The 30th RAF Northolt Night Photoshoot was a very special one. Not only did it mark an impressive milestone, but it also drew a bumper list of participants from four different nations. The event also drew its biggest number of photographers with approximately 300 enjoying the evening under the floodlights.

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

The Night Photoshoots at RAF Northolt have becoming legendary amongst the aviation enthusiast community. Over their 30 editions the photoshoots have set the standard for all other aviation photography events bringing together some very exciting aircraft under the floodlights of RAF Northolt’s southside hangar complex and apron. Some events have suffered from unavoidable late cancellations and poor weather, but in the main they have attracted some very rare aircraft which sometimes are often not seen at other public events in the UK.

 

The photoshoots help fund the restoration of Building 27, RAF Northolt’s Sector Operations Building. This building was used to develop the world’s first Integrated Air Defence System ahead the Second World War. It closed just prior to the Battle of Britain commencing in July 1940 as it was deemed too vulnerable to air attack. It did however survive the war and remained in use until 2007 when it was initially scheduled for demolition as part of the modernisation of the station. When the significance of the building was recognised with the award of a Grade II listing by English Heritage, it was decided to restore it back to its final form in June 1940. Phillip Dawe has led the restoration project in which no public funds have been used. Instead, the restoration project has relied on donations and volunteer labour.

Since Phillip Dawe started organising the Night Photoshoots in 2009, they have raised more than £200,000 for the Building 27 restoration project. Like the restoration of Building 27, they are run by volunteers together with personnel from RAF Northolt who give up their time to make them the success that they are.

 

Ahead of Night Photoshoot XXX, the Station Commander of RAF Northolt and Regional Commander Southeast Stations, Group Captain Jonathon Hough greeted the gathered photographers; “RAF Northolt is pleased to welcome back our long-standing photographer community to our 30th night photoshoot. We’re delighted to be able to host fellow aviation enthusiasts for our display of an array of aircraft in a setting not normally accessible to the general public. RAF Northolt is also grateful for the ongoing interest and support which enables us to continue the restoration and preservation not only of buildings which played a key part in the RAF and Battle of Britain’s story, but of our own local history and heritage.” During the event, he also spent time out on the apron talking to all the attendees which was greatly appreciated.

The line-up of aircraft for the 30th event was extraordinary both in terms of quantity and quality. There were cancellations but this was the biggest line-up the author has seen at a Northolt Night Photoshoot.

 

The French L’Armee de L’air et Espace have become Northolt regulars at recent photoshoot with a pair of Pilatus PC-21 trainers from L’École de L’Aviation de Chasse (EAC) 00.315 from Cognac-Châteaubernard. On this occasion they were joined by an Embraer EMB-121 Xingu from the l’école de l’aviation de transport 00.319 based at Avord. The unit, which trained air lift crews from across Europe, marked its 40th anniversary in 2023 and the aircraft that appeared at Northolt wore some eye-catching tail-art.

The Irish Air Corps made an exceptional contribution to the evening with three different types. The Pilatus PC-12NG Spectre wearing the 100th Anniversary scheme made a welcome return to Northolt and was joined by a Eurocopter EC135-P2. The EC135 also wore a special scheme marking 60 years of helicopter operations by the Army Air Corps with the tail boom painted in marked worn by IAC Alouettes, Gazelles and Dauphins. However, the star of the Irish contribution was one their brand-new Airbus C295W Persuader Martine Patrol Aircraft. The Irish Air Corps has now ordered three C295Ws with the two Maritime Patrol variants already delivered. A third transport configured example will join the fleet in the future following an order in January. These aircraft replace the more familiar blue CN235MPAs that were frequent visitors to the UK.

 

Possibly feeling rather overlooked by all the modern military aircraft was Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 XX629. This aircraft is now privately owned and was beautifully presented in the famous Red, White and Grey RAF Training Command markings it wore when in service with the Northumbria University Air Squadron at RAF Leeming.

Another type possibly deemed historic now was the Westland Sea King HU5 XV666 ‘Damien.’ Since retirement from the Royal Navy’s Search and Rescue force at RNAS Culdrose, XV666 has had a new lease of life with HeliOperations at Portland. HeliOperations support various training contracts with aircraft and simulators based at Culdrose, Portland and Somerton.XV666  was parked next to a current Royal Navy helicopter, a Leonardo Merlin HC4 from 846NAS.

 

One of the biggest attractions of the Photoshoot was a German Navy Lockheed P-3C-II Orion. With Germany’s acquisition of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, their fleet of ex-Royal Netherlands Air Force P-3s are slowly being withdrawn. The example that took part in the photoshoot was on its way to Portugal which has purchased six German P-3s to support its own P-3C operations with additional spares, support equipment and simulators. The Portuguese Air Force is also reported  to be looking into the possibility of evaluating the ex-German P-3s with a view to keeping some of the aircraft in service and modernising them.

Arriving during the photoshoot was an Airbus A400M Atlas C1 from 70 Squadron, the only Royal Air Force aircraft to participant during the evening. Group Captain Hough has previously been officer commanding of 70 Squadron and so there was good reason for the Atlas to extend an evening training sortie into Northolt. Together with the P-3, the Atlas made for an impressive centrepiece to the photoshoot.

 

Thanks must go to all the aircrews, RAF Northolt personnel and volunteers for making the 30th Night Photoshoot such a great event and looking after all the photographers so well. While it has been very welcome that recent photoshoots have experimented with different layout, many commented after the latest event that they would like to see at least some of the aircraft return to the more traditional line-up positions in front of the hangars under the best of the floodlighting as particularly the Merlin, Atlas and C295W ended up well away from the lights.