The RAF Northolt Night Photoshoot made a welcome return in October having been sorely missed over the pandemic years. ‘Nightshoot’ XXVIIa brought together an international collection of modern and historic aircraft under the floodlights of the Middlesex airfield.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

Usually, the RAF Northolt Night Photoshoots have taken place twice a year in the Spring and Autumn. Like many other events, they had been on hiatus since the outbreak of COVID. However, after a nearly three-year absence, Northolt again hosted a Night Photoshoot on the 13th October,

Like any aviation event, there have been events that have stood out with exceptional participants while other have proved frustrating with last minute cancellations. ‘Nightshoot’ XXVIIa was certainly one of the most memorable in the series with an exceptional gathering of aircraft old and new. The event also marked the return of running engines with almost all of the participating aircraft departing during the evening.

 

A very poignant participant was Hawker Hurricane Mk I R4118. This was the first in a series of Mark 1 Hurricanes restored in recent years and flew 49 sorties during the Battle of Britain claiming one enemy aircraft destroyed. The Hurricane and Northolt have a long association as the Middlesex fighter station was the first to receive the new monoplane fighter when four were delivered to 111 Squadron in December 1937. Hurricanes were stationed at Northolt throughout the Battle of Britain including Canadian and Polish squadrons. No 303 (Polish) Squadron claimed the greatest number of enemy aircraft downed. Czech pilot Sergeant Josef František was a member of 303 Squadron and had the most kills of any of its pilots. Having been restored by Peter Vacher, R4118 is now operated by Hurricane Heritage and spends its time between Duxford and White Waltham airfields. During the photoshoot, R4118’s engine was run spouting blue flames from its exhaust.

 

Alongside the Hurricane was Historic Helicopters’ Westland Whirlwind HAR10. While perhaps best remembered in its Search and Rescue guise, the Whirlwind also served with the RAF in other roles including as VIP aircraft with 32 Squadron based at RAF Northolt. The Whirlwind HCC12 was also operated by the Royal Flight which was merged with 32 Squadron in 1995. Historic Helicopters’ example wears the distinctive yellow search and rescue colours of No 22 Squadron. Also on show was one of No 32 Squadron’s current aircraft, an AgustaWestland AW109 Grande New G-MAOL which is leased from Sloane Helicopters as well as the pair of MD Helicopters MD902 Explorers from the London Air Ambulance.

Another distinctive helicopter taking part was an Army Air Corps Westland Gazelle AH1 from 7 Regiment AAC. The Gazelle AH1 is an increasingly rare sight in Army service with the type’s training role taken on by the Airbus Helicopters Juno HT1 of the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury. The Gazelle does however remain a potent helicopter for observation and reconnaissance roles thanks to the superb visibility from the cockpit plus its agility and speed. Unusually, the Gazelle on display at Northolt wore a Sand and Green camouflage scheme reflecting this airframe’s use at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada. 29 Flight, part of 5 Regt AAC, are based at BATUS supporting the large scale exercises the British Army host there operating five Gazelles.

 

Completing the British military contributions to the ‘Nightshoot’ was an Airbus DS A400M Atlas C1 from RAF Brize Norton. The Atlas arrived and departed during the evening. It’s departure was particularly impressive as it reversed out to the taxiway leaving the main ramp area.

The Irish Air Corps made a welcome return to Northolt showing off one of their Pilatus PC-12NG Spectre aircraft. Four of these Swiss built transport aircraft serve with 104 Squadron, part of No.1 Operations Wing. As well as passenger and freight transport, the IAC uses the PC-12NG as an Air Ambulance plus intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks. The example at Northolt was wearing a special scheme applied for the Air Corps’ 100th Anniversary for which the rear of the aircraft has received a two-tone camouflage and the World War Two style orange and green Irish boss. This scheme marks the Coastal Patrol Squadron formed at Rineanna airfield (now Shannon Airport) in September 1939 and is similar to markings worn by the units Avro Ansons and Supermarine Walrus aircraft of the period.

 

A very welcome participant was the Lockheed Martin CC-130J Hercules II from 436 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Normally based at CFB Trenton in Ontario, the CC-130J has been deployed to Prestwick in Scotland for air mobility operations within Europe. The deployment allows Canada to better support its operations throughout Europe as well as into the Middle East. More recently, the deployment has been aiding the delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

With the added spectacle of running engines, this was an outstanding return for the RAF Northolt Night Photoshoots. The events continue to raise funds for the restoration of the Grade II listed Building 27 at RAF Northolt. This building was Northolt’s Sector Operations Building, and was used by Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding to developed his chain system of Air Defence. Phillip Dawe and his team are slowly returning the building to its final form before it was closed in June 1940 with a very high standard of restoration. From the photographs on their website, it looks superb. We cannot wait for the next edition of Night Photoshoot in 2023!