark the centenary and the local areas special relationship with the service and the airfield.
Unfortunately ground running of the aircraft was not possible at this event due to circumstances beyond the control of the organisers. It is however hoped that the causes of this restriction can be mitigated in time for the next Nightshoot which hopefully will take place later this year.
It was good to see the home team, No 32 Squadron, taking part in the line-up. Very often their hectic operation schedule prevents participation at these events. Examples of the BAE Systems 146 CC2 and the Leonardo AW139SP Grand were positioned on the photocall line. One of the grey BAE Systems 146 CC3 also made a brief appearance as it was pulled out of its hangar ‘pod’ and refuelled ahead of the next day’s operations.
32 Squadron’s current transport machinery was joined by a historic RAF transport type in the form of Mark Stott’s Percivial Pembroke C1 WV740. After a number of years absent from the airshow scene, the aircraft made a welcome return last year in its 1960’s RAF Transport Command colours. The heritage line-up also included some post-war trainers with a pair of de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10s; one wearing standard RAF red, white and grey training colours and the other wearing a unique Army Air Corps camouflage scheme. Completing the historic trainer line-up was a Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 carrying the markings of East Midlands University Air Squadron.
Bringing the training story up to date was a Shorts Tucano T1 from 72[R] Squadron based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. The Tucano is currently entering the end of its RAF career as basic fast jet training will soon transfer to RAF Valley and the new Beechcraft Texan T1. The Tucano at Northolt wore the markings of 72 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. These applied last year for the squadron’s own centenary celebrations but were very appropriate to see at Northolt given the station’s own Battle of Britain heritage.
A late addition to the line-up was a Polish Air Force Airbus DS CN-295M. The Poles have strong links to RAF Northolt which was a base to many Polish personnel and Free-polish Squadrons plus is now home to the Polish War Memorial.
However it was once again the French armed forces which supplied the stars of the evening. A French Air Force (L’Armée de l’air) Embraer EMB-121 Xingu returned to join the line-up and was joined by a French Army (Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre or ALAT) Pilatus PC-6 B2/H4 Porter. The PC-6 is a very rare visitor to the UK and is used for various utility and liaison duties. ALAT has just five in service.
As always Northolt put on an enjoyable, well organised evening. It was made all the better by some lovely but unseasonably warm weather. The loss of engine runs was a great shame, but it did mean that actually the whole event was just a little more relaxed and easy-going. That said we hope there is scope to bring engine runs back for the next event.